20 for ’15 – Bell Witch – Suffocation, A Drowning: II – Somniloquy (The Distance Of Forever)

Part 8 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015

Bell Witch had me at having a band name that sounds like a boss from Dark Souls. Then they had me again at that record cover – such a beautifully painted scene of collapse it made me think again of Dark Souls. This says more about me and my Dark Souls problem than it does about Bell Witch.

But they had me a third time when I heard the fantastically miserably titled Suffocation, A Drowning: II – Somniloquy (The Distance Of Forever). And that time it had nothing to do with my obsession with From Software’s franchise

There isn’t much light in Bell Witch’s crawling paced doom. Four Phantoms is a claustrophobically bleak record for the most part – its 4 tracks aren’t short on monumental heft and power, but there’s little to contrast it with. Suffocation, A Drowning II – Somniloquy (The Distance of Forever) is the proverbial crack that the light gets in through. At 22 minutes it plays out like a folk ballad in slow motion – the duo drafted in a vocalist, Erik Moggridge, who has the lilt of a folk singer at times. The drums crash like falling trees and the Dylan Desmond’s 6-string bass howls like the wind while the tale of the titular drowning is told.

As you can imagine of a 22 minute lament for this watery demise it demands some commitment from the listener. Through the bastardised choral passages, the gutteral screaming, the melodies that switch from eerie to earthy, melancholy to malevolent, it’s a long and draining trip. Funeral doom is a sub-genre rife with bombastic melodrama but Bell Witch manage to capture the essence of that term perfectly – the doom is more than catered for in the ceaseless crunching guitar chords left to drift and reverberate whilst the tone is never less than masterfully elegiac. When they scream it sounds less like the act of men wanting to make horrible noises and more like an act of grief.

The idea of a concept record about 4 hideous and grotesque deaths being replayed for all eternity, an earthly vision of hell, sounds like something cooked up as a joke by pissed up metalheads trying to outdo one another on the none-more-miserable stakes. Which, to be honest, would be fine by me – but what set Bell Witch apart is that they treated such a grim concept with respect and created an album about death so harrowing that it’s almost, at it’s best, life affirming.

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