Aerial Ruin / Bell Witch - Stygian Bough: Volume I [Collaboration] review




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Band: Aerial Ruin / Bell Witch
Album: Stygian Bough: Volume I [Collaboration]
Release date: June 2020


01. The Bastard Wind
02. Heaven Torn Low I (The Passage)
03. Heaven Torn Low II (The Toll)
04. Prelude
05. The Unbodied Air


Aerial Ruin's Erik Moggridge has been a part of Bell Witch's sound, appearing on every album since 2012's Longing, and he's performed with them live on numerous occasions, especially when performing Mirror Reaper in full. But he was never really like a 3rd member. He's still not the third member of Bell Witch, but Stygian Bough: Volume I finds all three on more equal footing than ever.

Writing this review has been the most challenging that I've had to write lately. Mirror Reaper was such a milestone album, one that has immediately been printed into metal consciousness and for good reason. We had a pretty good review for it. The pressure of following up such an album must feel like a monumental pressure. And while it's nowhere near as consequential, I feel a similar kind of pressure in having to talk about it. This isn't just another album where I can say that the atmosphere is immersive, the musicians perform well, the music is emotional. No. This is the follow-up to fucking Mirror Reaper. I feel like my usual autopilot is completely turned off and I have to fight for every word to come out. I feel like if I don't write a long moving description of it, I can't possibly live up to the task. I can't imagine how it must've felt having to feel this kind of pressure while making the actual music.

The worst part? I don't really like it as much as Mirror Reaper, nor does the cover art even come close. But this isn't really such a big deal, I don't like most things as much as Mirror Reaper, probably not even the other Bell Witch albums. But the thing is that the previous Bell Witch albums before Mirror Reaper felt a bit different. They had Erik Moggridge on some songs (except for the 2011 demo, which I definitely recommend), but they had a pretty distinct feel. Mirror Reaper saw the collaborative effort between the two parties at its highest yet, so having it be even more collaborative, it's obvious that Stygian Bough: Volume I is going to sound quite close to Mirror Reaper, and that's true to some degree. It's in a pretty damning position where if it gets to close to that sound, I don't like it because it doesn't live up to it, and if it's not close enough, I don't like it because it leaves me aching for it. It leaves me in a position where no matter how good it is, I cannot let it win. I have to be patient, and I definitely have to stop listening to Mirror Reaper before listening to Stygian Bough: Volume I.

And newsflash, a collaborative album will have elements of both parties, which started being more obvious after diffing a bit deeper into Aerial Ruin. The split with Panopticon made that a bit easier to detach the experience from the obvious reference point. Erik's presence here is finally much more fully integrated and it actually feels quite close to his original band instead of feeling like he's lending his voice. His guitars have a bigger presence as well, mostly felt in the acoustic, but they're a welcome addition to the bass/drum/touch-of-organ dynamic that is the core of Bell Witch. "Heaven Torn Low I (The Passage)" is a perfect example of this, which finally finds the Erik supporting Bell Witch dynamic reversed, with the voice and acoustic guitar at the forefront, and the bass/organ providing some atmospheric backdrop. The song then flows into "Heaven Torn Low II (The Toll)", which turns the previous song on its head and feels massive and imposing to oppose the serene calm of the previous track. But it still feels as a continuation of it, with Erik still at the helm of the vocals and still trying to evoke the same melancholy through different backdrops.

"The Bastard Wind" and "The Unbodied Air" are songs where Bell Witch make their presence much more felt, having some genuinely crushing doom moments, but these are also tracks where the collaborative nature of the record is more obvious. Erik sings on all of these and there are mellower acoustic moments on the former and long droning organ on the latter, as well as crushing moments with the trademark growls. It's these songs where's one can feel that they were written as a trio. I'm pretty sure you don't need to read a review to guess that "Prelude" is an instrumental interlude, but what's more damning about it being called "Prelude" is that it isn't the first song, not even the first on its side on the vinyl version. Wack. But in the end, each of the track has quite a distinct feel to it, whether mournful, pensive, crushing or liturgical, there's always some emotion to feel from these songs, and with just enough dynamic between the emotions and the sounds that make them. And with it at times sounding close to Mirror Reaper, you would have an easier time listening to either "The Bastard Wind" or "The Unbodied Air" than Mirror Reaper. But Stygian Bough: Volume I is not Mirror Reaper. And that's a good thing and a bad thing.

Stygian Bough: Volume I doesn't have quite the same mournful tone of Mirror Reaper, with Adrian Guerra's untimely death not feeling as achingly recent, and with the band finding more time to properly mourn. This isn't to say that there isn't any ghostly shadow looming over Stygian Bough: Volume I, but that it feels strangely more expansive in its emotional range. This is a whole different stage of grief, with the others still looming in the recent past. That space between life and death is explored from more than Bell Witch's point-of-view here, there clearly being some conceptual overlap in addition to the sonic one as a result of the collaborative nature of the record. Conceptually based on a story from The Golden Bough, in which a slave society would have a slave becoming king if he would kill the current king, ironically ending up in a deceptively new type of slavery in which he would be forced to face the same fate of the previous king. As the band puts it: "deception casting darkness".

With more listens down the line, both the collaborative nature and the new production crew (Randall Dunn producing and Bob Weston mastering) of the album do set it apart just enough from its predecessor, even though the shadow is still strongly looming. "The Unbodied Air" pleasantly reminded me of some of the earlier Bell Witch records, but it also felt like a sound I would like to see them dive into deeper. As much as I learned to appreciate Erik's contributions to the sound, I would like to once again hear Bell Witch as just Bell Witch. And with them collaborating instead of just adding Erik as a third member, that's a possibility. And with this being a "Volume 1", we'll hear Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin together again, that's a given.



 



Written on 21.06.2020 by My opinion is objective, sorry if you don't agree, but you're wrong.


Comments

Comments: 8   Visited by: 54 users
22.06.2020 - 12:39
HarryKawaiiDesu
Great review, as a die hard Bell Witch fan boy I still think this is a 10/10, but you did raise some good points. Going into this I knew it won't even be close to Mirror Reaper, so I try to avoid comparing them two, maybe that's why I enjoyed this so much?
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22.06.2020 - 17:25
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Lol and you were on musclassia's ass for a long Protest The Hero review

I'm a bit mixed on this at the moment. My initial impression, especially after hearing the first track, was that it was going to be leaning more toward the Aerial Ruin, acoustic sound, which I don't necessarily dislike but I do find a bit boring after a while. As you said in the review, however, the Bell Witch presence comes out more later in the album. I'd prefer a collab between these two to be more on the "doom with acoustic folky passages" side of things than "acoustic folk with doomy passages."

Need to give it a few more spins but for now it's a fairly decent listen.
----
Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
You tell em that God's gonna cut em down
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22.06.2020 - 20:37
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Apothecary on 22.06.2020 at 17:25

Lol and you were on musclassia's ass for a long Protest The Hero review

I'm a bit mixed on this at the moment. My initial impression, especially after hearing the first track, was that it was going to be leaning more toward the Aerial Ruin, acoustic sound, which I don't necessarily dislike but I do find a bit boring after a while. As you said in the review, however, the Bell Witch presence comes out more later in the album. I'd prefer a collab between these two to be more on the "doom with acoustic folky passages" side of things than "acoustic folk with doomy passages."

Need to give it a few more spins but for now it's a fairly decent listen.

I think you and I both will have "The Unbodied Air" as our favorite track of the album.
----
- I've dreamt of that for years.
- Dying?
- Running.




2020 goodies
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22.06.2020 - 20:38
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by HarryKawaiiDesu on 22.06.2020 at 12:39

Great review, as a die hard Bell Witch fan boy I still think this is a 10/10, but you did raise some good points. Going into this I knew it won't even be close to Mirror Reaper, so I try to avoid comparing them two, maybe that's why I enjoyed this so much?

The less you compare stuff, the more you like things, but it's hard not to do it subconsciously
----
- I've dreamt of that for years.
- Dying?
- Running.




2020 goodies
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23.06.2020 - 09:38
nikarg
Mod
Based on the two tracks I've listened, I am looking forward to it. I don't expect another Mirror Reaper but I do expect an immersive listen.

Nice review, short and concise
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24.06.2020 - 09:50
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
This review is same as doom metal itself, complex, good written, unpolished, polushed, long, slow and you need read it Again. Good words man
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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27.06.2020 - 15:23
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by RaduP on 22.06.2020 at 20:37

I think you and I both will have "The Unbodied Air" as our favorite track of the album.

Your hypothesis was indeed correct
----
Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
You tell em that God's gonna cut em down
Loading...
27.06.2020 - 15:25
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Apothecary on 27.06.2020 at 15:23

Written by RaduP on 22.06.2020 at 20:37

I think you and I both will have "The Unbodied Air" as our favorite track of the album.

Your hypothesis was indeed correct

I am always right
----
- I've dreamt of that for years.
- Dying?
- Running.




2020 goodies
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