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INTERVIEW: Dylan Desmond & Jesse Schreibman – Bell Witch

BELL WITCH‘s new album Mirror Reaper is one of the biggest musical undertakings in metal of recent years, a one 83 minute song colossus that stretches funeral doom to its very limits. We spoke to both members of the duo bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer Jesse Schreibman about the logistics of crafting such a beast, and the darker trials that came along the way.

With one song at over 80 minutes long, Mirror Reaper is undoubtedly the most ambitious thing BELL WITCH have attempted thus far. Some people would look at Four Phantoms which breaches an hour with just four songs and has two songs that are over 20 minutes and would think that that’s a lot to take in, and now in hindsight that looks like a breeze compared to what’s been done on Mirror Reaper. Did you come away from Four Phantoms with a real feeling that you wanted to push the boundaries of what could be done within your music even further?

Dylan: As musicians, yes. It was a challenge to make so much material ventured around the same musical theme, and I’d say we both grew in that regard because of it. It was a great way for Jesse and I to become accustomed to writing music together, also. In writing Four Phantoms, which was written to be two songs in two movements, I wanted to expand on the idea and make it more tangible and connected.

Jesse: In the writing of Mirror Reaper we definitely wanted to do something different from Four Phantoms, while still staying true to the sound of BELL WITCH prior. Because this was the first time Dylan and I had written an album together, we weren’t sure how it would sound. I wanted to add the organ for this very reason. My goal as a new member in the band was to have the sound remain consistent with the previous releases, but unique as well.

Does the style of funeral doom ever feel constrictive or stagnant to you, with tropes you deliberately try to subvert or avoid in BELL WITCH’s music?

Dylan: Funeral doom has thin boundaries within the obvious, I think. On one hand, there are bands like WORSHIP that play super slow, minimal pieces with direction and focus. A band like MOURNFUL CONGREGATION has huge sweeping guitar melodies that seem as broad as the sky itself. SKEPTICISM at times could be said to border on neo classical, while FUNERAL themselves have elements that touch on industrial. To my ears, NORTT sounds like a black metal band that’s too fucked up for black metal itself. I think that many of the bands that have been affluent in the genre have very unique qualities in and of themselves that make the genre very flexible.

How do you even approach writing something of this nature? Did you have an implied route you wanted the piece to follow as it progresses or was it as much a mystery to you what the end product would be as to anyone else

Dylan: We had conceptual and structural outlines and direction. We started with one simple riff and let it eventually develop into all the others, as we would with any song. Mirror Reaper just has a lot more time passing by in it than any of our previous work.

Obviously during the writing process there was the loss of your former drummer Adrian Guerra which is an event that would understandably bleed into your musical outlet, and his vocals appear briefly on Mirror Reaper. What is the significance of the point within the song where his vocals appear in regards to the wider piece? And in a practical sense, was this a hard thing to achieve, with the vocal takes being recorded for something totally different originally? It feels incredibly seamless as well as having the emotional poignancy.

Dylan: The riff Adrian’s vocals appear on was originally scrapped because it sounded too close to another riff from Four Phantoms. We manipulated it and adjusted it enough that it stood solid on its own and fit into the riffs surrounding it. In that process it became a bit of a peak from which we could center the song around. Conceptually putting Adrian’s vocals in the middle fit better than anywhere else, as the piece sort of flips into a reflection of the part before it at this point. We had to chop his vocals up a bit to make them fit. Billy Anderson, who engineered the album, did a fantastic job with this. He also recorded Four Phantoms, so we were able to dig into it and find pieces that fit in length and intensity.

Jesse: I feel like the writing of this album relied heavily on experimentation and challenging ourselves. As we were feeling out riffs, melodies, rhythms, and placement of those said factors, we tried to make sure to never fully commit to anything until it absolutely felt right to both of us. We wanted to make sure that the “feel” of the song never changed, despite tempo variations, riff changes, or changes in tone.

A lot of BELL WITCH’s lyrical themes right down to the name of the band focus on the idea of ghosts. Is that something that continues to feed into Mirror Reaper?

Dylan: Absolutely. If anything, I’d say Mirror Reaper is the best representation of the band’s concept so far. The idea of the reflection in a mirror being both life and death is right in line with the band’s lyrical goals of describing the point between life and death.

The concept of As Above, So Below has been mentioned in regards to Mirror Reaper. What exactly does that mean to you in terms of its reflection in the music?

Dylan: I think it fits right into the theme of the mirror; the reflection is the same no matter how different it may seem. A mirror cannot reflect things that aren’t there, but it can change the perspective. The song attempts to do a perspective switch following Adrian’s vocal section in the middle. While it’s not a direct reflection of the notes played backwards, the riffs were adjusted to be their own rendition of what came before. We tried to make the second half something hypothetically similar to the effect of shining a light into a mirror; from certain angles, the light isn’t visible. From other angles, it’s blinding. Whatever the angle, it’s present.

Mirror Reaper definitely has one of the most stunning pieces of album artwork out there this year. What ideas went into creating that piece?

Dylan: We contacted Mariusz Lewandowski on the internet and he wrote us back with enthusiastic interest. He told us he had always wanted to make an album cover and was excited to give it a shot. We described to him the concept we were trying to convey, and told him to sort of use his imagination to elaborate on that theme. When we received the finished image in our emails we were both floored with how incredible of a job he had done.

You’re playing the record in its entirety at Roadburn next year, but is this something you intend to take on the road elsewhere? There must be a number of challenges when it comes to approaching material of this scope live, and logistical obstacles to taking it on tour when there’s only so much time in a set each night.

Dylan: On the tour we’re currently on we’re only playing the first half up until the point Adrian’s vocals would stop. We discussed getting a sample of his vocals to use live, but decided against it. We agreed it is better to leave his void audible in the song. The second half can’t be performed without Erik Moggridge, who will be joining us at Roadburn!

Are there any plans for UK shows on the horizon?

Dylan: We should be in the UK in the spring of 2018! We’re very excited to come back!

Obviously it’s very soon to be asking these kinds of questions, but after something as colossal in scale as Mirror Reaper, do you have any idea where you see BELL WITCH going next? Can things be pushed much further?

Dylan: It wasn’t necessarily our intent to push something so far as to not be able to continue being the band we were before. This is just one track that ended up being this long, it’s not a mission statement of any sorts.

Jesse: Our goal is to continue pushing ourselves further as musicians and to continue writing music that challenges ourselves, as well as others. I cannot wait to start writing the new album and see what comes next!

Mirror Reaper is out now via Profound Lore Records.

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