It can often seem like lengthy tracks exist simply to test the resolve of the listener, given that plenty of doom bands have fallen to the many pitfalls that come with undertaking such a task. Prolonged sections of superfluous atmospherics stitched pointlessly between what you might consider the “meat” of the song are often slotted in, seemingly at random, to stretch out the track-length to fulfil some quota set purely to gain some imagined doom cred. For Bell Witch, however, Mirror Reaper, an 84-minute beast, feels like a natural progression of their already ambitious sound, and the best possible use of their huge vision.
After all, where are a band whose first two albums began with 20-minute tracks to go next? Indeed, there’s no question that bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer Jesse Shreibman, who share vocal duties here, have crafted the group’s most challenging listen yet, but it is also their best, at least for those who have the patience (and spare time) to fully indulge in its infinite scope over repeated listens.
It’s hard not to think of the circumstances surrounding the album’s creation whilst listening. The duo comprised the release to honour founding member Adrian Guerra, who passed away in 2016, and his legacy lives on through Mirror Reaper. Not only can his vocal tracks from unused sessions be found around the album’s mid-point, as ‘As Above’ (aka part one) becomes ‘So Below’ (aka part two) in Mirror Reaper’s most heart-wrenchingly cathartic moment, but the release as a whole oozes an inescapable sorrow that gives it a heavier weight than any down-tuned guitar ever could.
Mirror Reaper could just have easily been edited into a half-hour long album, a creative choice that would arguably make it more commercially viable, but Bell Witch are not that way inclined. Every subtle note, drum beat, riff, even every atmospheric drone, is allowed to ring out to its full conclusion. Such an approach is not uncommon in doom, but never before has it been done to this scale of cavernous enormity. Thanks to the phenomenal six-string bass work of Desmond, whose riffs are as dexterous and solos as poignant as any guitarist’s, there is a monolithic size to the album that can only be likened to standing atop a mountain or festering at the bottom of the ocean – a sensation that has been perfectly encapsulated by the stunning artwork.
As challenging for its palpably raw emotion as it is for its heavy musical style, Mirror Reaper is a colossal album bound to take its place amongst only the most elite of the doom metal genre’s well-stocked history. At face value, it is an incomprehensively expansive tirade of transcendental funeral doom, but in context, it is a memoriam for a lost friend, sunken with bereavement but invigorated by sparse moments of uplifting glory.
Mirror Reaper is out October 20th on Profound Lore. Pre-order here.
Words: George Parr