Naming your band after a ghost is probably one of the most metal things you can do. Bell Witch not only named their band after one of the most famous ghosts of all time but doubled down on the name by making all their music about ghosts both literal and figurative.
Funeral doom is perhaps one of the hardest sub-genres of music to invest in. Always long and rarely enjoyable in the conventional sense doom metal moves at a sluggish pace encapsulating the dread, dreariness and melancholy associated with it. Born out of the slower more cumbersome parts of Black Sabbath songs doom metal has evolved into a genre capable of being both miserable and uplifting. Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper is both and spins it’s literal ghost story into a thing of profoundly frightening yet touchingly ethereal beauty.
Drummer and vocalist Adrian Guerra died in his sleep in 2015. He had recently been fired from the band due to alcohol addiction. His death cemented the band’s push to make their most personal record yet. Guerra is the ghost that occupies this LP. Bassist and vocalist Dylan Desmond places his grief at the forefront of the record. The droning moans of his six stringed bass echo Guerra’s past vocals on Bell Witch’s previous records Four Phantoms and Longing. On Four Phantoms death was an almost mythical theme but here on Mirror Reaper it is all too real.
Replacement drummer Jason Schreibman breathes new life into Bell Witch’s percussion section. Cymbals glitter in the background like moonbeams off of a black lake. Bass drums roll and hi-hats crash like distant earthquakes or rock slides. The theme of nature is almost as present as death in Bell Witch’s epic soundscapes. Four Phantoms was built around it while Mirror Reaper merely includes it as a part of its process. Each laboured pluck of a string, beat of a drum and moaned vocal sound like the wind and waves carving some monumental totem to grief out of a cliff face.
Desmond and Schreibman are not alone on this record. Leftover vocal tracks which Guerra recorded for Four Phantoms are used as the album’s centrepiece. They represent a transition between this world and the next. Just as Guerra crossed over so too do we. Schreibman’s growl rumbles where his drums cannot while Desmond mimics a Gregorian choir by multi-tracking his voice. Guest vocalist Erik Moggridge sings the climax of the song and once his lilting hymn is echoed by Desmond’s clean chant that final crowning statement of loss becomes something almost hopeful.
Mirror Reaper is a monument to grief. On a par with the likes of Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell or Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ Bell Witch’s latest dares to examine the totality of loss. Like a weeping Atlas it shoulders the weight of grief and allows us to share in it. Death often feels like the end but for those who still live it is merely another reason to find hope in a world where everything seems to be collapsing. Like it or not we must walk on. Andrew Carroll.