Bell Witch - Four Phantoms
Profound Lore Records
Funeral Doom
4 songs (1:06:27)
Release year: 2015
Profound Lore Records
Reviewed by Goat

A truly good doom album is a sea of sadness, a wide, deep, morass of gloom that the listener can plunge into and become lost. And as good as traditional misery-merchants such as My Dying Bride are, the steps beyond taken by the more extreme funeral doom bands are ones that never fail to grip in a different way. Bell Witch are relative newcomers to the scene, having only formed in 2010 and released one album before this, but on the strengths shown in Four Phantoms could be veterans. (Members Dylan Desmond and Adrian Guerra have done time in bands like Samothrace and Shadow of the Torturer, so the experience is definitely there.) As suggested by the title, the four tracks here each tell a different story of horrible death and endless haunting, elementally focused into earth, fire, water, and air, and reflected in the beautiful cover art by Paolo Girardi (who has produced a lot of wonderful pieces for everyone from Artificial Brain to Inquisition). And when married to a name with as much supernatural history behind it as the Bell Witch, we have the ingredients for a truly atmospheric doom album, which the band duly deliver.

Split into two twenty-two-minute and two ten-minute pieces, Four Phantoms is a slow, deep experience that does require a little work from the listener to truly enjoy. It can seem slow and ponderous (in a bad way) on initial listens, particularly opener Suffocation, A Burial: I – Awoken (Breathing Teeth) which is very effective once you've read the lyrics and realised the true horror of being buried alive, as the lyrics put it:

“Sea of dirt and time wreathed
Breaking off my teeth to breathe”

Flashes of melody erupt here and there, but all else is crushing riffs and engulfing drones, the useless struggle against an inevitable death. The end is especially good, death-rattle growls atop a mournful yet tuneful melody as the vocals turn clean and the track becomes grandiose. This epic air is carried into Judgement, in Fire: I – Garden (of Blooming Ash), fiery riffs droning ceaselessly under a powerful growl, before fading into a beautiful ambience for much of the remaining song time, clean singing and breathy whispering atop.

Suffocation, A Drowning: II – Somniloquy (The Distance of Forever) is probable the best track on the album, starting with slow, melodic tones and mournful clean singing and building gradually into something surprisingly beautiful, given the first two tracks. It's a doleful, sullen piece, but holds your attention and erupts into moments of such melancholic yet terrifying anger that you can't help but be moved. This is definitely the human element in inhuman suffering, the glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel that makes the misery all the more effective, and all the more relatable for that. Closing track Judgement, In Air: II – Felled (In Howling Wind) continues this atmosphere with a melody riding atop the pounding doom riffs and throaty growls, drawing the album to a close well. It's not a perfect album, but all I can really find wrong with it is the wordiness of the song titles. Four Phantoms is very good, sure to be loved by doom fans, an album I'm unsure will be matched by the genre – at least, until the new My Dying Bride album later this year...

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Goat quoted 85 / 100
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