Bell Witch’s third full-length album, “Mirror Reaper”, received almost universal acclaim in many best-of 2017 lists. From the onset, everything other than the amazing Dark Souls-esque cover art spells trouble to me. This group is a 2-person band featuring no guitarist, playing doom metal (funeral doom, no less), and put out one 83-minute song. Doom is one style of metal that has never appealed to me, largely because it’s so different from what I want out of metal. But the hype was too hard to ignore, and so “Mirror Reaper” would prove to be a compelling, albeit challenging, listen.
The key to Bell Witch’s music is atmosphere. Many bands strive to create it, and while some achieve it, there really isn’t anyone who does so as compellingly as Bell Witch. With a subgenre like funeral doom, one would expect the primary theme to be sadness. And while that is certainly one of the emotions conjured by this record, it also has a chilling feel to it, as though something is about to go terribly wrong at any second. The line between solemnity and fear is a thin one in this case, and Bell Witch does both sounds exceptionally. Ironically, there are a few notes that are occasionally hit which display a more optimistic, hopeful sound. They don’t last long, however, before the band returns to their ritualistic ways.
One way in which this two-piece manages to be absolutely terrifying is through their unexpected use of drums. There are several sections on the record where not much is happening in the way of instrumentation, but then a huge kick drum crashes out of nowhere (the best example occurs after 70 minutes). The music lulls you into a false sense of security before getting immensely heavy.
The drumming in general is a serious talking point for Bell Witch. Because the album is painstakingly slow, there are no real grooves, or even traditional drumbeats. In fact, the closest the band gets to establishing a rhythm is through consistent bass drum and crash cymbal hits that correspond with note changes from the bass. Sometimes the pacing feels a little bit random, but it never feels quite wrong. It helps that Bell Witch’s drummer occupies the gaps with some brilliantly placed fills. As you might expect, it’s not particularly technical, but there’s something ingenious about the way that each note is placed. Whether a quick hi-hat shot or a floor tom or two, each fill adds to the immense emptiness this record draws upon.
Minimalism tends to be the name of the game for Bell Witch, but there are more than a few sections where the band can get pretty musical in a more traditional format. The 15-minute mark in particular wouldn’t feel out of place on any more typical doom metal record, as the bass is given an opportunity to create a lead melody (or even a solo, depending on how loosely you want to use that term). Likewise, after 30 minutes, the bass takes the lead role once again. These moments help to keep the album flowing, as it is admittedly an exhausting listen.
The final element of Bell Witch’s music is the vocals, but these are much more difficult to diagnose. The album features 4 vocalists (including the band’s deceased former member), and a mix of clean and harsh vocals. Even though a significant portion of the record is instrumental, the sections with singing or growling don’t feel any different. They often tend to blend into the background as light whispers (almost like chanting). This is because, with the few exceptions noted above, “Mirror Reaper” really doesn’t ever let one instrument stand out. It is designed so that everyone works in unison towards the same goal of creating an ethereal experience. The second half of the album tends to rely more heavily on clean vocals, as it builds towards a climactic finish.
This brings us to the elephant in the room: the length. Excessive runtimes are one of the single biggest killers of otherwise great records (both in terms of songs and the albums themselves). The fact that “Mirror Reaper” is one long song really doesn’t matter. Though I have virtually no experience with funeral doom, it still feels very appropriate to have not divided this record into songs (though there is a split on the CD for practical reasons). The album moves from one note to the next seamlessly, making the entire 83-minute experience feel connected.
“Mirror Reaper” is very much a mood record. You can’t throw this on at any time and expect it to make sense. It is ideal to listen to at night, with headphones, when you have no real plans or worries in your life. Otherwise it simply becomes background noise. The only way to aptly describe this album is to call it an experience. Truthfully, I have not been bored during any of my listens to the album, despite a general aversion to this style of metal. This is unlikely to be an album I reach for often, but under the right conditions, “Mirror Reaper” is a truly incredible, unique release.
Be sure to check out and like Bell Witch on Facebook!
All of it
4.5/5 or 90%.