Published Jun 25, 2020Visionary bands like Bell Witch are a rare commodity. Leave it to the doom duo to stretch a five-song EP out over sixty minutes. Together with singer-songwriter Erik Moggridge of Aerial Ruin, the Seattle-based crew flatten listeners with 20-minute epics, proving that 2017's 84-minute track "Mirror Reaper" was no fluke. Bell Witch are the new high bar for doom music. Get used to it.
Aerial Ruin's acoustic strumming gives Stygian Bough Volume I a ghostly country feel that was absent from previous releases. When Bell Witch's signature melancholy kicks in, it doesn't demolish like "Mirror Reaper" did. Patience is needed, especially on the two-part "Heaven Torn Low," which builds and builds until it sounds like a great beast tearing itself apart at the seams. Listening to Stygian Bough in a single sitting maximizes the impact of the album's ebbs and flows. Skipping through feels almost sacrilegious, an insult to the monumental effort that must have gone into making this piece of art. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
One of the problems with Bell Witch is how few reference points they have for sound. The influence of Dylan Carlson's Gold can be felt, as can the seminal drone rockers Sunn O))) and Boris, but none of these acts really capture what Bell Witch are going for. On climactic finale "The Unbodied Air," they go full Doors with a middle section that fades to nothing, only to come roaring back at the 13-minute mark. It's heavy, but not in the way you'd traditionally consider. It sounds like the soundtrack to continental drift.
Stygian Bough Volume I won't be for everyone. In fact, it's practically not for anyone at all. Bell Witch have made their mark by being one of the most anti-conformist bands on the planet, but they've tricked us all and subverted expectations again. Listening to Stygian Bough, you have to wonder if this is how people felt listening to Pink Floyd's "Echoes" for the first time. Most people will leave. Those that stick around long enough will definitely feel rewarded. (Profound Lore)