Album Of The Week: Bell Witch Mirror Reaper
There’s precedent — not a lot, but some. In 1996, the California doom metal trio Sleep put together Dopesmoker, a whole album that consisted of one slow, repetitive, atmospheric hour-long song. London Records, the band’s label, had no idea how to sell it, so it stayed unreleased for three years; a smaller label finally released it years after the band’s breakup. These days, the band gets back together every so often to perform that albums in full at festivals. And metal, like jazz or experimental, is one of those few genres where people take themselves seriously enough to record really, really long tracks and then to release those tracks as albums. In the past, people like Jesu, Pig Destroyer, and Boris have done it, as have non-metal types like Brian Eno and Jim O’Rourke. Still, I’ve never heard anything quite like Mirror Reaper, the overwhelming, suffocating, brain-rearranging new piece of music from the Seattle drone-metal duo Bell Witch. Its one song is 83 minutes long, and those 83 minutes are enough to fuck with your entire concept of time.
Mirror Reaper is a heavy album, but for most of its long running time, it’s not an especially loud or brutal one. The sound is open and spacious. Much of the melody is in the bass, which is warm and plummy and only rarely distorted. There’s a lot of organ-sustain, a lot of cymbal washes. All of it sounds immaculate. Producer Billy Anderson has worked with people like Neurosis and Swans; he knows how to help a band convey darkness and grandeur. And darkness and grandeur are what Mirror Reaper has to offer. The album plays out like a bleak meditation on things that we can’t possibly know, a giving-up of control. It’s only really a doom metal album by association. A lot of the time, all you can hear is a lonely organ or a murmuring bass. The singing is either a subverbal shudder-grunt or a high, lost, fragile tenor from frequent guest Erik Moggridge. And when the band does lock into a louder, heavier part, they ease themselves into it so gradually that you only really notice when you’re already in it. They play so slowly that it almost doesn’t sound like a groove; it just sounds like a crashing enormity of emptiness.
The band members had a lot to think about when they were making the album. Last year, Adrian Guerra, the drummer and singer who helped form Bell Witch in 2010 and who’d left the band in 2015, died at the age of 35. Some of his unused vocal tracks from the band’s last album, 2015’s Four Phantoms, show up on Mirror Reaper. And the members of the band say that Mirror Reaper is an album about the dichotomy of life and death, the way they’re ultimately two halves of one whole. You might not get that from the album’s lyrics, which basically, for me, fade into nothingness even when I can understand them. But you can totally get it from the album’s feeling, from the way it hints at unknowns, at vast chasms of nothingness. Bell Witch have made heavy music before; their last two albums were full of intense and zoned-out 20-minute songs. But they haven’t made music that can completely sweep you away like this, music that can force you to live inside your own heads.
To get lost in Mirror Reaper is to forget about things like time or musical structure. You know when you’re at the beach, when you swim out far enough that you can’t touch ground anymore? It’s like that. You’re on your own. You can’t hear anyone, and you might not be able to see anyone either. All you see are these far-off waves swelling up, getting ready to crash down on you. All you can feel are these vast forces pulling on your body, pushing it in different ways. As with the ocean, you have to be at peace with the idea that you’re not in control, that there are forces much larger than you out there, that these forces should be observed and contemplated. To listen to an album like Mirror Reaper is to surrender to it, to let it suck you in. Listening to Mirror Reaper, I’m not thinking about genres or influences or whether I like this album more than the band’s last album. I’m not really thinking anything. I’m just feeling big feelings. Mirror Reaper, as a piece of music, exists somewhere in the beyond. It’s a hell of a place to visit.
Mirror Reaper is out 10/20 on Profound Lore. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Destroyer’s lush, verbose, thoughtful ken.
• Jessie Ware’s smooth, virtuosic, expensive-sounding Glasshouse.
• Bully’s scrappy, gnarly, fun sophomore album Losing.
• Makthaverskan’s fired-up indie-pop riot III.
• Lindstrøm’s expansive, insistent space-disco odyssey It’s Alright Between Us As It Is.
• John Carpenter’s newly-rerecorded movie-theme collection Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998.
• Kllo’s elegantly burbling dance-popper Backwater.
• Young Dolph’s wartime street-rap album Thinking Out Loud.
• Margo Price’s old-school country reverie All American Made.
• Circuit Des Yeux’ experimental mood piece Reaching For Indigo.
• Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s trilogy-completing jazz album The Emancipation Procrastination.
• Radiator Hospital’s DIY indie-popper Play The Songs You Like.
• Beach Slang/Quiet Slang’s pared-down We Were Babies & We Were Dirtbags.
• Yellow Eyes’ atmospheric black metaller Immersion Trench Reverie.
• Giraffage’s gauzy, fluid debut Too Real.
• Grooms’ atmospheric-but-muscular Exit Index.
• Way Yes’ melodically adventurous indie-popper Tuna Hair.
• Ryan Power’s harmonically rich They Sell Doomsday.
• Bill MacKay and Ryley Walker’s collaborative album SpiderBeetleBee.
• Nic Fanciulli’s guest-heavy dance album My Heart.
• CID RIM’s krautrock-influenced Material.
• Lean Year’s cinematic self-titled debut.
• Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s score for season two of Stranger Things.
• Gwar’s triumphantly silly The Blood Of Gods.
• Kevin Devine’s acoustic reimagining We Are Who We’ve Always Been.
• The Tegan And Sara tribute compilation The Con X: Covers.
• Wild Beasts’ Punch Drunk And Trembling EP.
• Sports and Plush’s split EP.
• Madame Gandhi’s Voices Remix EP.