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Bell Witch Dooms Chicago’s Thalia Hall; Then, Mono Blesses It (Live Review)

Bell Witch
Bell Witch. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund

It may seem like an interesting mix, and it is: Seattle’s doom duo extraordinaire Bell Witch alongside Japanese wall-of-sound masters Mono amounts to a massive one-two punch. And so it was: Friday night at Chicago’s Thalia Hall felt entirely cinematic (despite the moderate turnout), with Bell Witch’s sad, almighty beauty keying up Mono’s intense soundscapes for over two-and-a-half hours total of loud, effusive stimulation. As a bonus, too, Mono was backed by a goddamn orchestra, the Candlelight Chamber Orchestra, only adding to the band’s sublime and dense texture. Thalia Hall was the perfect venue for this lineup, supplying the massive acoustics and high-end sound gear that both bands’ music begs for.

No doubt, Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper (read our review) will go down as one of the decade’s greatest doom albums (or metal albums flat-out) in the minds of quite a few, and there is legitimate reason for this. The band’s minimalistic and morose blend of tapping-heavy bass playing, cataclysmic drumming, and harrowing bellows comprises some of the most mechanically efficient doom out there, but also emotionally moving. Doom isn’t always beautiful, nor does it have to be, but Bell Witch’s brand is decisively beautiful; ditto their on-stage performance (which is, no surprise, also minimal). This releases your mind to fill in the gaps — hell, it’s music for contemplation — substituting your own horror and sadness for whatever visuals or affects the band could have purveyed in. Captivated, your mind roams almost entirely free.

Bell Witch just play; bassist Dylan Desmond’s face barely reveals itself from curly drapes, and drummer Jesse Shreibman emotes only when the desperate woe of his playing demands it. They do not do anything special or particularly interesting in terms of showmanship; to do so, in the case of this band, would be silly, even. This dynamic lends itself to an engrossing and stomach-churning performance, bred with anxiety but steeped for hours in depressive, undulating intensities.

Mono, on the other hand, is a maximalist band.

Despite their obvious differences, Mono and Bell Witch share the same absolute value of intensity: where Bell Witch sinks to the deepest chasms, Mono ascends to the highest peaks. This isn’t to say Mono’s music is quote-unquote positive; in fact, it’s extremely contemplative and sometimes beautifully sad as well. But Mono aim to make as much noise as humanly possible, while still remaining coherent and structured enough for, well, the post-modern band that they are. And so they did, and so they really did: Mono spanned the full range between barely audible ambiance to face-in-a-jet-engine noise during their nearly two-hour set. Not only did it feel cinematic (which Thalia Hall as a venue generally does anyway), it was cinematic, almost like a movie score actually worth listening to (just an odd thought, but somehow I think Mono’s set would be a perfect audio backdrop to Terrence Malick’s 2011 fantasy-drama Tree of Life).

The orchestral support just made everything… more. From small details to grand, identity-defining oeuvres, Mono benefited monstrously from the extra instrumentation. The band banks on this, too, by allowing moments of more discreet playing (where individual instruments maintain their own clarity in the mix) to exist alongside moments of near-total abstraction (where everything is going full-speed at once and nothing is distinguishable except for the oomph). It’s an engrossing show for sure, satisfying both your desire for concrete groove and brain-frying atmosphere.

See this tour, for real. Remaining dates below, finishing up North America in NYC on November 23rd; then on to Europe until mid-December.

Nov 19 / Lee’s Palace / Toronto, ON ****
Nov 20 / The 27 Club / Ottawa, ON ***
Nov 22 / Space Ballroom / Hamden, CT ***
Nov 23 / Murmrr Theatre / Brooklyn, NY *** (!)
Nov 29 / Zorlu PSM / Istanbul, TU ^
Nov 30 / Rockstadt / Brasov, RO
Dec 1 / Aglomerat / Moscow, RU
Dec 2 / Atlas / Kiev, UA
Dec 4 / Roverstaden / Oslo, NO ^
Dec 5 / Pustervik / Gothenburg, SE ^
Dec 6 / Fryshuset Klubben / Stockholm, SE ^
Dec 7 / Lille Vega / Copenhagen, DK ^
Dec 8 / Mojo / Hamburg, DE ^
Dec 9 / Gebaude9 / Cologne, DE ^
Dec 10 / Doornroosje / Nijmegen, NL ^
Dec 11 / Botanique / Brussels, BE ^
Dec 12 / Le Petit Bain / Paris, FR ^
Dec 14 / Barbican Hall / London, UK (!!)

*** = Support: Bell Witch
**** = Co-Headliner: Black Mountain
^ = Support: Jo Quail
(!) = Special Orchestra Events “Beyond The Past: US” with The Platinum Anniversary Collective
(!!) = Special event “Beyond The Past: UK” with The Platinum Anniversary Orchestra & Special Guests Alcest

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