LIVE: Bell Witch @ Boston Music Rooms, London

By Ashwin Bhandari

It’s been three years since the Seattle funeral doom two-piece has played in the UK, alongside Ulcerate. During that time, founding member Adrian Guerra sadly passed away, leaving the future of the band uncertain. This tragic occurrence, however, did not stop co-founding member Dylan Desmond from booking Bell Witch shows or opt out of playing early material, and after bringing in Jesse Shreibman to play drums, the new duo completed their 84-minute single track album ‘Mirror Reaper’ in October 2017.

As ‘Mirror Reaper’ was given immense praise from outlets outside of underground metal publications such as AV Club and further exposure through Pitchfork, this brought them a whole new wave of fans. Whilst the Boston Music Rooms isn’t a particularly big venue, tonight is completely sold out, with fans waiting patiently at the very front, ready to experience the nihilistic experience Bell Witch has in store for us.

Once everything is in place, the billowing smoke cascades upon the audience, who passionately cheer and clap, before quickly dissipating into silence. Shreibman keeps lays his head firmly on his snare drum and keeps still, soaking in the desolate journey we are about to embark on.

The atmosphere is perfectly eerie as Desmond rings out the first few notes from his bass, which impressively enough replaces conventional guitar tone. You could cut the introspective tension in the room with a knife, as anticipation builds higher and higher until Shreibman’s drum fills kick in. Never before has a kick drum sounded so powerful and so deliberate with every beat in a live performance.

Further layers of smoke blast out from the stage as the audience soaks in the sluggish, gargantuan riffs alongside the careful but bludgeoning drum fills, each hit more devastating than the last. Both Desmond and Shreibman’s low register, hymn vocals and ghostly shrieks create an almost ritualistic atmosphere, encompassing the mutual catharsis of despair.

Due to the nature of ‘Mirror Reaper’ being a continuous song, unless you’ve memorized most of the album, it can somewhat hard to anticipate when each section has ended. This leaves half of the audience desperate to yell and praise each offering, whilst the other half hiss and shush them, not wanting to be detached from Bell Witch’s hypnotic gaze.

Not to be completely overshadowed by ‘Mirror Reaper’, the second half of their set spills into material from ‘Four Phantoms’, shifting the mood from mournful to unparalleled misery.  Hearing segments of ‘Suffocation, a Drowning II’ in particular now feels like a fitting tribute to Guerra’s passing,  leaving the audience wanting more, but nonetheless a stellar end to a 45-minute set that feels profoundly life-changing in essence.