My Top 15 Albums of 2017


Hi! Still existing and loving my family, hope the same goes for all of you. I may be retired from all else in the music world, but the year end list is eternal.

Sample size: I have 83 albums released in 2017 at the time of writing this. Can’t promise I actually listened to all of them.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Ranking music is silly and I generally discourage it.  (But I do it once a year anyway…….)

15. Chinese Man – Shikantaza

trip hop/hip hop

Sample track: Liar

fun French hip hop/trip hop album that seems to have gotten overlooked a lot. I listened to it a ton earlier this year. It’s not something I’ll remember years down the road, but it certainly earned a spot for as much as I played it.


14. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

stoner prog

Sample track: Sanctuary

For me personally, this is probably the most unorthodox pick on my list, because it is heavily rock-centric in all the ways that typically turn me off. God but something about rock and roll has always felt absolutely soulless to me in a way that few genres can match at their worst. But Elder just do what they do so damn well that it’s impossible to hate this opus. An endless onslaught of prog ingenuity with a nice stoner rock crunch that keeps it driving from start to finish. It’s 64 straight minutes of ear candy without a dull note in the mix, and I have a world of respect for how flawlessly these guys accomplished what they set out to do.


13. Krallice – Go Be Forgotten

post-black metal

Sample track: This Forest For Which We Have Killed

Krallice are responsible for a lot of the best music to come out this decade, and in 2017 they pumped out two new ones (both painfully late into the year for a band that requires a lot of repetition to fully appreciate). While I haven’t actually read anything about either of these yet, the distinctly different styles between them have me pretty convinced that Mick Barr wrote the bulk of this one and Colin Marston took charge on the other. Go Be Forgotten gets off to a glorious start with its opening track, but the remainder has so far failed to really captivate me to the extent that most of their previous works did. It doesn’t raise the bar (or if it does, it hasn’t sunk in yet), but it’s still a fascinating exploration of highly complex soundscapes that few other artists have the technical precision to delve. And god that opening riff is sick. Krallice will be a perpetual year end contender as long they keep doing what they do.


12. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

folk rock

Sample track: When The God Of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay

I have mixed feelings about this album, and my inclination is to point out the negative; suffice to say, it’s not lacking in universal praise. It wouldn’t be on my list if I didn’t love it. The reason it’s not higher is that, as I see it, Tillman too often defaults to rather throw-away lines. That’s not inherently problematic (see: my #1 pick), but I think it clashes with the more refined, theatrical vibe of the sound around them. Simple case in point: Total Entertainment Forever kicks off with an absolutely delicious line–Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift–and follows it up with something so generic that I feel it only exists to achieve a rhyme–after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes. Sometimes gentle flaws make a work all the more endearing, but Pure Comedy goes too big and refined to get away with it for me. I feel like he aimed extraordinarily high and almost got there.


11. Tchornobog – Tchornobog

blackened death metal

Sample track: II: Hallucinatory Black Breath Of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)

A landscape album as only blackened death metal can paint one. Tchornobog takes you on a 64 minute journey across an entirely unpleasant and stomach-turning waste of all purpose ugliness that really reflected how I’ve felt about the world this year any time I let my attention range beyond my immediate household. We’re talking death metal aesthetics here so yes, that can be a compliment. And while the visions are certainly exotic, there’s not much surrealism of the lofty, artistic sort you find on say, a Blut Aus Nord album. It’s just leaves you feeling kind of dirty. It hit a note I could appreciate while maintaining enough melody and progression to avoid succumbing to redundancy.


10. Hell – Hell

doom sludge

Sample track: Machitikos

Ridiculously heavy slow-rolled sludge that shouldn’t require any genre appreciation to crush your skull. At its peek on “Machitikos”, the quality of this album is unreal. Unfortunately I was pretty late to the ballgame, and their more ambient moments are going to take more than a sporadic month to leave a lasting impression or definitively fail to. Nowhere to move but further up the charts for this one.


9. Nokturnal Mortum – Істина

pagan metal

Sample track: Дика Вира

We’ve certainly come a long way from Knjaz Varggoth screaming hateful nonsense to crackling cassette recordings of Dollar General synth, and as endearing as Nokturnal Mortum’s early works may be, you can’t deny that he has matured (both musically and intellectually) substantially over the years. This album thoroughly lacks the trademark Eastern European folk metal execution that Knjaz inspired more than perhaps anyone else: brutally hammered folk jingles lashing out violently from beneath a wall of modern noise. Істина is a lot more even keel, to such an extent that its metal elements almost feel unnecessary at times. It fully embraces the more cerebral, orchestral sound we began to hear on Weltanschauung and leaves most else behind, achieving a new height in terms of orchestration. I do miss Knjaz’s more passionate explosions, but I don’t consider that a flaw. The real down side to the album for me stems from the studio. For all of its grand instrumental diversity, the complete package is a bit washed out. Everything feels like it’s playing in the background as a supporting element to a non-existent centerpiece. It’s something I’m certainly used to–Nokturnal Mortum have always struggled a bit on the finer finishing touches of sound production–but it’s still a fault that’s hard to ignore. An incredibly solid album that could have been even better.


8. Riivaus – Lyoden Taudein Ja Kirouksin

black metal

Sample track: Vihan Temppeli

This is probably the most unknown album on my list. It’s just straight-up black metal. No frills. No novelties. Really it’s the sort of thing I rarely listen to these days, because most great bm artists have moved on to more experimental fronts. But this is tight as fuck. The riffs are great and it’s got a nice punchy pace and a crisp tone that suits the mood perfectly. Outstanding debut from an unheard of artist. Hoping he sticks around for many years to come.


7. Thundercat – Drunk

funk/jazz

Sample track: Bus in These Streets

A tongue-in-cheek dreamfunk fantasy. Artists who can let a cheesy sound be cheesy often accidentally stumble into brilliance. This guy makes some of the goofiest sounds that funk and jazz have ever imagined somehow feel endearing. I’m also pretty impressed by how distinct his sound is. I mean, considering how radically uninformed on this sort of style I am, it kind of blew my mind that I could instantly go “this guy must have wrote the bass lines to Wesley’s Theory“. I think Drunk is an incredibly well-craft work masked behind a delicious veil of comedy. And it’s given us such eloquent 21st century mottos as “thank god for technology, because where would we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?”


6. Krallice – Loüm

post-black metal

Sample track: Etemenanki

If Go Be Forgotten offered Krallice’s most deranged opening melody to date, Loüm might take the prize for their heaviest boot in the ass. Etemenanki hammers down all the brutality of a headbanger’s wet dream from the first note without budging an inch on Krallice’s classic eclectic tremolo noodling. I don’t think I’ve wanted to just open my mouth and shout “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck” to a Krallice song this bad since Inhume. As with Go Be Forgotten, there’s a serious question of whether the album as a whole is really that great or if the opening song just carries it, and that’s not to knock the rest so much as to say that by Krallice’s ridiculously high standards I think it might have some mediocrity. You can never really tell with most Krallice songs until you’ve heard them four dozen times. It’s complicated, intricate shit that your brain doesn’t instinctively unravel. My gut tells me that Loüm will keep on growing on me in a way that Go Be Forgotten may struggle to, and I was right about that with Prelapsarian’s incredibly late release last year. (Yes, it is amazing.) The only lasting down point about Loüm for me is, surprisingly, the addition of Dave Edwardson (Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot) on vocals. He does a killer job, but I am shamelessly in love with Nick McMaster’s vox and can’t help but miss them.


5. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

folk

Sample track: Crow

Phil Elverum’s wife died last year, and he wrote this album. It’s artistically significant for reasons that are pointless to explain, because I think you will either already get it or it will fundamentally conflict with whatever life coping mechanism you personally subscribe to, and both are fine. It matters to me more than other albums about death because we appear to share roughly the same world view. It isn’t my favorite album of the year because it can’t be.


4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

post-rock

Sample track: Bosses Hang

I somehow managed to ignore the rebirth of GY!BE in spite of being entirely aware of it, and this is the first album I’ve listened to by them since Yanqui U.X.O. fifteen years ago. In the meantime, I’ve become an avid consumer of Silver Mt Zion, and after that long of a break it’s easy to forget just how different the two projects were. I’m at a loss for words to properly describe how I feel about Luciferian Towers because I have nothing remotely current and similar to compare it to. “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State” are both absolutely mind blowing, and I usually skip the first and third tracks and don’t even care. This is the greatest band in post-rock being exactly that.


3. Kendrick Lamar – Damn

hip hop

Sample track: DNA

Every time I saw this album top another year-end list, I wanted to move it further down mine. It doesn’t move me on an emotional level like To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s not Kendrick’s greatest work. Can it really be the best of 2017? But every time I revised my year-end list, it just kept moving up instead. Everything he touches has a subtle finesse to it. I love the sound of his voice. I love the way he weaves it into the instrumentation flawlessly. I love how every aspect of each song seems painstakingly tailored to suit the intended vibe. I can just really get into this from start to finish time after time with zero effort. It was my 2017 fallback the grand bulk of the times I wasn’t in the mood for something dark or heavy. This album makes me feel empowered every time I put it on with no cheap sense of escapism attached, and god did I need something like that.


2. Boris – Dear

drone/doom/psych/post-rock

Sample track: Dystopia (Vanishing Point)

Wow. This is 16th year that I’ve compiled a year-end list. For the grand majority of that time, I would have named Boris in my top 5 favorite bands if you asked me. During that time, they’ve put out 53 releases just that I have managed to acquire. And not one has earned my #1 slot. Smile came so close. So close. And now I’m saying it again. I almost feel guilty leaving Dear at #2. It was never dropping any lower. But if you’re at all familiar with it, this might sound generous. Dear is nowhere near their most well-received album. It is absolutely nowhere near their most accessible. Doom and drone at its core, it’s a slow drip grind that will leave all but the most steadfast fans bored out of their minds on first encounter. Yet I somehow managed to listen to it close to 50 freaking times. It wasn’t that I liked it at first. I kind of didn’t. But the mood was right. It hit that sweet spot between ambience and melody that made it never quite dull enough to bore inherently but never quite memorable enough to bore through familiarity. It was dark but it wasn’t morbid. It was just the right sort of fuzz to make me feel more alert without distracting me. And it was through that extremely passive but relentless pattern of listening that its finest moments slowly revealed themselves to me, raising the bar higher and higher, until now it blows my mind that a track like Dystopia (Vanishing Point) could have failed to sweep me off my feet on first encounter. It certainly manages to every time now, on take number one hundred and god knows what. This isn’t my favorite Boris album, but I suspect it’s much higher up there for me than for most fans, and after a very great deal of consideration it only failed to take the title by a fraction of a hair. Oh, I also got to watch them play it live in its entirety. 😀


1. Sun Kil Moon – Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood

Americana

Sample track: Lone Star

The grand prize goes to Sun Kil Moon. I think this might be for me what Pure Comedy has been for a lot of other people this year. It just speaks to so much I’ve been feeling in 2017 in a way I can completely relate to. Mark Kozelek takes half of the stuff I’ve been making enemies spouting all year and sets it to solid American folk music. He has a blue collar political perspective that offers no compromise for our “total fucking asshole” President but takes far more cutting hits at liberal America’s zero-attention-span reaction-click-and-move-on culture for allowing the country to fall into this state. The album is a two hours and ten minutes meandering disjointed travel through personal stories and monologues that reach all over the place, but underneath it all is a consistent love and appreciation for the bonds we share in our meager little lives, and an intense compassion for those who have permanently lost them. If he comes across as cranky, he’s just pissed at how many Americans have lost sight of this.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016

Neon Dream #11: Kinski – Semaphore


I will never summon ethereal fire spirits to rend my foes, and unless the unknown reaches of physics politely comply with Hollywood, I will never receive a post card from the dark side of the Milky Way. I will also never applaud a director’s effective use of taste and smell, or upload a backup of my memory to external storage in between breakfast and a morning shower, but there is a difference here…

Nearly every cyberpunk story I have encountered begins with an apocalypse shortly after its publication. I guarantee you someone is writing one right now in which, in 2020, either Putin or radical Islamists nuke the shit out of everybody. Now it is 2060, and all of a sudden everyone is rocking cybernetic implants, babies grow in artificial wombs, and Lunar Colony Beta just declared independence. It’s not an absurdity. It’s not as if people just go “it’s the future; of course it will be futuristic!” and ignore the context. The assumption is that a cataclysmic act of destruction will somehow propel technology towards radical progress.

This makes sense, if you think about the forces that drive technology forward. In capitalism, there is always an incentive to stagnate. The longer you can milk a product, pumping out new models with superficial “upgrades”, the less you have to invest into research and development. Especially in oligopolies like America, once you establish a monopoly you can dig in your heels for years, even decades, before competition on other fronts undermines your turf. Technology is also hardballed by the western world’s incoherent, slapped-together code of ethics. Since the 1980s, our society has been pretty thoroughly convinced that free will is an endangered species preservable only in captivity. Half of the potential at our fingertips is illegal to research let alone implement, on the grounds that it somehow violates our sanctity.

The post-apocalyptic setting washes us clean of our old ethics and oligarchs. The society that emerges might be a terrible place to live, but it may well be a technocracy. When capitalism undermined the old aristocracy, revolution created bourgeois democracy. The First World War birthed all sorts of hyper-industrial dictatorships, even at the far fringes of the Industrial Revolution’s sphere. A catastrophic event in the information age should, if the trend holds, generate Google empires. How long can conventionally mechanized warlords withstand against soldiers modified to receive live satellite imagery of their terrain and fully regenerate major wounds in a matter of months? Is 45 years too soon for all this? Mother Russia went from de facto feudalism to Sputnik in fewer. And we have to make some allowances for fiction…

There is nothing fundamental preventing massive progress towards biological enhancement–at least nothing we are commonly aware of. The Cyborg Age won’t emerge in our lifetimes, realistically, but only because of entrenched social, political, and economic conditions. The fictional cataclysm is compelling for a lot of bigger reasons, but plausibility still hangs in the air. Our cozy modern lives won’t take us anywhere, but maybe a little pandemonium will usher in the paradigm shift to a society which praises integration of digital technology into our biological systems.

Kinski are a post-rock band from Seattle that formed in 1998. “Semaphore” appears on their 2003 Sub Pop release, Airs Above Your Station. I am pretty sure that the opening two minutes contains a formula to reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity, but I am too old to do acid. At any rate, I hear it as some sort of major shift in perspective inaugurating an era of progression.

Neon Dream #10: The Album Leaf – The Outer Banks


The Album Leaf is an electronic-oriented post-rock band headed by Jimmy LaValle. While the project has been around since 1998, LaValle made it onto most post-rock radars with his third album, In a Safe Place. Released in 2004, is was LaValle’s first album on Sub Pop, and it featured most of Sigur Rós as studio musicians. The album was significant, I think, for affirming that great post-rock did not have to conform to the structure and instrumentation standards that were beginning to overwhelm the genre.

For me though, it filled a very different role. I was pretty obsessed with Lost in Translation at the time, and that soundtrack had a bit of a love affair with Rhodes piano and similar tones. That sound happened to be The Album Leaf’s trademark, and it fit in beautifully, especially with Brian Reitzell’s contributions and “Tommib” by Squarepusher. I ended up inserting my favorite track off In a Safe Place into the middle of my Lost in Translation playlist, and that’s how a song called “The Outer Banks” came to make me think of Japan.

Neon Dream #2: Boris – Intro


Japan’s three-piece prodigy Boris have played every style of music in the books over the years, and they do it all well. “Intro” appears fairly early in their discography, on the 2005 reissue of Akuma No Uta. (The original 2003 release features a much shorter intro track.) If you had any question about the sort of diversity Boris brought to the table even this early on, you could look at Akuma No Uta‘s multiple album covers. One was a play on the cover art of Bryter Layter by Nick Drake. Another, Welcome to Hell by Venom.

This track also made my mix after I used it in a game. The task I set for myself when I purchased a copy of RPGMaker was to take an incongruous cyberpunk story written by a bunch of kids in the 90s and make it work. It was in pretty bad shape. Apparently being chaotic evil made you a great candidate for leadership; the CEO calling the shots was supposedly some genius who had carefully crafted his rise to power, but then he’d turn and do crafty things like scream “bwahahaha” and murder his advisers. It was the sort of nonsense only a bunch of children or Joseph McCarthy could dream up. I wanted to retain the basic progression of events–I was doing this for fun and nostalgia, after all–but the opening sequence, where the leader shoots a passenger airline out of the sky in order to sense the euphoric death rattle of hundreds of innocents burning in unison, was uh…. yeeeeah….

When I listened to “Intro” by Boris, the scene rewrote itself. The plane was suddenly slowly drifting over a scene of urban anarchy, where police stations and hospitals barely hung on behind walls of garbage and broken glass. Casinos and brothels lit up the night sky. The pilot commits a minor breach in security protocol while requesting permission to land, and a culture of paranoia spirals the situation out of control. Ultimately, a general authorizes force with a hint of satisfaction, and the plane explodes. Wata’s high pitched, siren-like guitar seems to simulate ambulances rushing to the scene. Boris set the tone for how I would rewrite the entire script. The foreboding, dystopian vibe of this instrumental song was powerful enough alone to create a setting I couldn’t handle with graphics and dialogue at my disposal.

Neon Dream #1: Maserati – Inventions


On a bit of a lark, I posted an article last week about some of my odd experiences as a kid on the internet in the 90s. That got me listening to a bunch of music that has no obvious connection to the things I wrote about. My metal choices became more industrial. I fired up the Lost in Translation soundtrack for the first time in ages. I fell in love with vaporwave’s sardonic spin on muzak and smooth jazz… Hey, this sounds like an excuse to post a music series!

90s internet was obsessed with fantasy and science fiction. “Nerds” were more likely to be online. (My family got dial-up because my mother was a computer programmer.) Free online gaming was dominated by MUDs and forum RPGs, as they were well suited for text-based environments and stemmed from a long tradition. Most of all, it was the easiest place for that demographic to congregate. (Why do we have Sports Bars but not Dungeon Masters’ Taverns?) If you came to the internet enjoying console RPGs, you might well leave loving anime and Dungeons & Dragons, too, and sharing an odd obsession with that island off the east coast of Asia that gave us so much of it. Japan was an exotic world full of technologically advanced cities, as I imagined it, and its number one export for me was high-tech fiction.

That is how I came to engage futuristic universes like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Japan brought cyberpunk into the mainstream for my generation. (It was years before I watched Blade Runner.) The internet was the new frontier of technology, so the genre sort of resonated with the medium through which I encountered it. Ghost in the Shell in particular asked a lot of relevant questions regarding how technology impacted identity. On the internet, anonymity was a sort of virtue, and that always fascinated me. I also saw, as time went by, a lot of commonalities between the internet and cyberpunk’s dystopian societies. Corporate monopolies replaced niche vendors. Advertising expanded wildly, still all in-your-face pop-up adds pushing pornography and all-you-can-eat, 0%-down, free trial chances to become an instant winner. Forums became overcrowded, scaling up from hundreds of active users to tens of thousands. Screen names ceased to provide even temporary identification as people no longer bothered looking at them. Copycat conformity and superficial cheap thrills dominated where people had once engaged each other with thought and imagination.

In both cyberpunk and the internet, you had an acknowledged gap between the corporate world and the masses. In Final Fantasy VII, for instance, Midgar’s dark, towering inner city emitted a filth of neon commercial sleaze and ill-earned luxury that opposed the sunshine and suffering warmth of its dilapidated ghettos. This disparity was clear, both to the player and to Midgar’s fictional inhabitants. The antagonists were balding, broad-wasted businessmen and corporate gangsters. The heroes toppled the system through sabotage, creating a ripple effect that rocked the masses and–not so much in FF7, but definitely elsewhere–turned them against their corporate overlords. The fact that capitalism felt evil or sleazy, both online and in the fiction, proved awareness of the gap. If the system was working properly, the masses would willingly accept their position and not eye commercialism warily or respond to tremors beneath. There would be no vulnerability–no means to revolution–and subsequently, in a lot of these stories, nothing to drive the plot forward.

The gap emerged in fiction because it made for an interesting story. It emerged in real life because the internet simply hadn’t been reigned in yet. Corporations were still scrambling to keep up with rapidly changing demands emanating from an unregulated hive mind. In both cases, the appeal was a sense of empowerment. Anonymity within an unstable system enabled anyone, theoretically, to mastermind changes in behavior of the masses and then slip back into the shadows. It was a utopian dystopia. It was too easy.

Today’s social media, integrated subliminal advertising, and tailor-made instant-gratification entertainment indicate a highly functional, invulnerable corporate society. The internet is a bleak, soulless place where people narrate their artificial lives to the wind, proudly displaying every ounce of their shallow identities. You might grasp the banality for a moment and try to spread the word, but open ears are hard to come by, and before you seek them you just have to watch this Youtube video about the 10 craziest moments in… something. C’est la vie.

But that is why internet and the 90s makes me reflect nostalgically on sweaty used car dealers in crooked toupees; Tokyo as an exotic, futuristic world; Groomed corporate elites snorting cocaine on their private jets; Sleazy, shameless advertising; Revolutions begun by untraceable, nameless figures in archaic chatrooms; The machine consuming itself and collapsing into anarchy; Most of all, the freedom to roam a vast, incomprehensible urban landscape without consequence.

Maserati are a post-rock band from the music capital of the southeast: Athens, Georgia. “Inventions” appears on their 2007 release, Inventions for the New Season (which I always thought was a really awkward title). Their line-up at the time included the late Jerry Fuchs, who was involved in a lot of significant acts before his tragic death: !!!, MSTRKRFT, LCD Soundsystem.

This song found its way into my mix as a result of my brief foray into RPGMaker. I got it in my head to make a cyberpunk RPG based loosely around a collaborative story that I took part in back on the Nintendo.com forums in ’98. Futuristic tile sets were pretty hard to come by, and I turned to music to set the tone of the game. I put “Inventions” to work when the player finished up the introduction sequence and became free to explore. The song captured for me the feeling of walking along the massive streets of a futuristic city in the dead of night.

Review: Ghost Bath – Moonlover


Gimmicks don’t always work out as intended. When I heard that Ghost Bath were not, as they once claimed, Chinamen from Chongqing Municipality, but rather well-mustached American hipsters, I believe my first question was “who?” But if this band’s efforts to fool fans before they actually had any comes off a bit less clever than stupid, my negative points end there. Moonlover is a pretty interesting work from its cover all the way to the closing track. Hailing from the far more obscure and frostbitten wasteland of North Dakota, Ghost Bath have forged a really solid sophomore LP that should stand among the better metal albums we hear this year.

Track: “Golden Number

After a brief, haunting intro track that definitely lends credence to their name, Moonlover makes an awkward but forgivable transition into a really uplifting number that has everyone on the internet comparing them to Deafheaven. With one of those explosions of emotional, half-heartbroken half-triumphant post-black metal glory that sounds more familiar every year, followed by a kind of punk lick underlined by passionate, poppy drumming straight off Amesoeurs’ Ruines Humaines and unearthly vocal shrieks, “Golden Number” is certainly in line with the trend of the day. It kind of feels like someone drug Woods of Desolation out of their basement and shoved them into a top-notch recording studio, and yes, the comparisons to Sunbather have their merit too. But if Ghost Bath are not necessarily pioneers, they are definitely refining the machine.

Much like post-rock, where you had a whole bunch of totally distinct bands making waves while everyone else ripped off Mono–and we could hardly complain about that–post-black metal is definitely developing a “standard” sound. “Golden Number” is that sound to a T, and I absolutely love the clarity with which Ghost Bath pull it off. This is a genre born of static noise. It was the realization that you could invoke a lot of emotion by hiding something pretty in an aural cesspool that really kicked off the scene, and even Deafheaven’s “Dream House”, for all its ability to swoon foreign audiences, was really heavily distorted. The noise carried the passion, but it was also limiting. Moonlover is a surprisingly clean album, and because of it the band can do subtle things that I don’t often hear. The tremolo at the beginning of “Golden Number”, for instance, is complemented by a second, barely audible guitar that’s tapping instead of picking. Maybe post-bm has gone that route before, but if so I never noticed it. The clarity on this song, at least relative to its genre, allows me to detect these things, and the end product feels so much more full of life for it.

“Ghost Number” ends with two minutes of piano, and “Happyhouse” picks the metal back up with a totally different feel from the song before it. Three minutes of melancholy plodding lead into a fresh vision of that ghostly guitar we heard in the intro track, and Dennis Mikula treats us to more of his otherworldly screams. Amesoeurs again comes to mind, and I have to believe Neige was an inspiration on this band in more ways than one, but to me Mikula’s vocals sound most reminiscent of Ygg, a short-lived but brilliant Ukrainian trio featuring former members of Nokturnal Mortum and Helg from Khors. “Happyhouse” erupts into black metal for only a passing burst of intensity before returning to its moody plod. Post-rock guitar ultimately defines the song’s direction, while Mikula’s outstanding vocal performance brings the depth. “Happyhouse” could be a cookie-cutter bore, but the band’s keen execution and knack for making their short repeated phrases consistently catchy turns it into something I can really embrace.

10 minutes go by before you hear another ounce of metal, but I would hardly call it a wait. “Beneath the Shade Tree” and “The Silver Flower pt. 1” are both dreamy guitar-driven visions of forests and streams, feeling perhaps a cross between Agalloch and Alcest. The nature effects on the latter track especially brought to mind the intro and outro to Alcest’s “Le Secret”, though I’m sure you could name a dozen other bands that might have played an influential hand here. The origins are quite irrelevant; these two songs only beg identification because they are so vivid and beautiful. The sound is ultimately the band’s own.

Track: “The Silver Flower pt. 2

When Moonlover‘s heavier half does return, it feels infused with the spirit of the instrumental tracks before it. “The Silver Flower pt. 2” floats along with no edge to speak of beyond the first minute, drifting on the dream that came before. If it weren’t for Mikula’s persistently tormented vocals–a bit out of place now, I must admit–it could pass as a moody but up-tempo rock song. The style feels strikingly familiar, yet I can’t put a finger on it. It’s sort of equivalent to how Katatonia were playing around with the metal sounds of their day in the late 90s, and it calls the whole “black metal” label for this band into question. Moonlover incorporates so much more, riding a dozen different stylistic approaches to take us on a journey. We started out with a burst of passion–a sense of fulfillment and life–on “Golden Number”, then road down a path into depression with “Happyhouse”. The commune with nature in “Beneath the Shade Tree” and “The Silver Flower pt. 1” revitalizes, moving the album from positive and negative extremes to an even-keel, smooth ride on “The Silver Flower pt. 2”. The final track, “Death and the Maiden”, sort of brings us around in a circle. The equilibrium of “pt. 2” picks up its pace here, growing in excitement until the return of a black metal sound breaks it. We’re back to highs and lows, and we end on the latter. The album trickles out in a dark depressing grind back into the haunting sounds of the introduction, and that opening melody repeats, now made even more ghostly through a synth whistling tone.

I like it. Moonlover feels like a complete package, flushing out a musical narrative that consistently develops from track to track. It might not match up precisely to the picture it painted in my mind, but a progression is definitely there. Ghost Bath refuse to restrict themselves to one genre, incorporating a wide array of styles into a really coherent whole. The drums are tight, the guitarists can pull off some neat noodling but know when to keep it simple, and the album is book-ended by its two best tracks. I don’t think it would have hurt Dennis Mikula to chill out on the screaming for a bit on “The Silver Flower pt. 2”, but over all I love his vocals. There’s not much I can complain about. And since I want to start making a point to link where you can purchase the albums I ramble about: go adopt a moon on Bandcamp.