Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bell Witch - Four Phantoms

Written by Justin C.

Cover art by Paolo Girardi

I should have hated this album the first time I listened to it. It was a Monday morning, I'd slept poorly, and on top of being on my way to work late on a day I needed to get a lot done, I discovered too late that I had a hole in my shirt. I was somewhere between Charlie Brown and the guy in Munch's "The Scream" in terms of mood, which would normally call for some steering wheel-punching, shouting-at-other-drivers blackened metal, not creeping doom. I needed to get fired up, not droned out, but for whatever reason, I queued up Bell Witch's Four Phantoms. Imagine my surprise when instead of bumming me out, I was rolling on a wave of staggeringly good doom.

Photo by Invisible Hour

I liked Bell Witch's last one, Longing, just fine, but I was in no way prepared for the huge leap forward they'd take on Four Phantoms. All of the usual metal writer cliches fail here. It's ridiculous to call this music "face ripping" or "gut punching" or "toe severing" or anything else of that ilk. I struggled to think of the proper metaphor, but the second track on the album, "Judgement, In Fire: I - Garden (of Blooming Ash)" (the band's punctuation is as dense as their music on this one), finally gave me clarity: The opening percussion explosions in the song are the volcano eruptions, and the bass and vocals are the slowly seeping lava. You can't set a metronome low enough for most of these tempos, but the flow of the music will pull you along regardless.

The songcraft is excellent here, which is saying a lot for an album whose shortest track is over 10 minutes and whose longest track is pushing 23 minutes. That's a lot of space to fill and a lot of places for boredom to creep in, especially with music at such glacial speeds, but I never get bored. The vocals range from understated cleans to deep growls, and the bass, which straddles both rhythm and melody, shows just how melodic you can be on an instrument that usually hides in the shadows. Listen to the opening strains of "Suffocation, a Drowning" or the vocal harmonies about 6 minutes in and tell me you don't get chills. I dare you. The drums are minimalistic, but offer the perfect backbone to this meditative music.

Photo by Invisible Hour

As I've said in other reviews, if you play music this slow and with parts this naked and vulnerable, you have to squeeze every drop of musicality out of every note. You can't hide behind a wall of effects or technicality, and damn, Bell Witch makes every note count. There's not a throwaway moment on this album, and given some of the bloated beasts you find in underground metal these days, what higher praise can you give? Plenty of people have already talked about this album, and I'm shamefully late to the party, but if you blew this off because you usually like something more frenetic, I urge you to give it a try.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Tagged with 2015, Bell Witch, funeral doom metal, Justin C, Profound Lore Records, sludge metal
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