Is Ghost Bath an anonymous collective from Chongqing, China, or a group of guys from North Dakota with names like Dennis and Jamie? While the initial mystery surrounding the band and its singular “Nameless” sounding board was pretty compelling stuff, things ultimately come down to this: if you find yourself asking this question while listening to the band’s new album, Moonlover, you need a focal adjustment—badly. Set this distraction aside and focus on the music, and you’ll realize how tremendous a listen the album is. As gargantuan as the hype machine powering it has grown since January, Moonlover fully lives up.
Right from the get-go, the album serves up exactly what you want from depressive black metal: peaks; valleys; moments of joy, but also others of deep sadness and vulnerability. With lead single “Golden Number,” for example, we’re treated to an exercise in pure exhilaration. Over more than nine minutes, we build, and build, and build some more—hitting peak after peak of stunning, melodic beauty. And then? As if brought about by a snap of the fingers, it all drops out at the seven-minute mark, closing us out with a more reserved and introspective, yet no less gorgeous, piano outro. It doesn’t fully present itself for another couple of minutes, but the comedown has begun.
From that point forward, Moonlover deals strictly in levels of darkness. On a song like “Happyhouse,” it penetrates the deepest reaches of inner turmoil through anguished howls and immersive, blast-beat-driven attacks, while on others, the band’s content to sit back and explore your milder shades of discomfort. Mid-album tracks like “Beneath the Shade Tree” and “The Silver Flower, Pt. 1” poke and prod at your sanity with clean, melodic guitar lines and ambient natural sounds, laying some unsettling groundwork for the emotional gut-punches of its heavier moments.
Just as Deafheaven did on Sunbather, Ghost Bath finds ways to channel elegance from a wide range of vibes, each case somehow more compelling than the last. And through it all, the album never loses its bite. Credit to producer Joshua Schroeder here: Moonlover fully embraces all parts of its enormous, diverse equation—even the less immediately appealing ones, like the shrieked vocals or the occasional bum note—and blends them together in a crisp, streamlined package. If 4K television had a sonic equivalent, it might sound like this.
By the time the final few melodies of closer “Death and the Maiden” fade into silence, you’ll have been put through the proverbial ringer, yet simultaneously won’t really have heard enough to adequately process the album. It’s the kind of album best listened to straight through from beginning to end, and multiple times in a row. Call that instruction “perpetuating depression” if you will, but in the end, it’d simply be a shame to let the album’s melancholy side take a hold of you without fully realizing the beauty within.
Keep it heavy,