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Bell Witch

Longing

(Profound Lore; US: 13 Nov 2012; UK: 5 Nov 2012)

Longing, the full-length debut from Seattle, Washington-based duo Bell Witch, is a gut-wrenching lurch of spacious, atmospheric doom. But what is most captivating about it is the intrinsic connection between those who crafted the album, and those who listen. Courage and fortitude are what you’ll need most during Longing‘s 60-minute-plus, low-end rumbling tour of loss and suffering, and Bell Witch has mined those very same attributes to create a mournful and resonant release.


Courage and fortitude are there in abundance on Longing‘s very first song, “Bails (of flesh)”. You’ll need courage because bassist and vocalist Dylan Desmond and drummer and vocalist Adrian Guerra lay out a challenge with a 20-minute opening track that will test your mettle. The fortitude is required because this is an unrestrained dive into fathomless despondency that demands to know if you’ve the strength to proceed. It’s a bold beginning, because Bell Witch is inviting you in for the long haul here, and there’s no restraint shown nor a guiding hand in view.


With “Bails (of flesh)”, Bell Witch spells out a simple premise that defines Longing. This is cathartic doom, and if you’re not prepared to fully shuck off your protective skin to experience your soul being scoured, then perhaps you’re just not cut out for the purgative trawls within. Still, it’s important to note there’s nothing merciless in that stance. There’s a restorative end goal to Longing, where the emotional battering speaks of pain we’ve all felt, and leaves us (hopefully) stronger in facing our own demons.


Such bruising fare is well known to Desmond. His role in Samothrace (the band released two excellent albums of crusty doom: Life’s Trade in 2008 and Reverence to Stone in 2012) has certainly prepared him for confronting despairing themes. Guerra is well versed in heavier pursuits too, playing with Desmond in instrumental trio Lethe. But what the duo provides on Longing is something altogether more reductive, paring things back to drums and bass to get to the core of doom. That said, although the duo uses minimal instrumentation here, there’s no lack of girth or weight to Longing, and there are plenty of melodic pathways to follow. The recording techniques employed offset any concerns about a lack of guitars, with Desmond’s bass—looped, layered and substantially amped—more than fulfilling the role.


As an alternative to the fully fleshed pile-driver attack so often utilized by doom bands, Bell Witch conjures up the power and resonance via shifts in tone and tenor that chip away determinedly at your psyche, rather than simply battering down the doors. “Rows (of endless waves)” and “Longing (the river of ash)” blend slow, deliberate passages with clean vocals evoking heartbreaking loneliness, and harsher roars and bombastic drumming hammer home the all-consuming grief.


Longing is both beautiful and bleak. The slowly plucked, eerie bass drone of “Beneath the Mask” features a Vincent Price sample from 1964’s The Masque of the Red Death, and its creeping tenor lifts the façade we all hide behind with its reflective pace. Throughout the album, the pauses between the turbulent bass churns and the pounding of drums allow its fiercer sections to surge forth with authority and influence. That breathing room is all-important. With the focus here on minimalism to provoke maximum response—in terms of feeling the unbridled, raw weight of personal anguish—the subtlety of Longing‘s movements counts the most. 


It’s the pause before the storm, a familiar scenario in metal of course, but when the tempest of howls appears in the early stages of “I Wait”, it’s that convergence of delicacy and brutishness that gives the song such emotive depth—allowing it to blend heaviness with gracefulness right through to the end. If Longing emphasizes one thing, it’s that Bell Witch shows an innate sense of exactly when to transition from tranquility into squalls of gargantuan noise, ensuring the isolation and desolation of inner struggles are portrayed in all their forms. 


Like the evocative doom of Profound Lore label-mates Evoken, Indesinence, Aldebaran and Pallbearer, Longing highlights just how far we can sink into mires of hopelessness, and the bittersweet beauty we find in such despair. Bell Witch strikes a superb balance between the vulnerability of painful remembrances and stentorian roars of sorrow. Courage and fortitude, that’s what we need to get through life. Bell Witch reminds us that liberation can be found in living though times of great hardship. Don’t give up. It’s there.

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Craig Hayes is based in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he is a contributing editor and columnist at PopMatters. Alongside his reviews and feature articles, Craig's monthly column, Ragnarök, traverses the metal spectrum. He is the co-author of PopMatters' regular metal round-up, Mixtarum Metallum, contributes to radio shows and numerous other sites, and he favours music that clangs, bangs, crashes, or drones. Craig can be found losing followers daily on twitter @sixnoises.


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