Getting it right when it comes to extreme doom/death is a very tricky business. It is quite a misconception that as long as a band is able to play really, really slow and have heavy riffs, they can be considered successful and good at what they do. Bell Witch know better. The duo from Seattle is relatively new to the field, its origin being traced back to 2010, but they sure sounded like veterans even from their early days. Their self-titled demo was enough to grab the attention of the extreme metal scene, and their debut full-length Longing, solidified their presence in the genre.
Listening to the music of Bell Witch you do not get the predominant feeling of destruction and catastrophe. Even though these elements are there, the music itself has more in terms of despair and melancholy, highlighted greatly by the aura that their songs attain. “Suffocation, A Burial” kicks off with such a tone, as the more melancholic quality of the music awakens and starts crawling towards you. There seems to be a transition in Four Phantoms, as the songs succeed one another, something that also falls within the concept of Bell Witch for the album, granting each song an element (earth, fire, water, air.) With “Judgement, In Fire” there is a certain fluidity with the structure of the track that brings to mind more of a dreamlike personification, although it verges on the nightmare type domain. “Suffocation, A Drowning” on the other hand, is found somewhere between melancholy and elusiveness, with the song switching between the two quite a bit. Finally, “Judgement, In Air” brings the more menacing and all-devouring face of Bell Witch to the surface, with a much more pessimistic outlook and overwhelming approach.
It is of course from the bass that these changes are achieved, remember this is a duo and they do not need a guitar, a six string bass would do fine instead as they have proven. It is quite hard to believe that amidst this towering sound, the bass is able to bring forth such beautiful, sorrowful leads as it happens in the beginning of “Suffocation, A Burial.” The track contains a plethora of such moments with the leads really resisting and persevering for the whole duration of this torturing offering. The change in “Judgement, In Fire” brings the more ambient parts into perspective, with the leads taking on a slightly different role, something that washes over in “Suffocation, A Drowning” highlighting the structure of the track and lifting the song.
It is quite something that these guys are able to change with such eloquence between the extreme doom/death parts and the ambient moments. The distorted guitars and the powerful drums overwhelm the album from the get go, tearing everything down with their sheer weight. But the ability of Bell Witch to pass through different modes is what sticks out so well. They can appear abstract at times, with a more loose structure, as they do in the first of “Suffocation, A Burial” and then they can be abrupt and destructive, something that happens later on in the same song. They can be insanely intense and extreme, as is apparent with parts of “Suffocation, A Drowning” and “Judgement, In Air” and then they will create a ritualistic setting of funeral-esque proportions. The way the build their songs is always thrilling, with especially “Suffocation, A Drowning” standing out as the build ups for the song steal the spotlight.
What ties in so perfectly with the weight of the extreme parts is the serenity that Bell Witch bring with their ambient approach at times. In the opening song the clean vocals subtly fill the background with their melodic input, allowing a more atmospheric side of the band to be awakened. The bass is drowning you with each passing note, resulting in a complete immersion into the domain of Bell Witch. Switches to a more dreamlike territory can be felt in “Suffocation, A Drowning” with the vocal lines of Erik Morggridge (of Aerial Ruin) adding greatly to the song, creating a unique soundscape in the process. The ritualistic part towards which the song retreats at times finds the band at its best in terms of their ambient quality, taking their music to different sonic dimensions with great ease. That does not mean of course that the atmospheric moments are always pleasant. The beginning of “Judgement, In Fire” is such an offering, leaving a bitter taste with its circling melodies and cymbals, acting as a constant warning of what might come in at any second. The result is so majestic and ritualistic, but at the same time so menacing and towering that it becomes one of the strongest parts of the album.
Bell Witch further expand on their sound. With Four Phantoms they travel into more daring territories than they did with Longing, managing to bring their destructive approach and ambient, ritualistic quality into a terrifying merge.
8.4 / 10
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