Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bell Witch - Four Phantoms

There are two people in Bell Witch.  Their names are Dylan Desmond and Adrian Guerra.  They each play an instrument in addition to providing vocals, with Dylan playing bass and Adrian drums.  I bring this up so abruptly because before you read any more of this review, I want you to know that I cannot comprehend how two instruments played by two men can create the music that Bell Witch does.  Their 2012 debut Longing instantly catapulted them to the forefront of doom metal, as it seamlessly wove harrowing roars and pummeling, crushing walls of distortion and pounding drums with delicate, almost quivering clean singing set to sparse bass notes.  The overarching themes and feelings on Longing live up to its title in spades, and it remains one of the most cryptic, mournfully beautiful pieces of art I've ever experienced; it's telling that the band sampled audio from Vincent Price's Poe adaptation The Masque of the Red Death, and that sequence is merely another moment of gothic terror, rather than the standout.  I tell you this for a few reasons; first, you should listen to Longing if you haven't yet, and second, Bell Witch's new album Four Phantoms is out now, and I wanted to give you a taste of how excited I am for that.

Four Phantoms is comprised of four tracks, each stretching past the ten minute mark, with two of them pushing past twenty minutes.  While that isn't exactly unheard of in funeral doom, it can still be incredibly daunting; Bell Witch is more than up to the task.  Each track is based on a  principal element (Earth, Fire, Water, Wind), reflected in their titles.  Album opener "Suffocation, A Burial: I - Awoken (Breathing Teeth)" kicks things off at a dirge's pace, with Desmond's bass playing sparse notes that immediately establish the solemn, mournful atmosphere in which Four Phantoms resides.  One of the more surprising moments in "Awoken" (the complete song titles - more specifically, remembering the complete song titles - are my least favorite thing about Four Phantoms) is the emergence of a riff that serves as sort of the chorus for the first half of the song; it helps to structure the song in a narrative way, so that when everything fades out around the halfway point and then comes storming back a few minutes later with a similar (but changed) riff, it feels more like a part of an overarching idea, rather than two separate song structures connected by an intermission.

On of my favorite things about Four Phantoms is that the songs don't really end so much as they transition into the next track.  "Judgement, In Fire: I - Garden (of Blooming Ash)" is the second track on the album, and probably the one that most resembles its titular element stylistically, as it moves from its blazing inferno intro an almost unbearably intense slow burn.  During the latter, Guerra's constant roll on the cymbal playing behind Desmond's ominous notes create the crackling intensity of an approaching forrest fire with nothing in front of it but flammable materials.

I'm unsure of which band member provides them, but the clean vocals throughout "Suffocation, A Drowning: II - Somniloquy (The Distance of Forever)" are absolutely perfect.  "Somniloquy" is my favorite song on the album, moving from despondent lows to exuberant highs before moving into a devastatingly crushing crescendo.  The album's closing track "Judgement, In Air: II - Felled (In Howling Wind) largely continues this crescendo through Four Phantoms' closing minutes.  While the entire album plays like one continuous piece of music, there's definitely more of a "split" so to speak between the first two tracks than there is between "Somniloquy" and "Felled."

Four Phantoms, like Longing, is best enjoyed in a single listen, with your full attention.  Great albums are like movies or books for your ears; they should take you places and cause you to feel emotions and encourage you to think.  Four Phantoms does all that and then some.  Like the best horror movies, Four Phantoms establishes a chilling atmosphere, and then stretches it out, forcing the listener to wade through it, to encapsulate themselves in it, before getting to the cathartic payoff.  Interestingly, much like Pallbearer's second album Foundations of Burden, Four Phantoms often comes across as less decidedly bleak than its predecessor, at time conjuring up passages that could almost be referred to as hopeful.  These passages, or more specifically the contrast these passages offer, are what elevate Four Phantoms into the upper echelon of modern doom metal.  Check it out below, and then give the guys some money and pick up a copy.

- Durf

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