Throwaway Style: Bell Witch Searches For Meaning Between Life and Death on the Masterful Mirror Reaper

Throwaway Style, Local Music
Dusty Henry
Photo by David Choe

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.

Death is elusive. For all the developments of modern medicine, scientists are still learning new facets about what happens to our bodies when we die. Art has long grappled with the concept, pondering the biggest unknown and imagining what it actually means. Do we crossover to somewhere else? Is there a "bright light?" Do our spirits haunt the Earth? Is it really the end? While we've never reached a definitive answer, it's the openness of that question that propels many artists to seek their own truth.

Perhaps no genre of music has more explicitly ventured into this territory than metal and its nearly endless sub-genres. Hearing that a metal band is going to explore death is like saying a folk artist is considering using an acoustic guitar on their next album. But with the vastness the topic offers up, there's always more to be said — especially when you're confronted with the harrowing force of death for yourself firsthand. Through this very real pain, Seattle funeral doom metal duo Bell Witch give us one of the most immersive, expansive, and deeply beautiful meditations on "the end" on their new album, Mirror Reaper.

It helps to know the story behind Bell Witch before diving into their latest work. The band formed back in 2010 with bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer Adrien Guerra. The two quickly gained respect in the metal community with their ambitious arrangements that play to the methodical dirge of funeral doom while showcasing Desmond and Guerra's remarkable musicianship. Their 2015 LP, Four Phantoms, might be the hallmark of their collaborations together with 20-minute opuses that growl and distort like slow motion beasts. However, this also marked the end of the band as they once were. While touring the record, Guerra began drinking heavily and it caused tension between the two band members. Desmond tried to help his friend but, as he told Noisey earlier this month, at a certain point he realized he was enabling Guerra's behavior. Longtime friend of the band, one-time tour manager, and Transient drummer Jesse Shreibman tried to help the two resolve their issues. After it was apparent that it wouldn't work out, he took over the kit after Guerra left.

Desmond and Shreibman got to work on a high concept project — two tracks titled "As Above" and "So Below" that would reflect one another musically, with the centerpiece being a rumination on the "gray area between life and death." They began workshopping ideas for parts in their live shows, trying to piece together their vision, when they were confronted with a real-life tragedy. In 2016, Guerra passed away. They hadn't just lost a collaborator — they both had lost a friend.

The new iteration of Bell Witch finally turned themselves back into their work. When they started to play the pieces they'd written so far together, they realized that it all began to form one massive track. After heading down to Portland to record and fleshing it out more, Mirror Reaper began to take shape as one nearly hour-and-a-half long piece. Rather than break it up into movements, the band opted to leave it intact as a singular unit.

Such a massive piece of music might sound daunting. Especially if you're an outsider to the genre, jumping into a movie length doom metal song doesn't exactly sound inviting. But Mirror Reaper is a transcendent work, immaculately and lovingly composed by its mourning creators. Much like a film, it moves across themes and sets up powerful moments that pay off as much as an hour later after their first suggestion. That Desmond and Shreibman were already orchestrating this and working with these ideas before they had any inkling of Guerra's fate is enough to give me goosebumps. They were already thoughtfully considering the pain of being torn between life and death without knowing someone they knew would experience that mysterious crossover. It might not be explicitly about Guerra, but his spirit floats through the hum of Desmond's resounding bass and Schreibman's slow, crushing percussion.

At the halfway point through the song, the between of life and death, a recording of Guerra's vocals from the Four Phantoms sessions come bursting through. It's a moving tribute to a friend and to a bandmate, but also an earnest reflection on albums themes. What happens when we die? What is there in that in-between? Every living soul on the planet will no doubt ponder this question at some point in our existence unless some undeniable truth presents itself. But for now, there's beauty in that searching. The only ones who really know are those who've experienced death for themselves. Our memories of them are like ghosts, haunting and comforting us as we all search for meaning. Mirror Reaper shows us that there's beauty in that pursuit and that those who are lost can still help guide us as we seek to find our way in the in-between.

Mirror Reaper is out now via Profound Love Records. Stream it in its entirety below.


New and News

ParisAlexa Shares New Song "HOLE IN THE GROUND", Announces EP

Seattle pop/R&B songwriter ParisAlexa has become a massive force within the Seattle scene without an album or EP to her name. She's shown up in collaborations with acts like COSMOS, Grieves, Samurai Del, and others, all while dropping stellar singles of her own on her Soundcloud. Later this year she'll finally release her debut EP, Bloom. (An official release date is forthcoming.) In the meantime, she's given us a sample in the form of "HOLE IN THE GROUND." It's one of her most mature and hypnotizing songs yet, singing circles around haunting piano keys. It's a remarkable demonstration of her vocal range and dexterity, but also her savvy songwriting. I cannot wait to hear what else she conjures up.


Members of Rose Windows and Ubu Roi Join Forces as Feed, Share "Different Life"

If you're at all familiar with the psychy sounds of Rose Windows and visceral shredding of Ubu Roi, you know just how exciting the prospect of any of their members collaborating is. And Feed does not disappoint. "Different Life", the first single from their upcoming self-titled debut, is just as frenzied, scuzzy, and exciting as the lineup promises. Fuzzed out riffs swirl and mutate over crashing drums and alien vocals, offering the ultimate trip-out. Feed is out November 11 via Help Yourself Records.


Hip-hop Collective All Star Opera Release Their Self-Titled Debut Album

All Star Opera have been making waves across town with their high-energy, jubilant live performances. Now you can take some of those good vibes home with you as the band self releases their self-titled debut. The live instrumentation pairs excellently with the effortless flows of MC Sam 'Oz' and Flow Carter. With features from Nacho Picasso and Remember Face, it feels like a family affair that you'll definitely want to get in on.


Live and Loud: This Week’s Recommended Local Shows

October 26: EMA, The Blow, and Kirt Debique at Neumos



October 27: Falon Sierra, Soul-La-May, Tuesday, and Stas THEE Boss at Lovecitylove




October 28: Luna God's Halloween Dance Party at Hard Rock Cafe


October 30: Porter Ray, Bad Luck, The Sky is a Suitcase at Columbia City Theater




October 31: Tacocat, Tres Leches, Spech, DJ El Mizell at Chop Suey


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