One track spanning a massive 83 minutes is going to be an intimidating listen no matter which artist spawned it, but when that track is as grief-stricken, slow-building, and earth-shatteringly heavy as Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore), it’s going to take more time and patience than some people can muster. Given the deserved attention, however, Mirror Reaper is easily one of the most breath-taking releases of the year. This is a tribute to a departed friend, burdened by bereavement but tragically beautiful, and is not for the faint of heart.Continue reading
2015 was a big year for Californian duo Keeper: the original issue of EP The Space Between Your Teeth following mere months after their mammoth split with Sea Bastard, and just weeks before an evil joint release with Canadians Old Witch. This reissue (Third I Rex) sees its two epic, crawling tracks get a fresh press and boy, do they deserve it.
The howling, lamenting guitar opening ‘The King’ decorates a Funeral pace before Penny Keats’ hideous, prurient larynx covers the body in unholy juices. A Blackened scream full of pain, evocative of ex-Lord Mantis rasper Charlie Fell, its relentless pitch is both unnerving and affecting. The weight of the brutal yet monolithic mid-section is pulverising and lifted only slightly by the evocative bass passages of Jacob Lee, so reminiscent of Dylan Desmond. This graces the final move toward a consuming, resounding swell: a euphoric yet terrible triumph, The Great Diseased railing to the skies against their plight.
Segueing seamlessly into ‘The Fool’, Keats’ slightly more uplifting drum pattern duels against the harrowing squall before a reverb-drenched riff accompanies more horrific utterances. With a filthier, more malevolent expression does the EP’s second half spew forth, creeping with similar intent to that of the girl emerging from the well in the remake of The Ring. It’s an oppressive sound yet, with the merest hint of quickened pace from those cleverly dictating drums, it is lifted from the occasionally turgid monotony: a gradually building wall of portent suddenly dropping into an utterly crushing mid-section. In raising the track back from the floor Keats’ voice assumes demonic proportions in both foetid hostility and power, underpinned by more subtle bass lead, until a barely controlled explosion seeps and squeals through the speakers, and alarming drums send the fulminating close careering into the dank earth.
It’s hard to acclaim a reissue as a tour de force, but this is as close as it gets. It’s a testing listen yet, for those of us with a more disgusting and slow musical palate, it’s an opportunity to bask in the most wondrous embodiment of acrid recrimination and ferocious protest.
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With both Idols and Samothrace members involved, the melodic, mournful qualities of Un’s Funeral horror comes as something of a pleasant surprise.
The sparse, shimmering beauty of ‘Epigraph’, the opening track from début album The Tomb of All Things (Black Bow), gives way to the Bell Witch-esque ‘Sol Marasmus’: not quite possessing the pulverising claustrophobia of that band’s gut-wrenching intensity but with all of their emotion, the atmospheric mid-point coming across like a Doom-laden Amenra with the tortured holler of Conan’s Jon Davis atop it. The surrounding textures are heavy and lamenting, contrasting Monty McCleery’s voice: a roar of nefarious depth which leaves used tar barrels everywhere shuddering in fear. Humming, lowing riffs rumble without the expected crush, yet the drop to the gentle coda is so sudden it is paradoxically deafening.
The chord progression opening ‘Forgotten Path’, meanwhile, is an utter reducer which invokes images of Dylan Desmond’s petrifying bass work, whilst the crash introducing a heart-rending melody awakens the listener from their cocooned stupor. Again, the descents into quiet introspection are as startling as the reanimation, which is occasionally quickened by Andrew Jamieson’s artful stickwork, yet always possesses the gravity of the saddest moment of your life. McCleery’s vocal is Ethan McCarthy-like in its fearsome power while the lead and rhythm guitars blend the inconsolable musicality of Pallbearer and Vulgaari with sinister overtones.
Those drums patter delicately across ‘Through the Luminous Dusk’, gorgeous post- melodies offsetting the guttural agony of the enveloping roars and screams. Whilst the overwrought soloing is occasionally more at home in a Rock ballad, Jamieson’s sticks, gradually increasing in power, maintain the track’s impact. The sumptuously mellow chords introducing the closing title track, however, regain that emotive quality and set the scene for some truly crushing riffs which are only augmented by that funereal pace.
Exquisite and poignant leadwork befits the closure of an album which, for the most part, balances perfectly its light and dark elements. A blackened scream takes us into an explosive, stirring finale and fully embodies the anger, pain and crippling sadness coursing through an affecting and memorable release.
This multinational bill covered three continents and crossed several extreme sub-genres, which may have accounted for a disappointing attendance. A mere dozen witnessed Hampshire quintet Ageless Oblivion take to the stage but a Death-Groove explosion, orchestrated by the phenomenal drumming of Noah See, steadily roused the populace. The brooding, savage ‘Penthos’ displayed the band’s versatility, a pensive progression offset by bone-crushing main sections, and was the high point of a dramatic and technically superb performance.
The intensity with which Bell Witch drummer Jesse Shreibman leant over his kit whilst studiously watching bassist Dylan Desmond, accurately portrayed the belief and intent with which he subsequently laid waste to it. Desmond’s huge 6-string bass towered over the bewitched throng as he softly intoned into the mic, his fingers caressing the fretboard and producing notes usually out of reach to mere mortals. ‘…Awoken (Breathing Teeth)’ was harrowing, omnipotent and bewildering: Desmond’s mournful strings weighing on Schreibman’s bowed head until he pounded back in with the force of a fucked-off juggernaut, roaring to the sky like a wounded musk ox. The track’s frame-shuddering and impossibly moving finale sent more than one person to the benches, overwhelmed by emotion.
Auckland Technical Death purveyors Ulcerate displayed every element of their undoubted proficiency with urgency and muscular action. Guitarist Michael Hoggard and frontman / bassist Paul Kelland jerked lithely in almost reptilian fashion, their heads pouncing on the buckling beat like raptors. Jamie Saint Merat, meanwhile, considered one of the best sticksmen in the world, danced around his kit with the dexterity of Nijinsky whilst pounding the crap out of it. Involving yet brutal, the groove of ‘Soullessness Embraced’ was pushed through every bone by a wiry frontman wielding his bass like a demanding lover; while Hoggard, his freakishly long, flexing neck moving with the articulation of a Bosc Monitor, flung his instrument around like a toy in a kid’s hand. ‘Weight of Emptiness’ meanwhile, its sinister clashes and clangs shot through with brutal portent, highlighted again the incredible work of Merat who hypnotised all by slamming perfected, multiple rhythms down our throats whilst appearing to do nothing.
For a New Zealand band to perform 11,000 miles from home with this intensity to a room of 50 people was both criminal and admirable. An eclectic bill in many ways, Bell Witch just about stole it but every band played their part in a remarkable show of strength.
WORDS BY PAUL QUINN
PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE PHOTOGRAPHY
I was hugely into Grunge in the 90s. I’ll never forget when a mate of mine came back from visiting its home and decreed it “the most miserable place on earth”. I was gutted. Maybe, however, it is such surroundings that fuel Seattle duo Bell Witch, whose blend of crushing Sludge, funereal melancholy and occasional Americana first bewitched the senses three years ago. Interest is high in Four Phantoms (Profound Lore), the band’s sophomore album, and yours truly is frothing at the mouth…
The emotions of a suppurating soul, in the moments before Experience kills it and undiluted cynicism sets in, are unbelievably raw; that capacity to feel true longing, joy and pain fighting with its dying breath. I’m not quite there…yet. There’s a feeling that these guys have really lived the anger and misery that exudes from every pore here and, when the almighty chord, drumbeat and roar combination explodes through the bassline of opener ‘Suffocation, A Burial:…’, accompanied by some sorrowful chimes, it creates simultaneously a feeling of euphoria, and a fearful despair of nothingness. Each note sparing, heightening the impact and more fully conveying the acuity of bitterness and sadness.
There’s real songcraft here; everything having its place and arranged with both passion and precision. Another explosion follows a brief lull of forlorn incantation, the melodic chords piercing every leaden punch. You’re aware it’s coming yet, when it does, its unfathomable weight disembowels, with Dylan Desmond‘s terrifying Blackened scream increasing the chills and the emptiness. This colossal opening really embodies that sense of personal loss and implosive grief; the agonies of the harmonised tones which lead into the last five minutes of this 22-minute epic duelling with Adrian Guerra‘s harrowing roars; the tension, power and mournful ecstasy almost unbearable.
The sparing chords of ‘Suffocation, a Drowning:…’, heavy to the head as an opiate and to the heart as a sudden arrest, possess a staggering delicacy enhanced by the stark guest voice of Aerial Ruin‘s Erik Moggridge; an evocative dark-folk delivery not unlike Art Garfunkel‘s deeper moments. The first half of this gorgeous yet soul-rending track is a sequence of crushing bass riffs and single beats, disturbing yet emotive solos and devastating harmonies, contrasting the subject matter yet sounding completely organic. The change in tone to the second half is similarly begun, so subtly it’s almost unnoticed – a more sinister exclamation in the solo chords introducing a period of brutalised roars and screams which only briefly affects the melancholy allure; returning but wearing an hooded cloak, the crushing power now swirling around slightly piqued yet honeyed vocals. The serenely mellow bass notes closing this quite staggering track ensure an almost stifled epiphany; the depth of meaning, the finality, truly felt.
It’s in marked contrast to the horrifying blast of sound crawling from the opening atmospheric ambience of album closer ‘Judgement, In Air:…’: the death throes of an apocalypse, the deep roar still counteracted by lamenting chords, the drums titanic and deafening in their resonance, shrouded in hypnotic swells of sound, the whole seeps like a mix of honey and tar from the speakers, a dying body summoning one last effort to crawl to its desired resting place: a brief howl of anguish, a final, writhing squall…and it ends.
This won’t be for everyone. If slow, sad, oppressive, Sludgy Doom isn’t your thing then you’re unlikely to be attracted to this incredible piece of work. Those who are, however, captivated by the mix of Pallbearer, Profetus, and Primitive Man‘s fulminating bitterness and the invention and rare Blackened edges of Inter Arma, all wrapped up in a seething amalgam of horror and beauty, will appreciate the wonder of a band beyond superlative and for whom there is no peak. Bell Witch continue to confound, enthral, terrify and move in equal measure; and in creating a second album of such weight and emotion prove themselves peerless.
Stop the wondering. This is the album for our twisted, corrupt, hubristic times and, arguably, the album of this century.