When I read that the new Bell Witch record would be a single 83-minute track, I had a couple of reactions. The first is that this was a self-aggrandizing decision to simply gain attention. The second was that this was audacious enough to perhaps be something special. It takes a healthy dose of confidence to create something this sprawling and release it to the public. Mirror Reaper is the Seattle, Washington based doom outfit’s third full-length release, out October 20th on Profound Lore. The duo has openly stated that this record is a tribute to their former drummer, Adrien Guerra, who tragically passed away. While melancholy is no stranger to the genre, the personal loss certainly affected this band and this record.
To get things started I will clear up one thing: this isn’t necessarily an 83-minute song. It is one continuous track, but it isn’t a set of verses/chorus/bridge repetitions that pervade most songwriting structures. In digital format the track is divided into two parts: “As Above” clocking in at 48:49, and “So Below” winding up after 35:56. That is not to say that the claim of a single track is false, as it is indeed a single continuous track. A genuine feat of song composition.
Opening the album is a single 6-string bass, drenched in atmosphere. After nearly four minutes we get a taste of the drums, and the song slowly builds out the foundation on which this goliath of a song will reside. One thing that is noticeable from the start is the intimacy achieved. When one generally thinks of lengthy, sprawling songs, it isn’t foreign to think this song will be ‘epic’ in some way. But in pure doom fashion, Bell Witch has created a spacious and emotional atmosphere that always remains active, but not busy. We are treated to cavernous growls that sit right where they should in the mix. The doom is strong with this one.
“As above” continues in phases that aren’t quite different songs, but show how a single idea can manifest itself. Around the 23-minute mark, we are treated to clean, choral vocals that are reminiscent of the opener on Usnea’s phenomenal doom record from earlier this year. While the song does grow in scope, it is managed in a way that avoids being indulgent or cheesy. It smartly never reaches a level that I would consider ‘atmospheric’, but instead sells the gloom of the song, and builds on what came before it.
When the second main movement of Mirror Reaper, “So Below”, begins, we are once again treated to single bass leading the intro. What comes next may surprise you. After six minutes the vocals show themselves and evoke shades of Sigur Ros. The high, melodic, and harmonized falsetto is simply unexpected, but not unwelcome. It may seem like an odd choice, but whispers dart from here to there, and the droning yet melodic song begins to take shape. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. The song continues in this manner for the majority of its duration, with only one more traditional doom passage near the end.
Summarizing a work so large as this is challenging. To put it simply, if you enjoy doom and drone metal, you should not miss this album. Bell Witch have managed to make a sprawling and actualized song that manages to never meander or lose its way. The vocals on each part of the song fit nicely with the overall tone, and the production is spot on. “So Below” managed to catch me off guard, but I can safely say that it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music that I have heard this year. This is a demanding listen, but it deserves your attention. It’s emotional, brave, and ultimately triumphant. Mirror Reaper also has my favorite cover art of the year. Make an hour and a half space in your day and listen to this one.
Notable Tracks: “Mirror Reaper”
FFO: Evoken, Loss, Pagan Altar