Oct 072012

So much of the metal I listen to is so fast and furious that when I dived into Longing, the debut album by Seattle’s Bell Witch, I felt like a sprinter who’d been dropped in his tracks, as if the gravitational pull of the Earth had suddenly been quintupled. The pace of this tremendously heavy music is far slower than the beat of a human heart, yet a heart beats within it, as the songs push and pull between the sounds of devastation and salvation.

Longing is an apt title for this album. Its six atmospheric tracks create an uncanny ambience of loss and despair, a sense of isolation and depressive wistfulness, and often the feeling of unavoidable catastrophe and even horror. Yet the dark and brutal hopelessness of the songs is offset by slow, beautiful melodies — not cheerful ones, mind you, but profound expressions of melancholy.

The music is amazingly simple and spare. The only instruments employed by the Bell Witch duo of Dylan Desmond and Adrian Guerra are bass and drums (respectively), and their voices. I assume the bass is a six-string instrument, because those aching melodies are often carried by notes that climb up the register, often free of the massive distortion that surrounds the cave-in chords at the bottom of every song.

Two of the tracks — and they are the shortest ones — consist of no instruments but the bass, and no vocals. In “Beneath the Mask”, slow, reverberating notes and chords provide grim accompaniment for a sample from the Roger Corman 1964 horror classic Masque of the Red Death, in which the Satan-worshipper Prince Prospero discovers the identity of the Man in Red. The final track, “Outro”, is simply a bass solo — ponderous, booming, yet still woven with bleak melody.

The remaining four tracks range in length from more than 12 minutes to more than 20. They rarely exceed the pace of funeral doom, with massive fuzzed-out bass chords and crushing drum and cymbal explosions methodically pounding the listener into mute submission. Long spaces sometimes separate these radioactive hammer blasts of conjoined bass and drum, and even at highest speed, the music still crawls like a wounded beast.

The variety within these long desolate soundscapes comes principally from two sources. The first are those entrancing and even soulful melodies. Like everything else about the songs, they evolve slowly, the notes falling like intermittent drops of water from the vaulted ceiling of a damp cave. They range from the heart-wrenching to the almost hopeful, tempering the utter remorselessness of the deep chords and pounding percussion underneath. Somehow, as slow and separated as those melodies are, and as overwhelming brutal as the low-end accompaniment is, they get stuck in the mind, still roaming through the memory after the sound has died away.

The second source of variety lies in the vocals. Both Desmond and Guerra are listed as vocalists, and between them they contribute horrific, cavernous roars, so slow that they are essentially wordless and fundamentally inhuman; prolonged hair-raising shrieks that are equally horrifying; and clean vocals in the style of Gregorian chant.

The clean chanted vocals display considerable range, sometimes a droning bass, the words again voiced so slowly and in such a prolonged manner that the lyrics are lost, and sometimes arcing skyward in a striking manner.  In “Rows (Of Endless Waves)”, a strong, clean tenor (provided by guest vocalist Erik Moggridge of Aerial Ruin) rises in passionate, even urgent song (the only departure from the chanted style of clean vox).

The monastic vocals, when they appear, are part of what lends Longing its spiritual quality, and yes, despite the predominantly ravaging, despairing atmosphere of the album, I do think it’s a spiritual work. It’s the kind of music that will leave listeners feeling mesmerized and vulnerable, battered but not broken. It has the kind of aura that made me think if Leonard Cohen had been into doom when he recorded his first album, it would have sounded like Longing.

Bell Witch have created something special here, a desolate hymn to loss and the lost that’s as crushingly heavy as anything you’ll hear this year, yet capable of revealing a terrible beauty in its anguish. Highly recommended.

********

The album features awesome cover art by Bryan Proteau and it’s scheduled for release by Profound Lore on November 13, though it will be available on Bell Witch’s current tour, the remaining dates of which are as follows:

10/07 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios (Fall Into Darkness festival)
10/11 – Fargo, ND @ The New Direction
10/12 – Milwaukee, WI @ The Cactus Club
10/13 – Chicago, IL @ Burlington Bar
10/14 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Melody Inn (w/COFFINWORM, Black Goat Of The Woods)
10/15 – Somerville, MA @ Radio Somerville
10/16 – Brooklyn, NY @ The Acheron
10/17 – Baltimore, MD @ Golden West
10/18 – Philadelphia, PA @ Millcreek Tavern
10/19 – Washington DC @ RAS Restaurant And Lounge
10/20 – Richmond, VA @ Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
10/21 – Chattanooga, TN @ Sluggo’s North Vegetarian Cafe (w/LOSS)
10/22 – Nashville, TN @ The End (w/LOSS)
10/23 – Little Rock, AR @ Downtowm Music Hall (w/PALLBEARER)
10/24 – Kansas City, MO @ House Show
10/25 – Denver, CO @ Blast O Mat
10/26 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Dog Pound
10/27 – Boise, ID @ The Shredder

I’m really looking forward to the band’s Seattle homecoming on November 10 at The Highline, when they’ll be performing with Loss, Worm Ouroboros, and Mitochondrion.

You can download Bell Witch’s 2011 demo at their Bandcamp page and you can find them on Facebook via this link.

And now here’s some music (which we featured before when it first debuted). This is the initial 11 1/2 minutes of “Bails (Of Flesh)”. You can also hear “Longing (The River of Ash)” by jumping over to CVLT Nation.
 

17 Responses to “BELL WITCH: “LONGING””

  1. Gaia says:

    I took a pass on Bell Witch the first time I’d heard them, but your words are persuasive and I’ll give ’em another go. Intrigued.

    • Islander says:

      Thanks — I hope you’ll like this. I wish all of “Bails” was up for streaming. It grows even more powerful as it winds its way through the last half (and yes, there are 9 more minutes that come after the end of this edited version).

  2. Words cannot express the anticipation for this.

    I missed out getting the demo on CD before it sold out, so I’m glad to hear they’ve re-used some of that material on here.

    There aren’t many things I will absolutely purchase immediately when it becomes available, without even hearing any of it, but this is definitely one of those.

    • Funny thing, I just had a conversation with my wife about this last night. She said she had been looking for (a t-shirt or something) to surprise me with, and the first thing she thought of was how much I’d talked about this band. But she was searching (and she saw stuff I had written and stuff here at NCS) but didn’t find anything.

      I said, no I don’t believe they have any merch out yet, but they’ve got a new record coming very soon so that might change then. And she said, well you’ll be getting that, right? (If I haven’t mentioned, she’s pretty awesome sometimes.)

      • Islander says:

        She does sound awesome. She could get you a tape of the 2011 demo (and a tape player?):

        http://vultureprint.blogspot.com/p/tapes.html?m=1

        Inquire here: vultureprint@gmail.com

      • SurgicalBrute says:

        They HAD t-shirts back when the demo dropped…wouldnt be surprised if they print new ones for the tour/cd release

        • SurgicalBrute says:

          keep and eye on their big cartel website….http://bellwitchdoom.bigcartel.com/

        • Islander says:

          I was wretchedly unable to go to the launch of their current tour in Seattle a couple of days ago, so I can’t verify this, but it would stand to reason that they’ve got shirts to sell on the tour, and that something new will appear on that BigCartel page soon. I hope they’ve done (or will do) a shirt with that “Longing” cover art splashed across the front.

          • Inkmo says:

            Yes. They have two shirt designs on tour with them. I got the one based on the 2011 demo cover art. The other is a cleaner, art nouveau-esque text design with a skeleton in a coffin iirc. They have black and white versions of this shirt. I think was mention of patches, but they had none at the Comet show. Can’t wait till they’re back in November. They also had both the new album and vinyl copies of the demo.

      • Haha, yeah — I actually own one device that uses cassette tapes, which is my alarm clock/radio. I’ve had it since probably about seventh or eighth grade (which was more years ago than I care to admit), but after a while it started just eating tapes, so I haven’t used the tape player part for at least fifteen years.

        Anyway, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for any and all merch that might show up from these guys.

        I’m still very sad that they told me (many months ago) that their fall tour should include a stop in Pittsburgh, but then it didn’t.

  3. MaxR says:

    Great review man, doom is starting to become you. I’m with Mr. Steel here – so looking forward to this album.

    Which tracks from the EP makes an appearance on Longing? (besides Beneath the Mask)?

  4. JC says:

    Profound Lore really needs to cut me a break and stop the unending stream of awesomeness they release.

  5. Malice says:

    Islander, do you know if Mitochondrion will be along for the whole tour?

  6. joseph says:

    i saw them last night in philly. absolutely crushing. i don’t think i have ear drums anymore. if you can make it any of the live dates and pass up seeing this band, you’re seriously one of the worst human beings on the face of the earth. yeah they had shirts for sale last night along with other merch etc.

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