October 20, 2017

Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper

By Justin C. If you peruse the metal interwebs, you probably already know the headlines about the new Bell Witch album, Mirror Reaper. It's one song, and it's nearly an hour and a half long. This sprawling piece is, for the most part
By Justin C.

Artwork by Mariusz Lewandowsk.

If you peruse the metal interwebs, you probably already know the headlines about the new Bell Witch album, Mirror Reaper. It's one song, and it's nearly an hour and a half long. This sprawling piece is, for the most part, composed and played by just two members on drums, bass, and occasional organ. In lesser hands, this could devolve into a droning, aimless mess, but Mirror Reaper is as far from that as it could be. It's an enveloping experience that you have to surrender yourself to.

Trying to give you some minute-by-minute breakdown wouldn't give you a great idea of the whole, and it would probably bore you to tears, but there are a couple of things worth nothing. Some vocals are recordings done by former member Adrian Guerra, who passed away during the writing of this album. This is funeral doom, so it's going to lean toward the sad side, but knowing that going into the album, it's hard not to hear that current of loss. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention what happens at about the 53-minute mark. Guest vocalist Erik Moggridge adds pure, aching clean vocals that run throughout the rest of the song. They're understated, almost to the point where you feel like you're eavesdropping on someone singing to themselves in another room, but they're as powerful as any scream.

Bell Witch 2015. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

And of course you do get harsh vocals, along with the bass guitar doing double duty as the carrier of the melody and thundering bottom ends. Quiet sections that are almost barely there alternate with mountain-crumbling heaviness. It's an amazing amount of sound and passion to be made by just two people with (primarily) only two instruments. If you were a fan of Four Phantoms, as I was, then you have a general idea of what kind of sounds to expect. What you won’t expect is just how massive this album is, well beyond what the runtime might suggest.

I've seen arguments that Mirror Reaper is just several songs smushed together, but I beg to differ. My primary listenings to this album were in the car during long drives, which was the only way I could immerse myself in this with minimal distraction (save for the occasional motorist trying to kill me, but I live in Massachusetts, after all). It's possible I'm willing to buy this as a single composition because that's what the band told me it is, but I honestly don't think that's it. It feels like it's all of a piece. I'd liken the experience to floating in a sometimes-calm, sometimes-tempestuous body of water, absorbing waves of emotion--loss, defiance, and the swelling joy of hearing music so well done.

Yes, you're going to have to sit with this and listen to it, and at its running length, it's a big ask for music listeners who have a million distractions and other streams to click on. You can't listen to 0:00 to 13:47, then come back to it a few hours later and listen up to 28:57. You're depriving yourself of a large amount of its power by breaking it up. You miss the arc, the repeating melodic motifs, and the sheer expanse of the thing. I'm asking a lot, but I urge you to give it that time and allow yourself to be as moved as I was by this masterpiece.

Tagged with 2017, Bell Witch, funeral doom metal, John Mourlas, Justin C, Profound Lore Records, sludge metal
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