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Eight Bells – ‘Landless’

eightbells_landless

Whether it is the pure, straight from the vein stuff like Saint Vitus or the experimental unease of Neurosis, the best doom metal encapsulates and projects the feeling of loss and utter lack of hope. It’s painful, primal, and often therapeutic for both artist and listener. Many acts have attempted to blend doom with other genres over the years to varied reactions, but according to my recent memory nobody has mixed it up as successfully yet uniquely as Portland Oregon trio Eight Bells on their latest album Landless.

Guitarist and vocalist Melynda Jackson formed the group after the ending of SubArachnoid Space, the cosmic psych rock outfit she and drummer Chris Van Huffel participated in for over a decade. After relocating from the Bay area to Portland, Jackson and Van Huffel teamed up with bassist Haley Westeiner to form Eight Bells, and released The Captains Daughter in 2013. The band added a nautical-themed storyline to its technical prowess and black, moody blasts of melancholy fervor. Due to health reasons, Van Huffel was replaced this year with drummer Rae Amitay (also of the petulantly excellent Immortal Bird), and the trio entered the studio with engineer Billy Anderson to record Landless.

The album begins with “Hating,” a patient piece that builds on itself, then collapses under an understated lead by Jackson which drips with bitter nostalgia and regret. The title track nails what drew me to this band in the first place: deep melancholy projected through ghostly vocal harmonies, doomed hypnotic passages, and blasting drums. Amitay is a good choice for Landless, content to give exactly what the music calls for, whether it’s the aforementioned percussion blasts or simply adding some cymbal work as a counterpoint to Jackson’s guitar.

“Hold My Breath” is a sudden tempest, pitching and rolling in a proggy fog, as Jackson and Westeiner punctuate the eye of the storm with lilting croons and bellowing roars. Jackson’s guitar work is the standout performance on the album for me, as she blends the insanity and creativity of psych rock with the malevolence of black/doom metal, while creating sparse leads with an epic feeling that punctuate the material like an ice pick. It’s familiar, yet unique, which makes repeated listens a must.

Atmosphere in music can easily be overdone, but Eight Bells seamlessly blend their sometimes manic pace with the previously mentioned doom tropes, all the while maintaining the same tone and mood, aided in no small part by the production of Anderson and his singular ear. This sentiment is best expressed on “The Mortal’s Suite,” a lush track of echoing guitars and mourning voices that ends almost too soon before the closing track. “Touch Me” builds slowly and becomes more urgent, before exploding into frenetic madness briefly and slowing down again. It’s an almost abrupt ending, as if a ship sank within sight of home port after a long voyage.

Eight Bells has a sound that defies easy description, and comparisons to other bands don’t really nail it down. There are passages that call up memories of hearing Hawkwind as a teen for the first time, which then devolve into bursts of blasting rage that would fit right in on a classic black metal album, with the ever present thread of doom holding the whole thing together. If you enjoy music that takes you on a dark, innovative journey, and want to hear something that will challenge you over multiple listens, Landless is highly recommended.

—Matt Schmahl

Melynda Jackson’s leg was broken during the band’s show on Sunday, February 21. Jackson dislocated her kneecap and has a torn meniscus, a minor break in her femur, torn knee cartilage, and strained ligaments. Eight Bells has not played a show since, but intends on continuing the tour. If you’re feeling generous, Jackson is accepting donations at a GoFundMe page. Note: the amount listed on the page reflects the cost of a cast, not Jackson’s full scope of treatment, so continued support will go toward her recovery.

Landless is out now via Battleground Records. Pre-order it here.
Follow Eight Bells on Facebook and on Twitter at @EightBellsBand.

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