Seattle funeral doomers Bell Witch never featured on my radar until the release late last year of their third studio album, Mirror Reaper. What initially drew me to them was the absolutely stunning album artwork, done by Mariusz Lewandowski, and I quickly came to realise that the moody duo had crafted one of 2017’s best albums. Comprised of one 83 minute long mournful lament which came to fruition around the untimely passing of former band member Adrian Guerra, I was intrigued to see how their set would unfold.
First to hit the stage were Manchester’s own Vow. With the lead singer crouched centre stage, they begin with an Isis (that’s Isis the band, by the way…) style atmospheric riff, but then things take a sharp turn into the unexpected when the singer rises and an almighty cacophony of blast beats, strobes and black metal inspired vocals come pounding through the PA. It’s an engaging performance, that ebbs and flows through subtle instrumental sections, in-your-face madness and ending up in squeals of feedback and looped noise. Vow haven’t been together that long, but I’ll be keeping an ear out for them in the future.
With the stage bathed in red and the inverted crosses unfurled, French 5-piece Monarch! begin their sonic assault. And it is a sonic assault, with a low end presence that made the fixtures in the venue almost rattle themselves out of existence. This is offset by Emilie Bresson’s ethereal, highly effected vocals which, when coupled with the candles that surround her, gives the performance a sort of ritual vibe. At some of the quieter points of their set, things did seem a bit flat, but this surely wasn’t helped by the 2 highly intoxicated people near the front who wouldn’t stop shouting about whose turn it was to go to the bar.
After all the equipment bar a line of amps and a drum kit had been cleared off stage, Bell Witch started into an abridged version of "Mirror Reaper". They have a sparse stage setup, with the guys dimly lit at their respective positions and a projector showing some black and white footage on the wall, but this isn’t about any Bon Jovi-esque histrionics, this is about the music. Dylan Desmond shows some extraordinary manual dexterity to coax the tones out of his 6 string bass while Jesse Shreibman triples up on drums, vocals and organ duties. The 50 minute uninterrupted set flies past, a testament to how engaged the crowd were. Much like contemporaries in their field such as Sunn O))), Earth, Khanate, et al, Bell Witch’s performance is less of a gig and more of an experience, and an experience that you shouldn’t miss if you get the chance.