Bell Witch spill darkness over gargantuan 83-minute track on devastating epic ‘Mirror Reaper’

Photo by David Choe

Cavernous sadness, depression, and suffering are ideas that cannot be shoved to the side. One can’t just “feel better” or “smile.” In fact, anyone who ever suggests those cures to someone in suffering should receive, automatically, a punch in whatever area they feel is physically their most sensitive. It might not even things out, but it might help alleviate some frustration.

Seattle-based doom duo Bell Witch have been a catalyst for examining those feelings during their entire run together. Taking on their music can be akin to being torn apart psychologically, as you are reduced to your rawest level and forced to build back up again. I’ve ensconced myself in their music during particularly rough times, and I’ve always found a mechanism for identifying and trying to work through darkness. On their epic third record “Mirror Reaper,” the band compiles all that woe and agony into a single 83-minute track. It is, obviously, a challenger of a record to tackle at once, but that’s how you must consume this. They also deviate further into areas other than sadness and personal torment. The band—bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond and drummer/vocalist Jesse Schreibman—tackle the philosophy “as above, so below,” expounding on the seven Hermetic principles (mentalism, correspondence, vibration, polarity, rhythm, cause and effect, and gender) that speaks to the duality of life and the alignment of experiences on all planes of existence. Along with them, guest vocalist Erik Moogridge (also of the excellent Aerial Ruin) gets a larger presence here, and hanging over all is the memory of former drummer Adrian Guerra, who passed away last year and whose voice still is heard here about halfway through the song with vocals and words that were preserved from the past. It’s a haunting and beautiful moment.

The track starts quietly, delicately, almost as if it’s letting itself bloom slowly. Somber melodies pour out, while growls lurch forward at about seven minutes in, letting the gravelly bottom leave its impression on your skin. The music sounds like a gray downpour, kind of like the one outside my window right now, as cleaner singing crawls in, and things head toward serene waters about 20-minute into the piece. Cloudy, shadowy singing emerges, as a strange fog builds, and growls return to bring a gruff edge to the song. Vicious screams splatter, while the melodies spiral and cause hypnosis. The playing laps and tangles, stretching through another section of storming, as the main melody keeps swimming beneath, acting as the track’s spinal column. Growls and ghostly singing mix, as Guerra’s contribution sends chills, as he calls, “Reigned, weaved in the needle, the cycle turns around, air, burnt to ashen mountains.”

Organs spill in, leaving a funereal feel, as the voices float, and about 67 minutes in, sounds pulsate, and the song opens its blackened arms. The ambiance is ghostly, which is impossible to shake, while the heaviness returns like a bomb. Chant-filled singing spreads like a mist, as sounds ring out and cause your ears to screech. The pace continues to pound away, pushing you from one side to the other, and at 77 minutes, it sounds like the piece is fading away. Yet, out of that rises clean notes, keys that swim in the ether, and cold singing that causes your flesh to chill. The music keeps rolling over itself, creating a tornadic effect, while that and the haunting singing continue until everything is swallowed into the void.

“Mirror Reaper” is the biggest, most ambitious document of Bell Witch’s run, and there are so many emotions and philosophical ideals packed inside that you must return for multiple listens. As daunting as an 83-minute song is on the surface, the music captures you and pulls you underneath its waves to confront the souls buried beneath. The band shed a lot of blood and poured out their guts to make this record, and it’s one that, once you’ve absorbed it, you won’t soon forget.

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