"I think as long as the art makes you feel something, then I have succeeded"
Ghost Bath have recently released their new album 'Self Loather' via Nuclear Blast.
The third piece of the band's sonic trilogy, it is a dense, destructive and desolating conclusion to a near-decade of musical experimentation. Harsher, heavier and more harrowing than their previous material, and with good reason, it's a stunning display of modern black metal delivered by one of the most consistently fascinating and ferocious artists in the scene.
To delve into how it came to be, we chatted to vocalist/mastermind Dennis Mikula...
With this album being the final piece in a trilogy, is the way it looks, feels, and sounds what you anticipated it to be like at the beginning of the process? What did that initial vision look like?
"I do a lot of writing myself. I write a lot of prose and fantasy stuff, and there are some terms that I really like when it comes to creating something. There’s a gardener and an architect. An architect plans out every little piece and outlines every single part beforehand, whilst a gardener has a plan and some ideas, but as they start working on it, they let it grow in whatever direction it wants to. I follow more along the lines of the gardener. So I knew that this would be the heaviest album, that was the plan. I knew this would be based on doom and hatred. I knew this would be the hell part of the project. But those were just the basic pieces. From there, you start doing riffs here and there, and they serve as the seeds, then you grow from there. At the same time, everybody in the band wrote for the first time, so I could never have guessed what would come from their voices and ideas. This was a fully collaborative effort, rather than how it was on the last two albums, which were just me doing everything. So I had a bit of a better direction on how those two would go, but this time I had none. When ‘Convince Me To Bleed’ was written, that's how it started to take shape. That became the blueprint."
Was having the rest of the band write a conscious decision, or was it that much the same as everything else just starting to happen?
"These are the same guys who have been with Ghost Bath since we started touring in 2016, so they have been playing music with me for that long. I know them and trust them, and as things progressed, I knew that I didn’t want things within the band to sound the same. I also knew that if I kept writing it by myself, I would have to force myself to write unnaturally. Still writing how I want to and having the other guys bring their things to the table allowed things to be different. It’s a way for us to move forwards."
And all of that must change your interpretations of what you want to present emotionally quite dramatically as well…
"You never know how an album is going to end up until it’s done, you know. You can imagine it in your head, but you’re never going to know until it is there in front of you. And bringing them in for this album served as an intelligent choice because a lot of the style of a heavier album like this isn’t how I write. My stuff has always been more straightforward and about the transitions between soft and loud and things being more of a journey. They are better at different rhythms and time signatures, which don’t come naturally to me. And I like that result, the contrast of heavy and dissonant with the pretty and melodic."
And when you’re focusing on the emotions on show here, that contrast becomes even more fascinating, especially when you’re bringing more actual lyrics into the release…
"I always say this band as a chance to use the Sigur Rós approach of using a made-up language of sorts instead of words, an extra instrument to fit in with the music. But this time around, it was once again not wanting to do the same thing over and over and just use high pitched wails. I had to figure out something different, even though I keep some of those in the album. It didn’t make sense to do higher or lower black metal vocals without actual lyrics; I think it would have sounded weird. The lyrics were the last thing we worked on. I tried to get back into the same mindset while writing the music, though, which is dark. I don’t force it. I wait for it to come. So once I got there, I would put the track on, just writing whatever came out."
It’s interesting for you to say that you didn’t force it. But when you’re dealing with this sort of darkness, you can’t fake it. So how did it feel when you realised what you had crafted through, allowing yourself to be in that mindset?
"Each album that we have released is different in that approach, and I have always used that as the lens to look through. So ‘Moonlover’ was about tragedy, ‘Starmourner’ was ecstasy, and this album is hatred. The catharsis of all of this happens when I am writing, and it comes within a transfer of energy that just flows out of me. I don’t think that I’m going to write something in a certain way. I just let it happen. I’ve always had this thing where a song can transfer me to a completely different place. Like I will hear something, and it will immediately put me into a memory or super-specific situation. So that has always allowed me to write for Ghost Bath in a super-specific way."
It must be interesting to hear other people’s own experiences based on the music you create, especially when your view of the world and the things you have been through is so specific…
"It’s a good feeling, for sure. Even though they aren’t thinking of the same things as me, that human connection is still special and unique. It’s the point of art overall. You don’t need to try and connect to other people, you just have to create something from your own experience, and people will automatically connect with it. I think as long as the art makes you feel something, then I have succeeded. I got that philosophy from a super strange filmmaker called Harmony Korine, who creates bizarre stuff. He said that as long as people feel some way about what he makes, he has done it right. I’ve had people come up to me at the same show come up to me laughing, and then someone else crying, and I loved both reactions."
How do you feel as though creating this trilogy of albums has changed you as a person compared to who you were at the beginning of the Ghost Bath story?
"This might sound a bit sad, but I don’t think this band has changed anything internally for me mentally since the start of this. I haven’t moved that much, and I think that’s why it was so important to get the other guys in here to help continue this. Externally everything has changed, from writing the EP in my parent’s basement because my place had flooded to then getting to play Bloodstock whilst on Nuclear Blast. But you adapt to those things very quickly. But otherwise, I’m still very much in the same spot. The catharsis still only comes from writing, and then before you know it, it’s time to move on to the next thing to do it again."
And that’s why you keep on coming back because there is no conclusion to this and those feelings…
"It’s about the journey, not the destination. Perhaps asking and exploring the question is ultimately what the answer to it all is. That’s why we are here and why we do it. The unknown is always where the most excitement is."