Review Summary: The unrivalled power of the elements is told in this utterly joyless yet captivating doom release from Seattle-based duo Bell Witch
There's still something undeniably terrifying about dying at the hands of the elements - be it the crushing vastness of the ocean or the merciless destructiveness of fire, the most primal part of our brains is still programmed to fear them regardless of our dispositions or locations. In their second full length effort, Seattle-based funeral doom duo Bell Witch address this most instinctive part of our being with 4 utterly joyless yet engrossing tracks that further push them forward as one of the best acts in the genre of recent times.
Opener 'Suffocation, A Burial' is a good, albeit incomplete, indicator of the intensity that this album harbours throughout. About a minute in, the track explodes into what feels like a universal funerary dirge, utilising the lower registers of the bass guitar to create a cavernous, seemingly limitless soundscape where nothing but the blackness of the world exists. Vocals reminiscent of death moans not so much puncture through but complement this aforementioned horror-like setting, while a drawn out riff seems to signal the end of the world with grim acceptance. Indeed, for the first 10 minutes the only interludes from this are softened passages stripped from percussion, which serve to not only provide a break from the aforementioned low barrage but also to further instill a sense of loneliness. This approach is used throughout, but is performed so that nothing feels longer than it needs to be before the next change comes in, which can be anything from a change in vocal style to a subtle rhythmic difference; hence, rather than luring the listener into a trance-like state, it keeps them awake and aware of the slowly changing atmosphere created.
Whilst 'Suffocation, A Burial' takes a more traditional (but agonisingly well done) angle within the funeral doom genre, what makes 'Four Phantoms' so strong as a whole is the refusal to let up the intensity whilst also being able to show a beautiful, literative side. Third track 'Suffocation, A Drowning' is possibly the best example of this; eschewing most of the growled vocals in favour of a clean, slightly folky style allows for the poeticism of the lyrics to come through, which would sound as natural in an English Romantic novel as they do here. Where the two bookend tracks start and finish proceedings by putting the fear of God into the listener, it is the two middle tracks which are arguably the pivotal moments across the album's length, as the greater emphasis on vocal and musical variety creates what feels like breathing space before the final, suffocating steamroller that is 'Judgement, In Air' destroys what remains.
Stretching to 66 minutes over four tracks means that this requires a dedicated listen, and rightly so. If you allow it, this album envelops and slowly suppresses any light that it cruelly leaks in to offer false hope. It's bleak, heavy, monstrous and terrifying, yet also beautiful, tasteful and poetic. Funeral doom at it's finest.