Review: Bell Witch begins their funeral doom trilogy with a bang on The Clandestine Gate


Six years ago, Seattle’s Bell Witch eulogized their late founding drummer Adrian Guerra with the 84-minute song Mirror Reaper—a massive undertaking, even by funeral doom standards. Bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer Jesse Shreibman rode the genre’s sluggish tempos, morose atmosphere and molasses-caked riffs into yet unscoured depths. The album left a lot to live up to, emphasized by the duo’s 2020 collaboration with Aerial Ruin. While Stygian Bough Volume 1 remains unique in its neo-folk stylings, Bell Witch needs more than genre-blending to contend with an album claimed by many to be their magnum opus. Apparently, their solution is a trilogy of albums called Future’s Shadow, the first part of which being another 84-minute song.

Luckily, The Clandestine Gate does more than attempt another Mirror Reaper. In fact, its expanded melodicism and instrumentation owes more to Stygian Bough, but incorporated back into the core Bell Witch sound. The most obvious branching off point becomes Shreibman’s prominent use of church organ. Organ actually comprises the song’s first eight-and-a-half minutes, relying on harmonic tension to maintain its forlorn hypnosis. Its steady droning leaves less space for Desmond to fill with his bass, as he trickles from the top of his fretboard amid washy cymbal swells. To their credit, Bell Witch can still have a satisfying drop into extreme metal goodness even after marinating in organ trances for so long.

Even when the distorted low end and protracted rhythms hit, guttural growls don’t make an entrance until the halfway point. As the “dawn” segment of the day cycle-themed trilogy (followed by “noon” and “sundown”), The Clandestine Gate stands out for its relatively hopeful take on Bell Witch’s harrowing dirges. Shreibman’s grooves materialize surprisingly early, perhaps to compete with the dueling organ and bass. The two instruments bounce off of each other with taste and resonance, with clear intuitive forethought given to when they should lay the foundation, take the lead or deepen the harmony. Desmond’s vocals end up becoming more ornamental in the song’s languishing upthrust.

The empowering motions within the loud sections of The Clandestine Gate find a compelling contrast in the quieter sections, where dissonant, protracted bass cadences build up alongside sombre ritual chants and deepening layers of synthetic distortion. The results could actually work as straight up dark ambient music, deepening the mood to where the latent death growls and more traditional funeral doom riffage feel truly earned by the time they arrive. Let it never be said Desmond has grown bored of two-hand tapping his way through the modulations and leads of his songs. If anything, he sounds more comfortable than ever as he pushes and pulls with Shreibman’s tumbling fills, explosive downbeats and monstrous bellows.

The Clandestine Gate ebbs and flows like the tides of time, marked by a wall-of-sound effect afforded by the keyboards. Granted, size and intensity has long been the Bell Witch M.O., but having that extra layer puts less pressure on Desmond to fill out the arrangements by himself. This isn’t to say he has abandoned his one-of-a-kind technique, but his focus on more complex melodic refrains (both in bass and voice) does wonders for the meat of the track. In this way, Bell Witch does top Mirror Reaper, in that this 84-minute song offers more accessible scaffoldings of dense vocal harmony, regal organ, and winding bass lines without forsaking their funeral doom roots.

The only thing to really complain about The Clandestine Gate becomes the fact it leaves a want for more. The final moments of the track, driven by Desmond’s trademark chords left suspended in dead air, don’t so much feel like an ending as they do a setup for the next installment. After 84 minutes, leaving a want for more is no small feat. Until Bell Witch reveals the next two installments of the Future’s Shadows trilogy, fans of the most extreme reaches of doom metal can rest assured that one of the best bands in the genre has yet to stumble in their sorrowful pilgrimage.

Bell Witch’s The Clandestine Gate is out today digitally, and physical copies are currently available for preorder via Profound Lore Records.

Show Comments
Metal Sucks Greatest Hits