For the uninitiated, Bell Witch is a funeral doom duo comprised of former Samothrace bassist Dylan Desmond and recently joined drummer Jesse Schreibman, who began working with Desmond after the departure of founding member Adrian Guerra. Their new release, titled Mirror Reaper, is the band’s third full length, and while it strays from its predecessors in terms of format, it treads the same thematic territory of death, disillusionment, and the dawning of a fragile sense of hope.
This time around, Bell Witch chose to release their album as one continuous 83 minute long piece of music, and it appears as they produced the work at least partially as an homage to and way of processing the death of former member Guerra, who passed unexpectedly in 2016. Though he left Bell Witch before his death, as a founding member and half the driving force behind the project in its formative years Guerra left an indelible imprint on their two other releases, 2012’s Longing and 2015’s Four Phantoms. With Mirror Reaper, Desmond and Schreibman have done much to continue make Guerra’s presence felt, even going as far as to include some recordings of his vocals (originally from recording sessions for Four Phantoms) around the halfway point in the album. This adds an authentically haunting element to a piece that is already overflowing with ethereal and spectral beauty.
As with any single piece of music that spans nearly an hour and a half, Mirror Reaper unfolds in several movements, each containing their own subtle ebbs and flows as well as intense crescendos. These dynamics are typical of a Bell Witch release, though here the single song’s undulations appear to develop more organically or emotively than before. Each section takes plenty of time in proceeding through its lifecycle, which imparts an airy, almost languid feeling to a work that could easily seem ponderous or tedious with a slightly different set of inflections. Part of what helps create this mood are the many subdued, quietly atmospheric sections that permeate the work. These areas elevate the song from the simple by-the-numbers dirge feeling of the average funeral doom record and bring to it a sense of true loss that seems to encompass the duality of the beauty of a life contrasted with the sorrow of death. The most poignant of these for me is a 9 minute long section beginning at about 17:30 in, which is extremely poetic in its communication of the isolation of grief.
Dylan Desmond coaxes an incredible amount of emotion out of his instrument as Jesse Schreibman carefully paces the work with pounding, echoing drums. Both members contribute vocals, with Schreibman offering up pained, primal gutturals and Desmond singing cleanly and effected to sound like a choir or Gregorian chant at times. In addition to this, the final third of Mirror Reaper features the gorgeously sad vocals of Erik Moggridge (AKA Aerial Ruin) who has collaborated with the band on previous work as well.
Aside from the quiet passages and tense builds throughout each movement of Mirror Reaper, the piece does include several absolutely crushing climaxes, including one particularly obliterating moment that begins at about 28 minutes in – proving that Bell Witch still delivers the doom in the form of massive walls of distortion as well when they feel the need.
Normally, I find albums presented in the form of one very long song to be gimmicky, as they are often really obviously 4 or 5 songs held together by hastily composed or weak transitions that are only there to serve the “one big song” concept. There are some exceptions to this, as with the excellent 2016 Gorguts release Pleiades Dust, but for the most part its a cheesedick move by a band looking to elevate an album that doesn’t have coherence. This is decidedly not the case with Mirror Reaper, which unfurls itself more like an orchestral work composed intentionally to be experienced as one piece that encapsulates and evokes the different aspects of one complete idea or feeling. Though the record is lengthy and requires, what is by 2017 standards, a significant time investment to be digested as a whole – the experience is a worthwhile one that you are unlikely to walk away from unaffected. Bell Witch may well have reached their ultimate manifestation with this effort, and in the process injected new life and new feeling into a genre that frequently has a very difficult time developing either.
Label: Profound Lore records
Release Date: 10/20/2017
Favorite Track: ITS ONE LONG TRACK
For Fans Of: Evoken, Samothrace, Thergothon