Album Review: Self Loather – Ghost Bath

Black Metal has suffered a great deal by limiting itself to needlessly bare bones production values, and music written with a purposeful simplicity that often invariably reeks of desperation and pretentiousness. But at one point, not unlike any other sub genre, Black Metal’s now-cliche attributes were exactly what made it sound authentic and exciting. Thankfully, bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Numenorean, Gaerea, and Harakiri For The Sky have chosen to break new ground within the genre, and Ghost Bath is one of the best examples of a newer group who has taken the Black Metal aesthetic and allowed it to splinter into countless horrifying directions. 

Ghost Bath does not make comfortably listenable music, or art that goes out of its way to make its audience feel at home. Their work is, in fact, quite often downright painful to experience. Mixing the powerful dreaminess of bands like Deafheaven and Svalbard, the windblown acoustic-tinged soundscapes of artists like Panopticon and Fen, and at times the extreme blackened Death of groups like Alterage and Cryptae, Ghost Bath occupy a fairly unique space within modern Black Metal. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the band, you’re at somewhat of a disadvantage coming into “Self Loather,” though mainly because each of Ghost Bath’s first three LP’s (“Funeral” 2014, “Moonlover” 2015, and “Starmourner” 2017) were major musical accomplishments. While it is not necessary to listen to this earlier work to enjoy the new material, it is quite helpful as a listener to consider “Self Loather” a continuation of what was already a deeply personal and devastating journey through the psyche of band leader Dennis Mikula.  

With that in mind, it’s easy enough to go back and listen to where the grand ideas on “Self Loather” began to take shape. Either way, it’s obvious the glory of these ten tracks certainly didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. Something so majestically realized takes the kind of time and attention to detail available only to artists extremely dedicated to a specific vision. 

Now, while the combination of naming your “DSBM” (Depressive Suicidal Black Metal) project Ghost Bath and using a print of John Everett Millais’ “Ophelia” for the cover of your first LP are arguably a bit too on the nose, one cannot diminish the importance of journeying through the highs and lows of clinical depression and suicidal meditations. One reason these feelings are so difficult to comprehend, outside of being able to literally relate, is because there simply are no easy routes to any real life understanding. Depression is a lonely illness, and the sufferer rarely has the presence of mind to explain using even the easiest words, let alone the psychological wherewithal to create something that comes even remotely close to telling the whole story. 

So, taken as a whole, Ghost Bath’s body of work could be considered somewhat heroic, if one is also able to keep in mind the shortened nature of depressive/suicidal narratives. Mikula has basically been telling his audience that he has existed in various states of drowning for nearly a decade! 

Opting to sing, for the most part, in a language of his own, Mikula hasn’t spent much energy coming up with the words necessary to express such unbearable darkness. Instead, his glossolalia has relied entirely on the atmosphere the sound of his voice provides, without the obvious, though rarely discussed, limitations of the written word. Thus, whether meaning to provide one or not, Ghost Bath’s music has a spiritual component typically reserved for more traditionally orthodox artworks. Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” for example, or Beethoven’s (Moonlight) “Piano Sonata #14,” are such pieces. Music that, if performed properly, carries a weight words could never properly express. 

In some of the promotional material provided by Nuclear Blast, Mikula says of his art that “the most important aspect is that it makes you feel something; that it results in a reaction, whether good or bad or anything in-between. This piece [“Self Loather”] represents the isolating and depressive feelings I have endured.” In other words, what matters to Ghost Bath is how their music, through endless forms of conflicting communication, makes people feel. Regardless of how well they understand the intentions behind its creation, if it moves them in any direction… Mikula will consider his work a success. 

After writing all of this, I think it would be a bit vacant of me to go down the album’s track list, attempting to explain how each makes me feel, or what potential secrets I uncovered through my own listening experience. I feel entirely comfortable, however, letting all of you know that Ghost Bath has released an incredibly important record. Certainly in the field of contemporary atmospheric Black Metal, but more than that it is a record that’s able to express the reality of the practically inexpressible darkness that shrouds a lamentable intellect. 

“Self Loather” is unbearably bleak and icy at times. Indeed, one could be forgiven for running from its frostbitten edges, if it weren’t for the thinly scattered hope-scented debris that comes in the form of short solo piano vignettes, and ridiculously heavy triple guitar attack. The range of emotion on display during these forty five minutes is nothing short of miraculous, and I have a feeling these songs are destined to help a great deal of people through tragically difficult times. 

Rating: 4.5/5

“Self Loather” releases October 29th via Nuclear Blast Records.

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