Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

One shouldn’t judge an album by its cover, but the phenomenal art of Mirror Reaper is something to behold. The desolate painted landscape and the small reaper in the ottomleft may go unnoticed compared to the huge mirror and the demon struggling to make its way through, but the overall artwork with its beautiful colours, the texture of the paints and the striking imagery has something monolithic to it that will have you gazing at it for minutes, not seconds. And monolithic is the operative word when it comes to Bell Witch’s third album – it’s the first since previous drummer Adrian Guerra passed away, and consists of one massive eighty-three minute long slab of mighty funeral doom. A powerful album artwork on a release created in a terrible time for the band, Mirror Reaper sounds simply massive, the melancholy infused in the recordings is tangible, as is the sense of catharsis in the writing of the album, their melancholic doom as dejected and desolate as it is immense and monolithic, yet with elements of hopes and reconciliation. An awe-inspiring effort, Mirror Reaper enthralls with each note of its eighty-three minute length in one of the best albums of the year.

Mirror Reaper is one track, broken down into two parts, As Above and So Below – meaning it fits onto two CDs, but also contains two parts of a cohesive whole. As guitar chords ring out at the start, slowly making their way into a melancholic reverb laced riff with a clean tone, each note hangs and echoes on its own, creating a mournful sound, with a touch of synths in the background coming in slowly. The melody and the tone are equally engrossing, before the first distorted chord comes hammering down, alongside the pounding plod of the slow but expertly timed drums. The distortion of each chord hangs around with its brilliant tone reverberating around, slowly building up the riff in fantastic funeral doom style, and it’s a strong introduction.

Moving between clean and distorted guitar, they really build up the sound, washes of organ enveloping the guitars as the first seven minutes move along like nothing before the low, quiet growls emanate above the mix, the guitars, organ notes and drums all crash down simultaneously and in epic fashion as the main melody comes forth more powerfully. Chanted vocals glide in over the riffs and organs with a ghostly feel to them, adding another vehicle for despair as Bell Witch slowly plod along their melancholic journey. But there’s no sense of meandering or filling up the time; every crushing chord, each rumble of bass, and each individual crash of drums is timed for maximum emotional and musical impact in pacing that’s rarely ever been so perfect even in a genre that revolves around the slow build. The return to the clean riff of the introduction with the thin and ghostly synths provide some expertly created ambience, and when the chanted vocals start to take more prominence it’s simply epic.

The forty eight minute mark is where the second part of the track, So Below comes in, with beautiful depressive acoustic bass chords ringing out in another slow riff, several minutes of haunting serenity go by before the clean vocals come in, Desmond singing in a beautiful melancholic style, the riff evolving into a more active but no less serene sound, the echoing chords and gliding layers of organ providing a perfect backdrop for his emotional delivery. As drums plod back in and the riff becomes more insistent, the vocals become multilayered, the bass distorted, and the melancholic sound having some glimmers of hope as some more warmth is injected into the track. Understanding, reconciliation and strength in the face of this despair makes the overall sound and Desmond’s delivery in particular even more powerful and hard hitting and for 22 minutes there’s little in the way of doom, as organ, bass, drums and vocals intertwine spectacularly until a monolithic, melancholic riff comes crashing down with distortion and more pounding drums. There’s glimmers of hope and life underneath the ten-tonne weight of gloom though as the chanting vocals return with a resolute, emotional sound showing true strength in the face of adversity and despair – the sense of catharsis released in the writing is tangible.

Life and death, melancholy and despair, desolation and desperation, but glimmers of hope under the surface. Bell Witch have released not just an emotional tribute to their deceased comrade in Adrian Guerra, but a monumental and stunning funeral doom metal album. Over eighty three minutes they continually engross, build, change and deliver a gamut of emotions in an album that hits hard and doesn’t stop impressing over two, five, a dozen, or twenty plus listens. The weaving of emotions into their fantastic music makes Mirror Reaper an experience as much as an album and one of the very best releases of 2017.

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