Funeral doom metal’s inception was initially an otherworldly minimalist take on the overly romanticized Peaceville style death/doom movement. Bands like Unholy, Esoteric and Thergothon used psychedelia, quarter-speed doom metal riffs, basement noise experiments and oft-croaked vocals to pioneer a sub-genre so sonically unpalatable that it took decades to validate even within the open-minded underground metal scene. It wasn’t until Esoteric were doing double-LPs and Evoken incorporated tasteful death metal pacing/riffs that I personally took notice. The argument for devotion to the sub-genre is emotional resonance and big-picture atmospheric value; the dissociation and dysphoria induced is both excruciating and cathartic to the point that even with a passion for funeral doom I can only take in a few releases per year before I lose it.
Bell Witch, prior to this record, was honestly one of the easier listens in modern funeral doom. Their sludge influences and thick, bass-driven sound was spacious and each extensive album gifted the listener with solemn reprieve between more bludgeoning riffs. ‘Four Phantoms’ was a balance of the ethereal and the damning realities of extreme slow death/doom with one major highlight being Adrian Guerra’s vocal flexibility and nigh cinematic drumming. Although current drummer Jesse Shreibman had already replaced Guerra on vocals/drums due to internal conflicts, losing Guerra suddenly provided unprecedented emotional context to the voice and style of ‘Mirror Reaper’ as the project openly and unavoidably grieved his absence during the writing process. Not only is his loss heart-wrenching to fans, but the music he was known for co-creating pays the ultimate, and entirely appropriate tribute to the fallen. The irony is not lost upon the listener that this album can’t help but eulogize him with one of the most flattening and cathartic funeral doom albums ever recorded.
The first movement “As Above” is a harrowing march towards it’s frustrated center where the gloom and dark howls surround the listener. Dylan Desmond’s careful six string basslines act as an incredible baritone voice, ringing out with despondent and crippling introspection that is somewhat uncharacteristic of earlier Bell Witch material; although the exceedingly mournful tone of his material is always restfully plucked. The richly layered production gives focus to the bass as it weaves one of the most complete and riveting melodies known to the sub-genre. Whether or not it is the emotional weight of the band’s personal tragedy or if the music happens to be incredibly inspired, the gravitas is palpable and engaging as the 50 minute opening Evoken-like stream-of-consciousness peaks and tapers itself into a resigning sigh.
The second movement, in what ended up being an 80 minute opus, “So Below” is a sighing arrow in the soul of the listener. The clean, robust tone of Desmond’s bass slowly finds its echoing space as Guerra’s voice, an extra vocal performance from the ‘Four Phantoms’ session, forms the heart of this reprieve. Erik Moggridge, guitarist for the long dead brutal thrash metal band Epidemic, contributes the most moving vocals in the style of his previous contributions to Bell Witch. His light and soulful voice provides the heft of the emotional weight in the 30 minute section that punctuates the album. The hope is that Moggridge finds interest in contributing to the band’s future records and live shows in increasing amounts because he absolutely makes the second half of this experience.
From here it seems Bell Witch can only move on to bigger things knowing they’ve achieved what is easily the most personal and extensive funeral doom metal album you’ll ever hear. While I understand the hesitation some have about the ‘gimmick’ of the ‘one very long song’ thing that many have done, this is entirely different as it appears as two distinct movements and moods that tie together into a finale even more cathartic than your favorite Warning album. The style absolutely either demands a mood or in this case creates it and I can only encourage fans to enter into the experience understanding that this is as genuine and thoughtful as funeral doom might ever be. It is a monumental recording and one of my personal favorite records of the year.
|Released||October 20, 2017|
|Recorded||2016 – 2017|
|BUY/LISTEN on their Bandcamp!||Follow Bell Witch on Facebook|