I’m a big fan of Ghost Bath‘s work. Although somewhat divisive and an acquired taste for some, 2017’s Starmourner was so unusual and charismatic with its over-the-top histrionics and charged melodic atmosphere, that I couldn’t help but fall for it completely. As such, I’ve been looking forward to Self Loather.
However, instantly clear that this new album is not just a rehashing of Starmourner, and it bears much less in common with the band’s previous record than you might be expecting. Self Loather is a darker, nastier beast. The post-black metal aspects have been reined in, for a start. Instead, there are more primal black metal elements to be found on this album than there were previously; in a way the album art should portend this. Largely gone is the exploration of upbeat colourful leads, replaced instead by despairing melodies that create eerie atmosphere and grim mood. There’s just enough melodic colour and upbeat energy here to reliably indicate that undeath their new style it actually is the same band that made Starmourner, but the music’s focus this time around is on much darker emotions.
Also, whereas Starmourner clocked in at a colossal 71 minutes, Self Loather is a briefer 46 minutes. The time is well-used to give space to a record that feels complete and holistic, while also boasting a tracklist where each song has its own identity and character within the whole.
The songs are shorter and more aggressive; they’re filled with rage and hate, but not exclusively so. Alongside the familiar post-black aspects of the music, and as well as the more traditional, rawer black metal influences, there’s a lot more naked brutality here. Sometimes Ghost Bath simply go all out and destroy everything around them for a section of music, and it utterly demolishes. Parts of Hide from the Sun showcase this well, especially as this song features unexpected guest vocals from the singer of Thy Art Is Murder, and he sounds particularly evil on it. Another great a example is Sanguine Mask; the slow chugging and deep guttural vocals give this song a death metal feel that’s not at all what I thought I’d hear on a Ghost bath record.
A thread of melancholy darkness runs through everything, no matter how fierce or hostile the material is. The heaviness and aggression of the music is never all-consuming, and there are frequently atmospheric elements and post-rock interludes peppered amongst the tracks – I Hope Death Finds Me Well is notable in this regard, as it’s a piano-led mood-piece. The depressive black metal influences are never too far away either, ensuring that the core of Ghost Bath’s musical makeup is rarely completely forgotten, (Sinew and Vein exemplifies this, for example, and also features another guest vocalist, this time from Psychonaut 4). Overall, Self Loather offers a surprisingly diverse and varied listening experience, both from the perspective of individual tracks and across the entire album.
And the vocals? These are the most diverse the singer has ever used. From anguished shrieks, to blackened screams, to pitch black growls, his voice sounds superb, and I especially like his deep growls.
Despite almost sounding like a completely different band in places, Ghost Bath have produced a multifaceted depressive black metal album that’s a real winner. It’s not what I expected their next album would be like after Starmourner, but apparently it’s what I needed; Self Loather is, quite simply, a great album.