Bell Witch – Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate Review

Seattle, Washington’s depressive duo Bell Witch were already considered wunderkinds in the world of funeral doom when they dropped their now legendary one-track album Mirror Reaper in 2017, announcing not only their arrival as arguably the premier act in the genre, but also bringing the visual work of Mariusz Lewandowski to the metal world’s consciousness. Prior to this, the gold standard for funereal ambition matched with musical quality was Esoteric’s 100-minute double album The Maniacal Veil. While technically shorter at 83 minutes, Mirror Reaper expanded the scope of what doom could be, delivering a towering epic dedicated to the band’s original drummer Adrien Guerra, who passed away in 2016. Any reasonable human would look at this accomplishment and probably decide it was time to scale things back. Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shriebman are not reasonable. One wonders if they’re even human as they prepare to test the limits of attention span again with Future’s Shadow, a proposed tryptic of one-song records of which the 83-minute The Clandestine Gate is first.

Thematically and musically, Future’s Shadow and The Clandestine Gate tap into deeply primordial cycles of life, death, the passing of days into nights and back again, seasons, the rhythms of existence that began long before us and will continue long after. The band states that when complete, the end of the third installment will overlap with the beginning of the first so that in theory one could play it on loop forever. Before ideas of “progress,” before things like The Enlightenment or global religions, these cycles were a primary focus of art and worship. They’re deep in us. Elemental. It makes sense that Bell Witch would turn to these themes given how they’ve distilled their sound down to the deepest of fundamentals. Musically, The Clandestine Gate is doom metal concentrate. The baker’s chocolate of funeral. They wring emotion out of every sparsely placed, bass-plucked note and every lumbering, full-throated riff. There’s been an evolution in sound since Mirror Reaper in the heavy use of synths and organ, a vestige of their most recent collaboration with Aerial Ruin.

It’s probably unfair to hold “The Clandestine Gate” up too closely to “Mirror Reaper,” but given the size and shape of both songs, it’s inevitable. While there was a raggedness to “Mirror Reaper,” a slight edge that leant urgency to the titanic sadness and melancholy, “The Clandestine Gate” is, by contrast, the smoothest Bell Witch have ever sounded. This is partly due to the soft hum of synths rounding edges and underpinning transitions, but it’s also in the writing. When they go for the big funeral riffs, they’re of the classic variety. Familiar. No unexpected note progressions, just big, doleful waves that always end on a down note while somehow remaining emotionally buoyant. This is also the spookiest Bell Witch have ever sounded, especially in two stretches of plucked bass lines beginning just before the 25-minute mark of the composition and at around seven minutes before the song ends. The first stretch is the most spine-tingling. For the first quarter of “The Clandestine Gate,” the mood is solemn but regal, with organ swells and clean, choral vocals complimented by hefty riffs. The turn at 24:06 is downright sinister by contrast, with a deep, earthy bass encroaching the way rot and decay does in an abandoned house. This is not the kind of bass tone Bell Witch are known for, but that tone, the ghostly, comforting tone, like the memory of past warmth, is finally employed at the 76:40 mark, each note reverberating in empty air, unaccompanied, ushering the stillness of the end.

For an unbroken 83 minutes of music, “The Clandestine Gate” does a fine job of holding one’s attention with movements that feed rather than kill momentum, but there are spots that outstay their welcome. The first is in the introductory stretch, which could cut a few minutes off the primary riff before the haunted bass line takes over. The second lies at the dead center of the composition, which becomes a bit listless with synth faffing and a riff that leans too generic for too long. This makes for a rather squishy middle of what is otherwise a tightly composed whole. Fortunately, the final half hour is a showstopper, delivering waves of mountainous riffs and melancholic melodies that stand with the band’s finest material.1

Knowing that this is an incomplete work makes for a difficult critique. I expect I’ll be reviewing not only the two remaining tracks of Future’s Shadow as they release based only on what can be heard at the time, but also delivering a verdict after absorbing the work as a whole. As has always been the case, if you’re willing to submit to Bell Witch’s vision of time-suspending, immersive doom, The Clandestine Gate is richly rewarding, but I can’t declare it an unqualified success without hearing the rest.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: n/a | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Profound Lore
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 21st, 2023

Show 1 footnote
  1. Which I consider to be “Bails (Of Flesh),” “Suffocation: A Drowning” and “Mirror Reaper.”
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