Doom metal. It is epic, often majestic, heavy in the ponderous sense of the word It tends to be on the slower side, often with powerful, soaring vocals. Birthed in the roots of Black Sabbath, and honed to a real edge with the release of Candlemass’ essential Epica Doomica Metalicus, it is one of my very favorite sub-genres of metal.
And then there is funeral doom.
Funeral doom is a different beast all together. True, it is still rooted in doom metal, and shares many of the same hallmarks. It also borrows from doom/death. It then fuses these elements into one of the most punishing, extreme, esoteric, and inaccessible styles of music out there.
Take Mirror Reaper by Bell Witch. First off, look at that artwork. No, really. Look at it. It is beautiful. But it is also haunting, menacing, and creepy as hell. Then look at the song list. It consists of “Mirror Reaper”, and… well, that’s it. Yes, the album Mirror Reaper has a single song, the track titled “Mirror Reaper”. And then look at the run time for the album. It is 83 minutes and 15 seconds.
Add that all up and, in my experience, there are basically two reactions. On the one hand, I have seen almost revulsion, and instant reaction of “no way!” It is too much, too long, too ponderous. I get that. But on the other hand, it can also lead to fascination.
That’s what happened to me. I wasn’t familiar with the band prior to the 2017 release of Mirror Reaper, but I was instantly intrigued and decided I had to know more. Context is often king, and in this case that holds very true. Bell Witch is a 2 person band, just bass, drums, and vocals. And after the 2015 release of Four Phantoms, the drummer Adrian Guerra, passed away. The band carried on, with Jesse Shreibman joining bassist Dylan Desmond to continue the band. Mirror Reaper acts as a tribute to their lost brother, and that sense of loss permeates every minute of this epic.
The music is very stripped down. It is ponderously slow, with haunting clean vocals, and low, guttural growls that shake the roots of the earth. The drums plod, slowly building over the course of the song. Often the music builds, slowly, only to be stripped back down to a single, sustained note. The bass alternates between clean and clear, to heavily distorted and grinding.
Yet Bell Witch expertly prevents the music from every becoming too, well, too anything. It could be slower, but it doesn’t. It could get much, much heavier, but it restrains. Just when you think it is going to be too much of the same thing, and become boring, it will switch it up just enough to keep it interesting. For me, that is really what makes this such a fascinating album. It is too much, really, I recognize it is. But it balances all of its excess with such a level of care, concern, and skill that it is a haunting work I find myself drawn back to time and again.