Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper is an album that takes some time opening up and getting inside. It’s a dense affair that feels very much like a meditation on grief and mourning. It’s a record that takes patience in order to get through, as it’s one 84-minute track. If that last sentence scares you, then Mirror Reaper may not be for you. But if you’ve got the time, Bell Witch have one hell of an album for you.
Bell Witch have under their belt, including their Mirror Reaper, three full-length albums. Each are meditative, minimalistic doom metal. They’re more like movements than songs, really. Modern doom metal classical music. The Seattle band started out as a two-piece with Adrien Guerra on drums and vocals and Dylan Desmond on bass and vocals. With this set up they released their demo in 2011, followed by Longing in 2012. In 2015 Four Phantoms was dropped and they seemed to have solidified a sound that was equal parts Gothic, slow core, doom metal, and ambient. It is heavy music. Seriously heavy, for sure. But the mix of just bass and drums with the distant guttural roar of vocals that sound more like ancient tomes that lyrics for a rock song, give Bell Witch’s tracks an open and vast sound. Their minimalistic approach to songwriting gives their songs a storied, vast sound.
While in the process of writing Mirror Reaper Guerra passed away suddenly, leaving Desmond to pick up the pieces. With the addition of Jesse Shreibman on drums, vocals, and organ the two set to finishing the record. What we have now is an entirely different Mirror Reaper than what was begun back in 2016. It’s heavier and far more sorrowful than anything Bell Witch has done before.
There have been other bands that have laid out whole sides of an LP dedicated to just one song. Those ponderers and mind expanders in the audience can appreciate a good album side stint so as to enjoy a beer or two. But at 84 minutes for one single song, Mirror Reaper takes the funeral cake. Though as to add a moment of calm amongst the storm, the band broke the single track into two 40+ minutes parts, titled “As Above” and “So Below”. Sleep still holds the record for the longest “Black Sabbath meets Cheech and Chong” mash up with 60 minute single track “Dopesmoker”, but Bell Witch have built an 84 minute meditation on death, loss, and grief that no one will surely meet any time soon.
Musically, Mirror Reaper does have moments of sheer heaviness and blustering metal. But really, where the power lies on this album are the moments of quieter reflection. Dylan Desmond’s 6-string bass playing is done with great care and delicate ease. There are many moments on this record that remind me of those melodic, reflective musical bits you’d hear on earlier Metallica albums. Desmond reminds me of Cliff Burton’s melodic bass playing, quite a bit actually. And Jesse Shreibman’s drums keep a sort of perpetual motion going on throughout. There’s a slow but continuous chugging as the song moves on, keeping a melodic undertone in conjunction with the weight of the riffs. Shreibman also peppers the record with Hammond organ, giving the track a real funeral feel(Bell Witch are referred to as “funeral doom”, after all.) At the half way point, Adrien Guerra’s voice appears, giving that midway point some serious catharsis and emotional heft. He’d recorded the piece prior to his death while him and Desmond had begun to record the album.
Mirror Reaper isn’t an easy listen, but one that does reward those that give it repeated spins. Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman have built a mammoth wall of Gothic doom, but have built a doorway for us to enter through. The album deals with endings, but also beginnings.