A Doom Monolith: Bell Witch’s “Mirror Reaper”
Have our attention spans been so drastically shrunk over the last few decades, or is an 83-minute long doom song asking too much? Cue Mirror Reaper, the upcoming third full-length from Seattle-based doom duo Bell Witch. The short answer is that Mirror Reaper is a solid slab of doom — wondrous things can be discovered within its murky depths — but it necessitates an extremely specific mood, both due to its gargantuan framework and densely packed content. Stream the entire album/song via Stereogum here.
While Mirror Reaper is cohesively, thematically, and structurally one single song, there are several key transitions within the grander movement which stand in for track breaks. Also important to note: writing super-behemoth tracks is not novel. The music matters more than the shape or size of its container. That said, Bell Witch made a stylistic/artistic choice which affects how listeners engage with and absorb the album. Mirror Reaper requires ears and minds which will allow it room to breathe. In doing so, ample space opens up for the album to tell a dark and well-woven story.
If you think Bell Witch’s approach is stilted, think about what doom metal really is and the hyperbolic drama it evokes. Think about actual doom. The raw emotion itself: utter desolation, profound suffering, abysmal despair, and sordid hopelessness. Slowness characterizes these feelings, prolonging torturous hours into days into months into years. Doom feels like an eternity because doom is eternity itself, thrusting us toward a frightening infinity of post-death nothingness… dragging us while we wail in agony over a principle we’ve always known was true: all life will fucking die. Beautiful in its simplicity; damning in its totality. We are all born to be utterly afraid of this.
Mirror Reaper relates to doom by becoming doom itself, the master of fear. There’s no avoiding the fact that just by its frightening size, Mirror Reaper weighs massively on the mind — not to mention the painful sobriety of its somberness, the antigravity of its heaviness, or the dark woe of its temperament. This is an album to lose yourself in, somewhere mysterious where the linear progression of time disperses in all directions. Meditation and trance are important for Mirror Reaper, an immediate presence of both the self and mind: a detached but heightened awareness where you step out of your stream of consciousness to observe it from afar. Mirror Reaper is, quite frankly, indigestible any other way.
Put it this way: Mirror Reaper is a supernova of one killer drop-z guitar riff after another, each one milked for every last ounce and buried underneath layers of atmosphere-inducing melody, and then slathered on some of the bleakest vocals in the business. It’s the soundtrack to the half-aware, half-daydream state induced by contemplative misery; the music for the pained and inward soul seeking good terms with death by accepting its ultimate reign. Mirror Reaper undulates between the morbid pounding of doom slams to the dark triumph of powerful chord ascensions toward frisson-inducing emotional climaxes. Again and again, it wavers and undulates, drawing long swings to slam its almighty hammer down in a showstopping display of sonic force.
There’s also a softer, more touching side, which is absolutely key to doom. During the writing process of Mirror Reaper, Bell Witch former drummer Adrian Guerra passed away. In his memory, this led to the inclusion of unused vocal tracks from Four Phantoms (2015). The presence and reflection upon actual death only deepens Mirror Reaper‘s impact, ripping at your heart as well as your psyche. Not all of us know what it’s like to lose someone close, but for those who do, it involves an unknowable yet unmovable emotional weight pressing down harder every day. Life goes on, and occasionally your mourning moves to the back of your mind, yet it has the power to totally overcome you at any moment — essentially, your loss manifests itself as fear, and said fear materializes into its own kind of doom.
Mirror Reaper demands an incredibly specific mood; or, for those susceptible it may be powerful enough to induce that mood. If not, you will be bored to tears. This is not an album for sunny cruises down a mountain highway, or any bullshit like that. It’s hardly even one to listen to with others. The breadth of its soundscape is mind-expanding, turning the focus inward. Mirror Reaper isn’t just astounding because of its size, or because such a size is somehow inherently “doom” — content-wise, it’s all there. Bell Witch nailed it: Mirror Reaper bleeds profusely with misery, crushed by its own incredible weight, and locks eyes with you… blankly staring you down as it slowly perishes from all existence.
Mirror Reaper releases this Friday, October 20th via Profound Lore Records.