Saturday 23 May 2015

Bell Witch - 'Four Phantoms' (Album Review)

Album Type: Full-Length
Date Released: 28/04/2015
Label: Profound Lore

‘Four Phantoms’ CD//DD track listing:

1. Suffocation, A Burial: I - Awoken (Breathing Teeth)
2. Judgement, In Fire: I – Garden (Of Blooming Ash)
3. Suffocation, A Drowning: II - Somniloquy (The Distance Of Forever)
4. Judgement, In Air: II – Felled (In Howling Wind)

Bell Witch is:

Bass/Vocals | Dylan Desmond,
Drums/Vocals | Adrian Guerra


Funeral doom is a genre that is oft rooted in mourning. Archetypally doom can do a My Dying Bride and sit in a plush leather chair with a glass of red wine, its furrowed brow barely visible in the gloom as the candlelight flickers off the nearby shelves of Edgar Allan Poe books. Funeral doom takes the vital sentiment of this histrionic opera and strips off heaps of the fat, leaving a core of filthy weight, immoveable in its mass yet fundamentally raw and vulnerable.

That's right; this genre, with its glacial tempos and crusted tones, sounds like one of the hardest and most impenetrable forms of extreme music out there. Truthfully, however, beneath its superficial exoskeleton lies some of the most emotionally affective music being written today.

Here lies the strength of Bell Witch. The band is comprised of Adrian Guerra and Dylan Desmond of the great Samothrace, who make their brilliance with only bass, drums and vocals. Their last LP, 'Longing', stands to me as one of the greatest doom releases ever, where they proved that silence and space can be equally as heavy as noise and extremity. Everything from the tone to the pacing to the aesthetic of the album was near perfect for me, creating an atmosphere so heavy you could breath it. But this is not a review of 'Longing', it is about their new release titled 'Four Phantoms'. And this is not an album not about mourning, but about suffering.

As has been covered ad nauseum in articles preceding the albums's release, the four tracks here each tell a story of a different spirit trapped and tormented by one of the four elements. The unified theme between the songs suits the feel of the genre, and the concept itself combines with this to present the album as a complete whole, neither needing extra material nor burdened by it's near 67 minute running time.

Bell Witch are a creature that press through their songs at speeds akin to those of a starved prisoner on a death march. While each beat may seem like it takes heaving effort to move to the next, the songs are woven through with melody that pierces through the oppression using both bass and vocals. And it's truly great to hear the interplay between the crushing lower register notes and melancholic notes emanating from the same instrument. Indeed Bell Witch are perhaps the only metal band in history ever to have used a six-string bass well (challenges to this are appreciated).

Vocally 'Four Phantoms' possesses the fury of impotent misery, full of the despair that drives a creature to action that it knows is futile; or, worse yet, cannot even attempt. Lyrics are sparse, vague, unclear to the mind even when the shroud of growling is removed to clarify them to the ears. Yet who really cares to hear the words when you can simply feel the weight through their delivery.

But it's the end result that is really worth the listener's attention. Standout writing, production, tone, delivery and aesthetics all combine to create the miserable wounded beat that is 'Four Phantoms'. With it's hip Paulo Girardi artwork, Profound Lore-based credibility and evident media backing, 'Four Phantoms' is primed to be the first funeral doom album many will give their time to. And what an album it is to be introduced to the genre with too. Far from being baby's first extreme doom album to be grown out of when he discovers Khanate, this presents a high watermark in modern atmospheric metal that will remain in hearts and minds for years. Bell Witch are one of the best doom bands active today, and with 'Four Phantoms' have released one of the best doom albums of recent times. Guess that means I should be glad I don't think we've even seen the best from them yet.

Words by: Jake Mazlum

‘Four Phantoms’ is available here

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