Sometimes it’s hard to escape from ghosts. They’re in every house and on every street corner, dogging every person, accumulating beneath the surface. The spectre of history casting its shadow over the present, the grim feeling that permeates locations where horrific events have taken place, the residue left in the void where someone once was, all leaving stains that refuse to be washed out. Even your desk at work with your name and your mug and your things is where someone once sat before you. BELL WITCH, the Seattle-based doom outfit whose 2015 album Four Phantoms brought them impressive amounts of critical acclaim, take their name from the legend of a malevolent spirit who terrorised a family in the South of America, and their third album Mirror Reaper is the sound of this ongoing fascination with ghosts suddenly dealing with a very real ghost of its own.
Mirror Reaper is a single song, spanning over 83 minutes. Its core idea is that of the maxim “As Above, So Below”, the idea of two mirroring halves forming the essence of the greater whole. Taken as a song-writing principle, it’s an intriguing idea, but one that could quite easily slump into the ditch of self-indulgence, working better in theory than it does in practice. Within the realms of funeral doom, a genre in which much of the time there’s not actually an awful lot happening requiring a masterful touch for it to succeed, it’s an even riskier proposition. You’d be forgiven for looking at Mirror Reaper and thinking that even despite its phenomenal cover art, it might not be worth the effort. It makes what BELL WITCH have done here all the more staggering, because Mirror Reaper’s labyrinthian passages are some of the year’s most rewarding places to get lost in.
BELL WITCH‘s make-up as a bass and drums only two-piece gives them a certain mournful simplicity. Heaviness isn’t achieved through piling of distorted guitars; instead, BELL WITCH have warmth and restraint, with no desire to overcompensate or override their intended minimalism. Essentially, Mirror Reaper is made up of the same sonic ingredients that composed Four Phantoms – it’s what they do with them that makes it so affecting. Dylan Desmond’s bass, stepping into the role of the lead instrument, is incredibly soulful, bringing in melodies bathed in grief and melancholy that transcend their often simple nature. The way riffs interconnect with each other is mesmerising, the song’s first half in constant flowing motion unfolding so steadily that time feels dispensed with entirely, the only thing tangible a constant, shifting state of now.
It’s a tremendous compositional achievement on its own merit and deserves to be applauded as such, but when at the halfway mark the voice of former drummer Adrian Guerra appears, it’s given another layer of impact that’s impossible to ignore. Guerra passed away during the writing process of Mirror Reaper, and this sense of loss seeps into every moment. Having unearthed unused vocal takes of Guerra’s from the Four Phantoms sessions, his arrival in the piece marks the moment upon which Mirror Reaper passes from one side of the reflection through to the other, in a stunningly profound moment of music. With such a devastating blow struck, Mirror Reaper pauses. A clean section spanning twenty minutes in length begins to play out. BELL WITCH’s lyrical themes for this album, in place long before Guerra’s death, dwell on something trapped in the in-between of life and death, desperate to escape its purgatory. It’s this point in Mirror Reaper where that feels most apparent. On first listen, this is the part where those with a cynical ear looking for areas of flab that could be chopped away might point the finger, but as Mirror Reaper’s aching beauty sucks in more and more of your time, it becomes clear how essential it is. The voice of frequent collaborator Erik Moggridge, heart-breaking in its naked longing, slowly begins to ascend skywards, until just an organ remains in his place. Then Mirror Reaper crashes through onto the other side and begins its awe-inspiring conclusion. It’s not an exact mirror image – it’d be necessary for the piece to be much closer to the two hour mark for it to retrace its steps perfectly – but as it makes its journey back through its primary crushing segments, it’s enough to give it the distinct feeling of coming full circle, the all-encompassing climactic end such a cinematic piece of music demands.
Needless to say, this will not be for everyone. For those with a penchant for the overwhelmingly sorrowful though who are willing to invest the time, Mirror Reaper is an astonishing thing to behold. It is an instant classic of its genre, meticulously deconstructing funeral doom’s core components and reassembling them into something that pushes further than maybe any band of their kind has pushed before, and yet possessing an emotive heart and spirit so powerful and affecting that it feels the furthest thing from a clinical musical exercise and instead a stunning tribute to a fallen brother. It’s hard to imagine where exactly BELL WITCH will go from here, but the ghosts of Mirror Reaper will be living with us for some time.
Mirror Reaper is set for release on October 20th via Profound Lore Records.
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