Let us be clear, here at the outset: if there’s an ounce of honesty to be had when writing reviews, it’s in the unspoken (and often masked) understanding that all of us come to an album differently and subjectively. Whether my take of an album follows an imaginary herd of writers or not doesn’t matter, nor should it. What should matter is the implicit agreement between you and I – or any writer, for that matter – that what we’re telling you comes from our own experiences coming into the record, listening to it, and digesting its intent. I emphasize this because my experience with Mirror Reaper, the new massive single track album by Bell Witch is entirely colored by the time and manner in which I took the album in.
And in that specific set of experiences the album charted a course of darkness allowing me to work through fears and pain and come to a place of peace and acceptance. It’s a powerful work singular in intent and circumstance, and a signpost in the band’s evolution.
It’s impossible to talk about Bell Witch in general and Mirror Reaper specifically without the impact and influence of former drummer/vocalist Adrien Guerra, who passed away in 2016 and serves as the reflecting point in the new album. The band’s critically lauded albums – 2012’s Longing and 2014’s Four Phantoms – were massive funeral doom opuses, striking out with leviathan-esque riffs that reverberated for days against spacious drum hits and lead lines. Tensions between Guerra and Dylan Desmond, the bassist and other half of Bell Witch came to a head due to Guerra’s alcoholism and the pair parted, with Jesse Shreibman – a friend of both – taking over the kit. The plan at the outset was to create a single piece of work, with passages reflecting back to a darker perspective of what came before, but the impact of Guerra’s sudden death colored every passage of Mirror Reaper, even using some of Guerra’s vocals at the mid or reflection point of the track.
From a musical perspective, Mirror Reaper forgoes much of the monolithic riffs in favor of something much quieter, allowing bass and keyboards to stretch and evolve each musical idea into different permutations, exploring the space. There are spaces and breaks, but those spaces act as breathes, the pauses between inhalation and exhalation. The sense of dynamics are purposefully muted: shifts between quieter and more agressive passages are subtle, as are the vocals of Erik Moggridge (Ariel Ruin) who adds a layer of solemnity to an already forlorn tone.
Still, the concept of a single track, hour and 24 minute album is a lot to take in. It’s certainly not something I’d recommend for any occasion: the use of the word “singular” in this case can also be applied to it’s usage. For myself, the album came as I received the news that the disease that killed my father – dormant in me for years – was now active. The news came accompanied by a number of other medical issues that reared their head, including one that right now is causing me to slowly lose strength in one arm. It was in the midst of this weight that I went for an evening walk, Mirror Reaper in my ears. And I found as I struggled to figure out how I was going to get through this, how I was going to address this with my friends, my family, and my son, that the music was accepting the darkness and depression in my head, giving it a weight that no longer felt unknown to me. This was something I could process, something I could understand. And as I walked and the music reflected back to a darker, more foreboding path I rode it, sometimes in tears, sometimes in rage.
And after a while it ended, the sounds still echoing vague impressions in my head. It’s too much to take in, and I realized the point wasn’t to take it all in, not at once, maybe not ever. But you can confront it, find pieces that matter, and allow them to shift and struggle and resolve in their way. Bell Witch is asking us to trust their intent, even if we don’t understand all of it. I don’t understand it all, I don’t know if I ever will, but I also don’t know if I have to – I can see and feel and hear echoes from Mirror Reaper in my own life, and finding those similarities proved a powerful comfort.
This isn’t a review. I don’t know what this is, except a chance to explain what this album did to me and for me. I can’t ask you to have the same experience. I can only ask you to come to it open, not worry about what I or anyone else think, and allow that there is a reason and intent behind the notes. You can decide what they are.