Review a one track 83 minute doom track they said. It will be good for you and fun they said. Well actually they didn’t but curiosity got the better of me (and you know what they bloody well said about that). Perhaps like the rest of our writers I should have been sensible, nobody else was daft enough to put themselves through this gargantuan listening session and I admit this hasn’t got the 6 or so plays I would normally give an album before writing about it. Bell Witch, even if this is my 1st time hearing them, have got all the recommendations behind them for being a good and solid outfit and as I said I was intrigued about how they could manage to wring 1 track into such a lengthy sermon. The duo from Seattle comprise of bassist and vocalist Dylan Desmond and recent inductee Jesse Shreibman on drums and vocals. Tragically whilst working on this former drummer Adrian Guerra passed away. No doubt this affected them considerably and as tribute they used “an important yet brief section in the song for him that features unused vocal tracks from their last album.”
For the sake of actually fitting it on to media the album is actually divided into two an (As Above and As Below part) on two discs if you buy it. The first as far as I am concerned is definitely the heavier and more interesting piece. Naturally patience and strong tea (c’mon it’s 9 in the morning) is very much key for the listener here as well as no doubt everyone else concerned from producer Billy Anderson right through to band members themselves. Nothing is going to go down here in anything resembling a fast fashion. Bleak tones fill the speakers from the bass and very slowly things build. Melody is immediately strong and mournful reminding a bit of something from the likes of Primordial and Mourning Beloveth (yeah it kind of sounds like it could be an Irish band in the passion behind it). What is lacking in the speed stakes is more than made up for in the gravity and weight as instruments are wrung out with long elongated notes including a huge hefty timbre from the drums. There’s some underlying organ work which adds to the atmosphere and it’s all very much on the funeral doom side of things. The next touch is some hoary growls, there may be actually lyrics to it all but not distinguishable yet. Apparently former vocalist Erik Moggridge is involved as a ‘prominent presence” on the album and no doubt more seasoned listeners will be able to distinguish his contributions more fully. Clean and more ceremonial tones are the next addition, the choral voice adding a touch of light to the slow brooding thunder. It feels like heaven is weeping through the guitar lines and civilisations crumbling through the crunch of drum and snare. It’s also pretty easy to find yourself absolutely engrossed in it all and I don’t find my attention wavering here as there is plenty of drama in the music. A long acoustic passage takes it back to the sound of the formation of the track but you are well aware it’s the calm before the storm explodes once more. As it does it sounds like the weight of the world is on the shoulders of the performers, the guitar clamour rises, vocals become more weathered and the cleans soar. Melody intensifies and by the half hour mark if you are not in a doom nirvana well this obviously isn’t for you. Sure, this could like a long film be edited down, there are more possible endings than a giallo with red herrings galore but somehow the duo keep things going and listening it all makes perfect sense.
Once the first part is finally over at 45 minutes this would have been enough for many but the somewhat brave move is taken to continue forming shapes for another epic part, longer than many albums in itself. Again it’s a bass twang that takes seamlessly into this part (guitar, who needs em here) and then we get a completely different vocal stance that is clean and somewhat nasally. We have moved from the darkness and into the light and I’m not really sold on the more classic sound here. If you want to ,listen to the lyrics you are going to be able to do that at least but for me the dense gravity is gone and this wafts and meanders a bit too much for my patience and if anything it’s too “nice.” Listening I can’t quite get the image of an albatross coasting over smooth waters here and with 20 minutes left I’m clinging onto the hope that something is going to happen. After being numbed by floaty organ tones things do eventually wake me up, my tea is stone cold and I’m dribbling a bit but all is good again as things are drawn to inevitable slow conclusion.
Have Bell Witch done what they set out to do? No doubt and I am glad they have got it out their system, hopefully they will reign it all in again and perhaps go for a more palatable 4 songs in an hour or so next time around. I can’t say this is an album I would play a lot but I will come back to it. After being well and truly reaped though it might not be for some time.
(7.5/10 Pete Woods)