Despite my usual aversion to everything low and slow, something about Seattle’s Bell Witch speaks to me. 2015’s Four Phantoms, despite its long-winded tendencies, won many hearts (just not El Cuervo’s) with their well-crafted slab of monolithic funeral doom. Their super-massive soundscapes could suck the light out of the universe but rarely feel heavy just for heaviness’ sake. Following the sudden death of former drummer Adrian Guerra, bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer/organist Jesse Shreibman wrestled with shock and despair, as well as doubt over the future of Bell Witch. Their conclusion that “if [they] were going to go on, it had to be something remarkable” is evident throughout Mirror Reaper. Pulling off an 84-minute single track opus is about as remarkable as it gets.

Hypothetically, Bell Witch’s patented bass-only approach should burden their music with such a smothering atmosphere that nothing else can thrive. The ambiance the duo craft evokes thoughts of a cursed purgatory, an afterlife enthroned in darkness and possessed by unspeakable malice.1 Yet Bell Witch counterweight this miserable visage with moments of intense emotion. The track expands upon Four Phantoms’ propensity for long-running motifs. The early introduction of a simple yet poignant melody, imbued with Pallbearer‘s heartbreaking tenderness, breaks the inescapable ache, thriving amid the tension. Desmond returns to this riff – and others like it – repeatedly, binding this slow-moving hell together with their plaintive incandescence. The spaces in between find Bell Witch as meticulous as ever. Layers of chasm-deep bass fade to nearly imperceptible levels, before a chorus of ghastly howls and the second-perfect shimmer of Shreibman’s cymbals extend draw them out once more. The careful charting of caustic pits and lonely peaks; the placement of each heart-rending note, slotted in so perfectly after the last has faded; the methodical use of a tempo on the edge of too slow; Bell Witch treat their execution with as much grace and attention as their miasmatic atmosphere.

Four Phantoms, even on repeat listens, never resolved its length issue. Mirror Reaper leans into that shortcoming (longcoming?). Though masterpieces like Crimson and Winter’s Gate share one-run genealogy, those albums incorporate disparate ideas and approaches, sounding more-agile than their one-track status would suggest. For all its length, Mirror Reaper only truly sounds like two tracks. That’s not to say it doesn’t approach itself from multiple angles. The extensive examination of its innards is exactly what makes the record special. But as an 84-minute run, one largely sans tangible vocals save for cavernous rumbles and a nameless malice, the theming feels static. Mirror Reaper skirts the boundary of focused and narrow. Every instance of pain points in the same direction, a monument to the album’s implicit goal. However, coupled with the record’s titanic length and extensive, sobering development, Mirror Reaper is a difficult listen to get through in one sitting. At its best, the album can turn 15 minutes into 5; its lulls, meanwhile, stall as each second feels more indigestible than the last. Tightening the length even by 10-20 minutes would greatly increase the record’s appeal.

The departed Guerra shepherds in the album’s highest peak, the cataclysmic shift from the A-side’s “As Above” to B-side “So Below,” in the form of previously unused vocals from the Four Phantoms recordings. “So Below” feels every bit the endpoint that Mirror Reaper needs to complete its journey. Desmond, Shreibman, and returning guest vocalist Erik Moggridge (Aerial Ruin) distill their hearts into the delicate vocal incantations that haunt the passage. Mirror Reaper‘s final contortion, after over an hour of kaleidoscopic cycles, channels Moggridge’s transcendent, ethereal cleans into a pitch-perfect finale as gripping as any moment on the record. His inclusion on the record is Mirror Reaper‘s secret ingredient. For as masterful as the composition and instrumental performances are, Moggridge shines brightest. Producer Billy Anderson’s experience with Sleep, Acid King, and other doom outfits greatly benefits Mirror Reaper. His production emphasizes the poignant without sapping the band’s ability to crush chest cavities.

Mirror Reaper is not for the thriller seeker, nor is it for the faint of heart. At its core, it is paradoxically unyielding and gentle. Its length may listeners turn off, and for good reason. Fortunately, the execution of that material is largely beyond reproach. Bell Witch gambled with Mirror Reaper. On paper, an hour-plus of crushing plod should turn off all but the most devoted acolytes. Bell Witch defy expectations with a beautiful, haunting expression of sorrow and loss unlike any I’ve experienced. For those willing to invest the necessary time, Mirror Reaper will not disappoint.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Profound Lore Records
Websites: bellwitch.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/bellwitchdoom
Releases Worldwide: October 20th, 2017

Show 1 footnote

  1. For the gamers out there, Dark Souls often comes to mind – eat your heart out, Soulmass.
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  • tomasjacobi

    Not to start a flame war between the two sites (okay, maybe a little), but let me direct people looking for a dissenting opinion to the review on Last Rites.
    Without going into details about reviewers getting “cum in their hair”, let me just say that the reviewer over there is not as enthusiastic about the album as the honourable Dr. Wvrm.

    • Ha! I saw the Last Rites’ review and was wondering what the take would be here. Personally, not having listened to the album yet, color me intrigued…

      • tomasjacobi

        Same here. I haven’t listened to a single second of the album yet, but with such wildly different takes on it I’m looking forward to checking it out.

    • Cody Miller

      For whatever reason, I am not finding their reviews at all enjoyable. Maybe it’s because I found AMG first, but it’s just not working for me.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Well, I learned something about ants.

    • Dr. Wvrm

      Here I was gonna make a Something About Mary joke but it seems the reputable Sir O-War is on top of the ball.

      I know a little something about going against the grain in a review, so while I reject the notion that I’m doing this to cowtow to the crowd, I don’t begrudge him his opinion.

      I dunno what he’s got against ants though.

      • tomasjacobi

        He apparently just prefers the stupid ants that ends up starving to death because they won’t follow the crowds to where the food is :-)

    • Hello. Last Riter here. Last Writer? Just swinging in to say that I enjoy seeing how often AMG and LR differ on album judgements. It’s fun. It’s fun seeing passionate people who are knowledgeable about (and fiercely loyal to) metal talk about metal, particularly when they come in from conflicting angles. Hell, it’s fun to see what albums we agree on, too! And for what it’s worth, I kind of like the Bell Witch album, but it’s no Slow “V-Oceans,” which is my favorite funereal record of the year. Anyway, keep up the great work, AMG. And my thanks to any of the folks in the AMG community who visit LR as well.

      • Dr. Wvrm

        Welcome welcome! I actually like the difference in opinions. It makes the whole gig more fun and reinforces that there’s more than one way to view any piece of art. Plus, we’re usually the ones on the sharp end of the comment section pitchforks, so it’s nice to have them on our side for once ;)

        • I really don’t like Pitchfork.

  • Yolo Swaggins

    yawnnnnn…much too long for my tastes. 5 minutes in; still not all that much has happened and the rifts are not all that interesting thus far to constitute for the length.

    • Zach Ward

      Just a matter of preference I feel, because to me this certainly ain’t boring.. Could possibly see it as my album of the year.

      • Yolo Swaggins

        Oh- obviously it’s all preference. I’m just stating my view at the moment. Music is great because of how personal it is and I respect you opinion – if you think it’s AOTY then it is (for you). I just happen to not enjoy this particular album, and I think it’s great that you do. If everyone liked the same shit the world would be boring, indeed.

      • Dr. Wvrm

        What I find interesting is that this seems to transcend genre restrictions. You’re either down with the length or not, but it seems like a lot of people like it if they can clear that barrier. A more manageable length from, to pick a band I know you like, Ahab would do nothing for me, but Bell Witch tickle my pickle for some reason.

        • Zach Ward

          I know length seems to play a lot into if people can enjoy an album, I know for most of the reviewers here continue to say around 30 minutes is the golden length for an album, but just to me length never seems to be a problem. It’s if the albums length is justified. If you have a 65 minute album and 4 filler throwaway tracks I feel that hurts the albums whole and makes it tougher to sit through, but if they make every song interesting and enjoyable that extended length I feel can make an album even better than the shorter ones. Example would be last year Vektor’s Terminal Redux is about 75 minutes and I never get bored of it. But for some 75 minutes is just too much, no matter the quality I think. That’s how I feel bout basically all lengthy albums, it’s just that constitently I guess funeral doom albums extend past the 60 minute mark. And it’s my favorite subgenre of metal, so these bands seem to be doing something right.

          • ToddRob64

            My sentiments exactly, the songs quality should dictate the length and never the other way around. Making a long album just for the fun of it but forgetting to make each song listenable seems to be the issue I have.

    • HeavyMetalHamster

      I find this style of music an aquired taste that requires real investment of time. I used to loathe bands like Eye of Solitude with the slow plod…..but after a few listens the nuances start to become evident and then hypnotic. I have the bore factor with a lot of Black Metal. …..just so samey…..but again that’s my take on it.

  • Wes Allen

    Listened to this twice yesterday. Usually the hour+ songs start to get pretty boring, but I love this. Great review, too!

  • Name’s Dalton

    That album art is wonderful.

    • Martin Knap

      has a nice Zdzisław Beksiński vibe to it

      • I am pretty sure that this is actually his painting. If not, someone has mimicked his style tremendously well.

        • miradautasvras

          Its Mariusz Lewandowski. Eerie Beksinski vibe therebut his work is less creepy than Zd’s. More of a fantasy themed landscape going on there. Awesome none the less

    • basenjibrian

      Yes. So beautiful, somber, and fitting.
      And the album is stunning. Not as harsh as I expected, but beautiful.

  • madhare

    Oh wow… I love Longing. But somehow Four Phantoms never really grabbed me. But this just might.

    Actually, I would otherwise buy this right away from Bandcamp but I had a bad experience with them lately. I tried buying the Finsterforst album Mach dich frei, paid for the whole album and only got one song (out of eight). After reporting the issue a month ago to Bandcamp, I still haven’t got the full album or a refund. So don’t really want to buy anything from there until they show that there’s some kind of customer protection in place. So it isn’t just catering to this type of scam artists.

    • Name’s Dalton

      Bandcamp is scamming you or the band? I’ve had nothing but a stellar experience with Bandcamp.

      • h_f_m

        Same here, that’s odd.

      • madhare

        Exactly. Until now I’ve totally loved using Bandcamp.

        I bought the album but the download package contained only one song (choosing a different format etc. didn’t help). So I contacted Bandcamp customer service stating quite clearly but politely that “could I have my songs please or a refund”.

        Bandcamp’s response was to send one email to the artist (or their crew) with me in cc. “Hey Finsterforst, could you fix this?” And then nothing happens for a month. I had already started to forget the whole thing. Now I’ve written again to Bandcamp about getting a refund.

        I’m left wondering if the Finsterforst page on BC is even run the by band crew? Or is it just set up by some scammer?

        In any case, I would have appreciated a bit more activity on Bandcamp’s side in fixing this. Would be nice to have buyer support and protection. I wonder if I have to go to PayPal and report a fraudulent seller in order to get my money back.

      • madhare

        Ok. I’ve now finally got a refund from Bandcamp. So that’s good.

        This episode did make me feel that if you have a problem with them you need to stay quite proactive or you’re not getting your money back. Perhaps not the best message to send to your customers.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Bore Witch – Mirror Sleeper

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      How have you been, Andre? Still about as spot on as ever, I see.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        I’ve been trying to miss a beat but it’s harder than it seems.

  • Eli Valcik

    Good album but it doesn’t mesh with my attention span. However, I can totally see myself buying the vinyl.

  • We should have done a dueling review! We got to coordinate better.

    • Dr. Wvrm

      It’s the same way on google music. I think that was an active decision on the part of the band/PR folks.

      • You’re probably right regarding the PR folks.

      • Speaking from experience, it was a label/band/PR thing. On Spotify at least, bands get paid per song stream, and thus breaking up longer tracks (or single-track albums) allows a band to get a normal amount of revenue from a stream, rather than being disadvantaged by having longer (but fewer) songs. SUMAC did this as well, for another recent example.

      • Danny

        For what its worth, looking at setlists online the band also breaks Winter’s Gate into pieces for live performances sometimes. Makes sense, if they’re trying to fit it into an opening set, but reinforces the idea that the track is intended to be separable.

    • tomasjacobi

      Because, like almost all one-track albums, it’s not really just one one track. Winter’s Gate is a prime example; it’s clearly separate songs that just seque into each other.

      • Nukenado

        You can call them movements; even the famous Ode to Joy is just one part of a longer symphony.

        • tomasjacobi

          Fine, then call them movements instead of songs, but the “album-length single song album” always turns out to be a bit of a stretch, if not outright lie :-)

          • Nukenado

            Eh, I think it’s more about stressing continuity. But I agree. Madder Mortem’s Red In Tooth And Claw had multiple songs, but the flow was so natural and there were very little silences between tracks that it could have passed off as a one-track album.

          • GardensTale

            I disagree when it comes to Crimson. It strikes the balance between repeating stanzas and varying with bridges and solos too perfectly to be anything but a single song.

          • tomasjacobi

            It’s a great album and it works very well as a whole, but so does every well crafted album. That doesn’t make it a single song.
            I proclaim Swanö a liar. He knows Crimson is a lot of different songs, yet he perpetuates the lie. Shame on his Swedish person!

    • seasonsinthesky

      Crimson is also broken into tracks on streaming services.

  • Cherd

    I’ve never been so excited for a single track album. I was sure the project was done after Guerra died. Came here this morning just so I could ask when you were reviewing this on whatever other one you posted. Great review good Doctor! Now I’m off to see Khemmis at a brewery show this afternoon!

    • The Unicorn

      You lucky fucker!

    • sir_c

      Those done by Monolithe are also quite good

  • Brjoro

    Album art is stunning, among the best of the year. As artists I have the utmost respect for what these guys have done here. But as a listener, I’m sorry, but it’s just too long. We have so much great music and so little time, etc. That’s not Bell Witch’s problem of course. Anyway, admire the hell out of this but I can’t see myself going back to it!

  • Jaime VG

    This band is borderline ambient and I think that´s why this album stands out from the rest of funeral doom copycats. Not really my cup of tea but listeing to it while doing something else, especially writing or reading, is great. This is the opposite side of the spectrum from the latest Primitive Man.

  • AngryMetalBird

    an 80+ minute album done right! awesome

    • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

      Well said… This sucker is the very definition of epic.

  • Huck N’ Roll

    Are there any other songs to link to? This one is kind of long.

    • Huck N’ Roll

      Oh, also album cover of the year for sure!

      • GardensTale

        I dunno, did you see that Siberian Meat Grinder cover?

    • Solrac Avan

      7/10 too much long

  • TheTransmuted

    My first reaction to this album was “um… a lot of people are going to hate this.” I still feel that way. But as I’ve given it time (particularly while reading, working, etc.), it’s begun to sink in pretty deep. This is an astoundingly sad record. Truly, sadness bleeds from it in a more real and profound way than I’ve heard in pretty much any album in a good while. I’m captivated by it, and every new listen becomes more enjoyable for me. It’s absolutely and understandably not for everyone, but if you give it time it may embed itself in your brain like it has mine. Extremely impressive work here.

  • Zach Ward

    In my opinion, If god sent his only son to earth for him to only create beautiful funeral doom metal, it still wouldn’t sound this perfect. God this album is a masterpiece for me.

  • Me

    I dont like the music but I really want the shirt.

  • h_f_m

    I totally don’t take the album cover into consideration of whether I like a record or not, and I haven’t even read the review yet or listened to it, mad respect for that art.

  • Wilhelm

    Whoever created this cover is a genius.

  • welyyt

    I love how Spotify has this listed as a single.

    • Christian Krüger

      I guess otherwise the band would have been forced to split it into several parts, so spotify could play ads inbetween. As with Insomnium’s Winter’s Gate

      • welyyt

        I guess you’re right: Crimson and Crimson II are split into individual tracks as well, and Green Carnation’s Light Of Day, Day Of Darkness is listed as a single. However, Sleep’s Jerusalem is listed as a single, but it’s split into six parts.

  • The Akerstache

    How the hell did they pull this off?

    Not complaining. I had my doubts, but this is spectacular.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Just arose from a steady 2 month diet of Eye of Solitude, Loss, Slow and Clouds.
    Looks like I may need to descend back into the abyss with this leviathan for a while.

  • AshCinderSmoke

    I’m usually not a fan of funeral doom but I’m digging this immensely. Anybody have some suggestions for other artists I may have missed out on?

    • GardensTale

      I’m with you on not enjoying funeral doom much, but Warning – Watching From A Distance is fantastic

      • AshCinderSmoke

        Added to the playlist thank you!

  • Nukenado

    Funeral doom is not for me…

  • Bob Lunger

    Fantastic review for an excellent album.

  • The Unicorn

    There will be no Unicorning here. This is God-Tier. RIP Adrian.

  • Metal and Hockey

    Got this in the mail today and after one spin I think it’s a masterpiece. So epic and so sad it’s one of those albums that will drag you down to the depths with it. The art is great the packaging is exceptional. I have read they are playing this in its entirety on their upcoming tour and if so I will drive the 3 hours to see it. I can see how it’s not for everyone but it’s definitely for me. Excellent review!

  • So with Hallatar that makes two ‘true’ funeral doom bands this week where the album contains vocals of a deceased person. Not a bad week if you’re into this kind of stuff…

  • OzanCan

    this one is a great album…

  • AgonMcDuck

    There’s good stuff in here, but it takes forever to get to it, and the 80+ minutes make this a tough sell. Not really for me.

  • Dobbie03

    I listened to this twice in a row. Top notch stuff, though that is almost a given when it comes to Bell Witch.

  • Tired Science Guy

    Doom Metal certainly seems to be an acquired taste. While I can’t deny that the musicianship involved in creating a song longer than most albums is incredible, I just can’t find it interesting. It’s probably because my favorite genre of metal is thrash/death, where speed is pretty much king. I believe that a slow tempo change (as well as hyper speed changes) are best used as accents to a song, not the basis.

    Also this is definitely album art of the year as of now. Looks like a Dark Souls boss.

  • DeadHead

    Looks like “Sleep” has lost in the long song department haha.

  • PotaD0s

    I especially enjoyed the part where nothing interesting was happening. Dr.Wvrm’s review was a good read as usual, but man this is boring as shit. What am I missing here?

    • Dudeguy Jones

      I dunno man, I feel you to some extent. I yawned just thinking of tackling this, but tonight I woke up at 12.30 am and decided I may as well get some work done, so with my house dark and only one light on, I played this album…

      And it worked.

      Doubtful I will find much time to enjoy this album. I can’t imagine it being something I gravitate towards on a sunny morning. And I still prefer a band like Loss or even better, dISEMBOWELMENT. They really pulled the somber tone, but left you crunched as well.
      Anyway, thats all I got! Location and time probably play a big part in the enjoyment of this record for some.

      • PotaD0s

        There is just far too much space between anything interesting happening musically. I enjoy a nice long slow build as much as the next guy, but this album feels like all smoke but no fire.

        To be fair, I have a love/hate relationship with doom. When it’s good, it’s FUCKING good. When it’s bad it’s boring as hell.

        I’ll come back to this in the dark of winter, when it is not 100 degrees here in the desert. Maybe my minds not right.

  • This is fucking brutiful.

    • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

      I am so going to use that new word fo sho!

  • Patrick Bertlein

    i saw this band in a basement once in Olympia, good show.

    This is good, no doubt about it, but I’ve yet to be able to compare this to Loss or Clouds. I’ll give it another try, in the right mood for some depressing music.

  • Patrick Bertlein

    Also, the only thing heartbreaking about Pallbearer is how boring it is.

  • Noctus

    This immediately pulverised me. What a fucking record. Not a moment of the 84 minutes of this record wasted in my humble opinion.

  • I really love the first single.

    • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

      I see what you did there… nice.

      • I was late to the party though. I think I would have been upvoted four days ago!

        • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

          I was late, too! I don’t post much on here, but I had to get in on this discussion. I am blown away by this album, man.

  • Riddler Green

    You definitely can’t put this on a playlist.

  • Here’s Johnny

    2:40 seriously made me jump out of my skin.

  • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

    I am such a fan of longer songs. I can sit with my eyes closed and get sucked into the music of many bands who write lengthy songs. Better than watching television if you get the right artist. But I have to say this album takes the cake. The best epic length song I have ever heard. I don’t know that another band of this ilk will ever create a better album/song. I am truly in awe of this album.

  • Yolo Swaggins

    Which track would you recommend me listen to first?

  • Grymm

    This is my first time listening to this song/album (songbum?), and I’m impressed. This just wrings every drop of crushing sadness in its 84-minutes. Definitely in my Top Ten for the year.