DEATHBELL – A Nocturnal Crossing (2022)REVIEW

From the haunted cathedral rafters where we hang to the hissing rivers of desert-hot sand whirring outside there is a fantastical, abysmal post-apocalyptic and mind-palatial world implied within the bluesy psychedelic doom metal glooming of Toulouse, France-based quintet Deathbell‘s second full-length album. It arrives in the form of staggered ooze-and-stalk psychedelia, a satisfyingly waltzed occult rock stomp that’d serve revelation beyond their buttoned up and scene-ready debut, an essential leap into the deep end of gloriously layered doom-rock abysm wherein ‘A Nocturnal Crossing‘ generates its own warming, deeply burnt resonance. The listening experience is the best sort of ‘grower’, a slowly cast boon of entrancement that’ll tilt heads aback in ecstasy when left on repeat for hours at a time.

Deathbell formed as a quartet featuring members of Soyuz Bear circa 2015 as one of several somewhat notable doom and/or sludge groups to arise from the rose-colored riverside armpit of Occitan in the last half-decade, largely keeping their heads down to the world stage ’til their impressive and professional-graded debut album (‘With the Beyond‘, 2018) was ready. Though devotees of the sort of desert/stoner level of psychedelic doom embraced the album’s wandering heavy psych spirituals upon release, it’d more or less missed fringe idiots like me until a bit later, noting that the bluesy and often listlessly reaching cadence of vocalist Lauren Gaynor and the darker-spirited verve of the band warranted they continue.

A Nocturnal Crossing‘ is the soil spiritual n’ mountain-gazing product of the three years of writing and performance beyond that first release, the sort of album a band could only write after realizing they’d built notable platform to stand on (live and on record) allowing for even more personal style to emerge from within. Nearby the second half of that process they’d added a second guitarist Fredrik Bolzann (Witchthroat Serpent, ex-Sektarism) and this appears to have been a key finishing touch for the album if we plainly compare their two releases side by side. The suggestion is that it was recorded live in studio to some degree, likely utilizing the vintage gear available at La Vache studios but perhaps stopping short of the fully ancient analog setup and ribbon mics used on records like ‘Gravity‘. The recording and final render feels satisfyingly rich, it’d be almost overwrought with layers were it not so clearly intending an immersive psychedelic doom trawl. Despite said richness of supporting instrumentation the album generally retains a present yet heavily lathered sound always blurring the edge with heavy use of guitar effects. This is best illustrated on the first single and album opener “The Stronghold and the Archer” as dueling fuzzed guitars and buried piano hits imply a strongly felt dive into the song’s dramatic main riff as Gaynor‘s voice talks us down a treacherous hill.

There is a fine balance achieved throughout ‘A Nocturnal Crossing‘ where each of the six pieces, three per side, bears their own significant weight without creating a sense of impatient movement between slowly stewed ideas. The second single (and impressive music video) “The Ladder” is the longest song on the album and arguably one of the least eventful in terms of its eerie mood and easy pace featuring several heady refrains to focus on the lyric’s narrative trip, this should read as a fairly modern almost post-metal sized song and likewise clearly hold Deathbell‘s sound outside of the realm of trite ‘retro’-styled implications. These featured pieces are stunning, no question the band have found their own way forward with them but I’d eventually found myself gravitating toward the shorter songs on the record, particularly the heavy blues cadenced “Silent She Comes” on Side B which’d been the one to win me over on the full listen. I figure fans of groups like Jex Thoth and Sabbath Assembly will be right there with me but the majority of the album might catch the ear of a Blackwater Holylight or even later Windhand fan just as readily. The follow-up of “Shifting Sands” is the kicker for my taste, the song to stick in head for its arcane doom-rock movement, and the best example of the two guitarist’s developing signature as they dwell on a riff/progression in such a way that it becomes tantra without losing its allure.

There are a thousand and one more details to uncover as the full listen reveals itself, such as the deft use of keyboards/organ throughout and the strong modulation of rhythm guitar tone that keeps the full listen freshened yet cohesive, but that’ll be yours to discover once the decision to immerse is made. The major reason I’d run-on about ‘A Nocturnal Crossing‘ is how well it held my attention for hours upon hours of listening, always having more to reveal within its catalogue of layers and slow-creeping, sonorous yet passionately performed dirges. What’d been a sort of strange psychedelic doom-rock record on the first listen became a hidden world’s mythos by the tenth and it remains a strange trip worth taking. Deathbell have made an admirable leap into something great here on this second album, resonating in such a consistent manner that I can’t deny ’em a much deserved bravo. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (84/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:A Nocturnal Crossing
LABEL(S):Svart Records
RELEASE DATE:February 25th, 2022

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