Album ReviewsReviews

Mirror Reaper

I’ve been into funeral doom for a while (read: over half of my life at this point). It’s the kind of sub-sub­genre with a very dis­tinct sound and aes­thetic that con­stantly runs the risk of becom­ing too rote, to crys­tal­lised. For me, it’s a thing I some­times have to for­get about for a few years, only to wander back in when the stars are right. Bell Witch is the kind of band to make me do that, offer­ing a stripped-down sound that yet retains what we recog­nise as key fea­tures of the genre: a funeral pace, heavy rever­ber­at­ing chords, and the occa­sional vocal dirge and gui­tar solo. The funeral world is doom and gloom, it is mourn­ful, but encom­passes vari­ous kinds of grief: anger, resig­na­tion, depres­sion, accept­ance. More than any other kind of doom metal, it is about loss: loss of hope, loss of self, and the loss of other people.

It’s crys­tal-clear that Mir­ror Reaper is a work for Adrian Guerra, one of the band’s found­ing mem­bers, who passed away last year. When I saw Bell Witch live in Rot­ter­dam in late 2015, the year Four Phantoms came out, being new to the band, I was sur­prised to not see Guer­ra’s impress­ive pres­ence behind the drum kit.

Adrian Guerra in action back in the day.

Along­side bassist/vocalist Dylan Des­mond, Jesse Schreib­man had already assumed his duties as the new half of the duo, and he did so with con­vic­tion. The show was true to the band’s core, drag­ging, kick­ing, scream­ing: pure funeral, and as impen­et­rable live as on record­ing. Not every­one’s cup of tea, in other words, but then again, funeral never was.

Mir­ror Reaper cap­tures the whole concept of the genre from a num­ber of angles. There’s the spa­cious­ness, the myth­o­lo­gical approach as expressed by the Beks­in­skian art­work and the sym­bolic lyr­ics. And finally, at the most lit­eral level, there’s the sound of a church funeral: the choirs, the organ, the slow pro­ces­sion through­out.

With an album like this, con­ceived as one massive work — though split into 2 CDs like a proper double gate­fold — there are going to be moments when your atten­tion drifts. It’s not the kind of song­writ­ing that can or even wants to keep you on the edge of your seat con­stantly. In that sense, it reminds me of a num­ber of the actual funer­als I’ve atten­ded dur­ing my life. You listen to some of the offi­cial bits, the speeches, some­times the music is mov­ing you, and some­times your mind takes you to other places: memor­ies, of the deceased, of oth­ers who have passed, your own mor­tal­ity…

This isn’t the kind of album that pushes bound­ar­ies, and in this case that’s fine with me. It is a trib­ute, one that touches upon who Guerra was music­ally and lyr­ic­ally, and one where Des­mond and Schreib­mann mark the passing of a friend, and fel­low artist, and per­haps also the band as it used to be and can never be again. As in a real funeral, you for­give the speak­ers for some­times tak­ing a bit too long, for chok­ing up, for mean­der­ing down an anec­dote. That’s their way of express­ing grief at that one moment. It’s fine, we’ve got our own memor­ies, our own mourn­ing, and it all blends into one.