This post has been censored to protect our fine Facebook readers. Since the world’s biggest high school simulator has recently changed its policy on pictures to make sure users won’t be exposed to nipples or asses (Kanye West pictures remain unbanned for some reason) I had to take steps to protect everyone’s delicate eye-holes from the cover of the black metal album I’ve fallen in love with this week. First off, my WordPress to Facebook plugin shows everyone the post’s featured image, which would be the album cover in question without changes. To prevent the scandal this would provoke I have employed a slightly different approach to today’s post’s featured image. Have a happy goat.
However, that’s not the only way you might be accidentally exposed to something you can’t handle. The plugin also tends to insert the first video in a post into the Facebook sharing post. To make sure nobody gets contaminated in this way, I’m using a shielding video. The following video is suitable for all ages, and only could be considered offensive if you have eyes. Or ears.
With that housekeeping out of the way, I can talk about Ghost Bath, the Chinese atmospheric black metal band who spent most of this week blowing my mind with their latest release, Moonlover. Atmospheric black metal is an odd genre, in a way. The restful flowing nature of atmospheric music would seem to be a thousand miles away from the dissonant guitar and pounding blastbeats of black metal, but they do share something in common: the struggle to capture a mood. I’ve always found black metal to be more melancholic than angry, an emotion perhaps rooted in its Nordic origins. Deeper in the Arctic circle, seasonal affective disorder is more prevalent (Rosen et al. 1990) and the longer Winters give plenty of time to steep in the depths of depression, a set of circumstances reflected in black metal’s tonal bleakness and rejection of mainstream ideals. Even its anger feels like a reaction to this internal darkness, a lashing out at the unfairness of being saddled with such a burden. It also feels like it ties in neatly with the obsession with satanism: after all, who would worship a God who seems to have abandoned his followers to a life of suffering. If we take this misery as the root of the black metal sound, then a fusion with atmospheric music is a natural progression: it’s another way of expressing the loneliness of the northern winter.
However, atmospheric black metal can be difficult to listen to. The same angry impulses prevalent in mainstream black metal (if such a categorization isn’t an oxymoron) often find their way out in atmospheric black with random indulgent blasts of noise and sections that drone on the same note far beyond the length needed to make their musical point. It’s almost as though the musician is punishing the listener, and while it’s defensible from the point of view of defending the purity of the art, it does damage the listenability. Fortunately, Ghost Bath take the opposite approach, which I feel is the defining characteristic of the album. There’s a focus on musical variety, beautiful song construction and unforgettable yet complex melodies that ensures the album is a pleasure to listen to: it’s deep, yet understandable. Yet this isn’t accomplished by diluting the core of the music: the guitars are troublingly dissonant as often as they are introspective and mournful, and the vocals are a barrage of anguished shrieks and gurgles, which evoke the pain of a parent who has lost a child. It’s an unusual mix, but it works incredibly well, the disparate musical elements all gelling together. The album changes style in seconds, blasts of hard rocking black metal rage and distortion soaked guitars parked a hair’s breadth from almost Opeth style folksy clean string work with jangling harmonies and long sections where the drums take a rest to let the guitars do the talking. The transitions between the styles never feel forced: instead feeling like the musicians have finished one musical paragraph and moved onto the next one, still related, yet distinct, astonishing given the tonal disparities involved. And to be blunt, the album just rocks. Everything is catchy yet original, from the endlessly inventive instrumental work to the paint-stripping vocals. The musicianship on display here is absolutely breath-taking. It perfectly captures the sinister mood that unites the material as a whole, yet is simultaneously catchy, with something to love in every song. The strangely uplifting chorus riff in Golden Number, the haunting melody in Happyhouse and the savage stomping riff towards the beginning of The Silver Flower Part 2 are some of my favorite examples, but you could let ten people listen to the album and come up with ten different answers. It’s dense with ideas from beginning to end, the very opposite of musical self-indulgence, and a strong early contender for album of the year. Golden Number is below, together with its “too hot for Facebook” cover. If you want to support Ghost Bath and explore more of their music, you can find their music on bandcamp here.