Bell Witch’s Dylan Desmond and Jess Shrelbman new record sounds like two who have scrapped the depths of an abyss. Created as a single 83-minute track, Mirror Reaper (out now on Profound Lore Records), is an extraction of death, shadowed by sounds mourners make while wandering the void. It begins and ends in cyclical splendor. Desmond’s opening bass lines are gorgeously somber. His tones are crisp and never as simplistic as ‘just a’ bass guitar. Shrelbman drums sound like hammers thrusted at the earth while his guttural vocals flare and coat the duo’s ramp ups with heft and dread. Paired with Shrelbman’s suspended Hammond B3, Bell Witch evokes a doom-enhanced dirge.
Around minute 17 Bell Witch slow into a chokehold. Emotionally gripping, this segment mirrors the colossal substance found throughout Mirror Reaper, as it threads moments of longing with grit. Desmond and Shrelbman mine pieces of lived out grief, glossed in grayish hues. Never too muddied to reveal real color when appropriate, the duo plays their instruments like extensions of body. The ego rarely shows face on Mirror Reaper. Their performance is of spirit and feeling.
By the 40th minute, brighter bass notes speak; the drumming strikes a defensive mode, like a battle cry for drummer and founding member Adrian Guerra who died in 2016. Then the organ scrapes the ceiling like a specter, morphing ambience as the pounding thuds of drums and tugged bass lines generate immense tones. Mirror Reaper haunts deeper as backgrounds emerge and vocals shrill and call out as if ghosts spill through nearby portals to join. Darkness spreads, suspended by the chill of Shrelbman’s cymbal rolls and deep-throated, tortured screams. Frightening and vocally unnerving, Bell Witch harness dark power.
By the 48th minute Mirror Reaper turns nearly silent. The slight strike of bass and flawless incantations by Aerial Ruin’s Erik Moggridge offer a fragile transparency rarely reached in a place of dedication. As the final 30 minutes release a myriad of chants primed by the meditative rush of bass and the wash of Shrelbman’s tidal drumming, a celestial presence shines.
The bass and drums return to punish the earth by the 70th minute, followed by voices lifting the weight of the stricken, sending it forth into the ether. Heaviness blares, while maintaining tenderness as it meanders through a cacophony of collisions. The organ tones are reminiscent of a weathered church’s acoustics, offering a contemplative, yet arising quality. Certainly deliberate, yet these tones unfold as if a guiding hand is controlling the chords. Unifying, ambient feedback, which holds the remaining frame, bares Bell Witch meditative, heads bowed.
While a brooding recording emerges for nearly 50 minutes, the ending angelic touchstones awaken something buried deep. Bell Witch’s curative journey on Mirror Reaper begins as it ends; graceful steps forward into the cold terrain echoed by loss.