Desolation. That’s the first word that comes to mind when listening to Longing, the debut album from Seattle doom duo Bell Witch. Perhaps it’s the sparse yet oppressive instrumentation; I imagine myself attempting to traverse a scarred, barren wasteland littered with dead bodies in various states of decay, like a hastily made mass grave in the middle of a desert. Try as I might to cross these decrepit badlands, something holds me down, a psychic/spiritual weight that forces me to crawl on my hands and knees. It is the ten ton weight of depression.
Yes, it is depression of the ugliest, most soul-shattering variety which permeates Bell Witch’s music; granted, this should be no surprise considering the skeletal, droning doom that is their calling card. But few (if any) bands are capable of evoking the kind of mental anguish that seems to come so easily to bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond and drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra; one gets the sense that their doom comes from a very real, very frightening place. The suffering flows out of them; a tidal wave of total despair to sweep away and drown all other emotions. Perhaps Longing isn’t a desert at all, but a vast, empty ocean of misery.
Whatever the case, the album is aptly named, as there is indeed a sense of longing that pervades the music; whereas so many depressive doom bands are content to wallow in their own personal Hells, Bell Witch fight a losing battle against the dying of the light. It’s in the tortured, cavernous screams and the thundering/crumbling distortion; they know they can’t stop the flood from enveloping them, yet they yearn for a way out anyway.
For all of its desperation and anger and sadness, there is also a gentleness, even a beauty to Longing. Certain passages sound like a heavier, more distorted version of Earth circa Hex: or Printing in the Infernal Method (a desolate-sounding album in its own right), while others contain a bit of that well-worn shimmering post rock vibe, as if designed to fool the listener into believing that perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope amidst the suffocating gloom. These moments are fleeting, but they nonetheless make for an effective study in contrasts.
Bell Witch have released one of the year’s heaviest doom albums both sonically and emotionally with Longing; as a long-time depression sufferer it is also one that’s all too easy to identify with. I should probably be repulsed, yet I find myself drawn into its depths, forever caught in its pitch-black undertow.