BELL WITCH "Into The Ethereal Mirror Black" 

By Lord Randall

From out of the ashes, the Northwest’s BELL WITCH triumph over the loss of a member and their past successes, their third album, "Mirror Reaper" reaching levels of majesty and quietude only hinted at on their previous – and no less memorable – "Four Phantoms". Lord Randall steps once more into the house by the cemetery with founding vocalist/bassist Dylan Desmond…

Wormwood Chronicles: It’s 2015, you’ve just released "Four Phantoms" which, admittedly, was a new level for BELL WITCH in both songcraft and presentation. Were you already thinking ahead to what would become Mirror Reaper at that point? 

Dylan Desmond: Before that, there hadn’t been time to put collective time into the idea/material. I was proud of the way the concept behind "Four Phantoms" worked out and I was excited to try something on a larger scale. We’re both very proud of the way "Mirror Reaper" came together and we’ve already been discussing some interesting ideas for the next record. 

WC: The majority of the bands/artists I speak to mention that they’re already working on the next album, or at least ideas for it. Obviously there’s a bit of time between recording being completed and the album’s release, but I would think that if I’d poured everything I had into an album – especially one as dense and multifaceted as "Four Phantoms" – I’d need a minute to catch my breath before I moved on. Have you found this to be the case for you?

DD: There’s merit to taking a break, especially to cleanse the palette of the last album so the next one doesn’t sound like an extension of the last. I try to find a happy medium in this, but it usually ends up with taking a break musically. I’ve been trying to start a new band since finishing the recording process of "Mirror Reaper", which has been a nice change of pace. 

WC: So you and Adrian[Guerra, drums/vocals] separated shortly after, and in May of 2016, he passes. His vocals show up in a section of "Mirror Reaper" as well. Even though he wasn’t part of the writing for the album, his presence is clearly felt. 

DD: Adrian wasn’t a part of the writing process with "Mirror Reaper", as he left the band shortly after "Four Phantoms" was released. When I began writing "Mirror Reaper", Jesse Shreibman had already finished 3 month long tours with Bell Witch during [the] Four Phantoms album cycle. I think Adrian's death made us try harder to make the song more powerful and unique. I listened to it the other day and I think it could almost be broken into sections that represent the 5 stages of grief. The last line Erik sings is a direct reference to Adrian. We felt like that the section of the album where Adrian’s vocals appear was the best spot to place his vocals because, conceptually it could be the point between life/death that the song is referencing, which has parallels with hearing the voice of a dead person. 

WC: Was there ever a time when you thought there wouldn’t be another BELL WITCH album, or that if you continued on, it would be under a different name? Did you have an opportunity to know Adrian’s wishes, to discuss this with him? 

DD: He started to distance himself from the project during the writing stage of "Four Phantoms". Getting the album released had many similar problems. At some point I worried that album wasn’t going to be finished because of the distance he was creating.  I told him I wasn’t going to stop the project, as I had been putting so much into it in light of his absence. Neither one of us were happy about what had become of the situation, but he understood and agreed to the separation. 
Adrian and I had many conversations about a person’s legacy. The subject would arise from anything from a news article to a record. Adrian was very proud of his vocals on "Four Phantoms", particularly the song we took the unused tracks from. I think he would have been very proud if there were some way he could see what we had done in tribute to him. I wish I could see his face while he listened to it. 

WC: A band – especially a duo, and a what some would call minimalist and insular duo by the virtue of the sonic/musical communication you have with each other – is made up of closely-knit relationships. Many bands choose to separate rather than continue without an integral member. I can only imagine what was going through your head and heart at the time. 

DD: It was a very hard decision.  I knew some people would be turned off by the idea. Ultimately, I felt like after putting so much heart and soul into the band, it would be foolish and shameful of me to stop it. While the band was comprised of two main members, it was a separate entity of its own in my mind. I believe that entity was due a vote, and it wasn’t finished. 

WC: Deciding to move forward, you had to have someone very specific in mind to work with under the BELL WITCH moniker. How did you come into contact with Jesse [Schreibman, drums/vocals/organ]? 

DD: Jesse and I are long time friends. Our former bands, SAMOTHRACE (mine) and THE MAKAI (Jesse’s) had toured together in years past and we had remained close afterwards. We were roommates for nearly 4 years. Our first practice we played through 3 songs without needing to stop once. It was an easy pick. 

WC: The album finds you pairing with artist Mariusz Lewandowski. Was there any question he would be the one to handle the artwork, and how much free reign did he have when it came to imagery? When we spoke about "Four Phantoms", you’d mention just letting him live with the music and general thematic ideas…

DD: We went back and forth on the idea of who to use on this album, and ultimately decided on using Mariusz because it would be a fresh style. We told him the concept behind our song, and a broad outline of what we were hoping the final piece would look like. Mariusz did an incredible job and I hope this gets him more attention from a different audience than he did before. 

WC: We talked at length about the imagery within the "FOUR PHANTOMS" cover art, but one of the things I love about Mariusz’ art is that it’s recognizable, but not derivative of itself. There are quite a few artists working almost entirely in the metal genre where it’s like “Oh, yeah, there’s the skulls, there’s the rat, there’s the fractal image…”. What was the idea behind this piece, or what were you trying to convey when you spoke to Mariusz about it? 

DD: We wanted something that worked with the theme of life/death in connection with our lyrical themes. Mariusz was very understanding of this, as can be seen in his other pieces. To my understanding, this was his first album cover, which was a great honor to us! He listened to "Four Phantoms" and enjoyed it, which made the match set in stone in our eyes. The thematic idea was to create a sort of purgatory scene that referenced death and life. We told him we were hoping for a sort of empirical figure in the painting that was incorporated with a mirror and a direct contrast, such as life/death or light/darkness. He far exceeded our expectations! I’ve been staring at it for months and I still find it hard to look away when it is in front of me. 

WC: With Erik [Moggridge, Aerial Ruin] contributing again, as well as Mariusz, Billy [Anderson, producer], have things begun to feel ritualistic, or that you’re in a comfortable place when creating a BELL WITCH album? 

DD: The recording process took much longer on this album than the previous ones. However, we had our approach much more dialed in. There is permanence to Erik and Billy’s roles with the band. The group was much more comfortable with ourselves this time around, having gotten used to each other’s perks and methods of things. At a certain point we were all comfortably bickering at each other as old couples do. I think with the next album we’ll be able to dive even deeper into what we’ve done so far because of this

WC: Just the same, doom is a subgenre born from discomfort, from the darker side of emotion. The friends I have who don’t enjoy doom simply can’t wrap their heads around how utterly cathartic that sort of “immersion therapy” can be. You always feel better coming out of the woods than you would if you’d simply missed them altogether. It’s…invigorating, yeah? That said, what was your mindset going into the recording portion of "Mirror Reaper"?

DD: The tempo was a challenging aspect of this record. As with "Four Phantoms', there is no constant tempo as it’s always wavering. With "Mirror Reaper', we tried to reign this in and make the tempo fluctuation more of a rehearsed aspect as opposed to a impulsive/feeling aspect. This is, of course, challenging to do during 20-40 minutes passages of an 83 minutes song. We also understand that with an 83 minute track there are going to be a lot of people who either hate the idea or don’t want to wrap their heads around it. 

WC: I remember being 13, 14, first discovering PINK FLOYD and THE MOODY BLUES and being amazed that something so lyrically dark could be so musically uplifting. I got that feeling about about 2/3 of the way through "Mirror Reaper". Thank you. I was listening for the first time, and abruptly switched subjects with a friend I was chatting online with to tell them they had to get this album. It reminded me of parts of ‘Echoes’, or the starkness/frailty of NICK DRAKE. Have you listened to the album all the way through yet, and what feelings does it invoke in you? 

DD: I’ve listened to it all the way through quite a few times! Initially, I was only listening for mistakes or edits. Once the final master was complete and there was no more chance to change anything I finally got to listen to it with the idea of enjoying it. I’m proud of the composition; it does exactly what we set out for it to do. The two halves of the song are strange mirrors of each other, but the reflection is apparent when I listen to it and that’s exactly what we set out to do! 

WC: You’ve mentioned Adrian’s vocals appearing on the new album. How did this come to be, and did you write the section he’s featured on knowing this was “his” moment on Mirror Reaper?

DD: That section wasn’t originally written for his vocals. We considered them everywhere in the song, and this spot seemed the most triumphant and unique. I think anywhere else would have ultimately been selling the idea short. 

WC: To me, it’s reminiscent of what Gilmour and Mason did with Richard Wright’s unused ideas/recordings from "Division Bell" when it came to "The Endless River". 

DD: I’m unfortunately unfamiliar with this record!

WC: Thus far, I’ve only been able to access the album digitally, and I’m not even sure where ‘As Above’ would end and ‘So Below’ would begin. The piece flows together so seamlessly, I don’t even know how you’d begin splitting it up. Did you find yourself at the end of recording and realize “Holy crap, this is long!”? I mean, at some point, like with SLEEP’s Jerusalem/Dopesmoker, it ceases to become a “song” and more a piece, with orchestral movements and such, right? 

DD: ‘As Above’ could be considered to end in the middle of Adrian’s vocal part. For the CD version, the song breaks at the end of that section when the distorted riff ends. It picks back up With the following clean riff. The vinyl format cuts things even more, and we section it into 1. As 2. Above 3. So 4. Below sections, respectively.

WC: Because there has to be a ghost question, the supposed diametric opposites of life and death fail when you realize that if a non-corporeal entity (spirit, soul…”ghost”, what have you) has any awareness at all of its surroundings, it’s not truly dead. It’s just on a different plane…

DD: I think it could be understood that two opposites form one whole. In this sense, there is an obvious combination of the two that can leave room for questions of a grey area or “different plane”. As long as there’s been ghost stories there’s been this stance of skepticism. It has to be either alive or dead, so which is it? Obviously the concept is only continued by the living as sort of explanation or the unexplainable. In that regard, the concept of a ghost is that it’s alive in one fashion or another. If it is conscious of its surroundings, as would the subjects of all our songs, it also must be alive in some fashion. The intent of all our songs is to portray the idea of eternally dying; being trapped in the grey area between life and death. 

WC: Plans for the rest of the year? 

DD: We’ve got an East Coast US tour booked with PRIMITIVE MAN, and we’re setting a West Coast US tour with a European band we can’t announce yet. 

WC: Thanks so much for this interview. We’ve actually spoken about each album from "Longing" onward, and I feel blessed to have watched BELL WITCH grow. My dad was born in Adams, TN, and my grandmother still lives in Robertson County, TN, so there’s that. 

DD: It’s been a treat overtime! Thank you so much for all the hard work and attention over the years!