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Seattle funeral doom duo Bell Witch aren't the first band of this ilk to carry with them shades and echoes of the elegiac slowcore of classic bands like Codeine, but by god their one of the best. A two-piece made up of just drums and six-string bass guitar from members of Samothrace and Sod Hauler, Bell Witch nevertheless succeed in crafting a massive sound on their second album Four Phantoms, which has been getting lots of love from devotees of metallic misery, and for good reason - these four songs (all naturally sprawling out for anywhere from ten to twenty three minutes in length, every one an epic) sprawl out into panoramic sadness, the band expertly welding their blasts of crushing glacial heaviness and crawling, time-stopping tempos to passages of achingly beautiful melody, far prettier and more fragile than what you usually hear out of bands playing stuff this agonizingly slow.
But man, those weary, stentorian riffs that tower over the album are as spiritually pulverizing as you could hope for, slow-motion blooms of rumbling, crashing dirge surrounded by guitar leads that have a similar almost synthlike vibe as Finnish gloomdoom gods Skepticism. The songs often disappear into thick fogbanks of liturgical darkness as the drums melt away and the vocals shift from that monstrous lamentation into plaintive, chantlike tones, and on "Suffocation, A Drowning", the band is joined once again by Erik Moggridge of neofolk outfit Aerial Ruin on vocals, lending his pensive voice to one of the album's more solemn, subdued moments that slowly builds into a titanic key change that gives birth to an awesome gloompop hook buried beneath the speaker-rattling low end and soporific pace. The sound is so harmonically full, I had completely forgotten that there were no fuckin' guitars on this album until well after the album was over. Immense and beautiful in its bleak, ashen majesty, and with more complex songcraft than their previous work, Phantoms is easily one of the best doom albums that's come out so far this year, those melodious, sometimes harmonized vocals giving this a warmth and humanity not often seen in funeral doom, without sacrificing that oppressive, deathly atmosphere and utterly forlorn feeling of existential despair that marks the best funeral doom, a quality that puts this album in league with other masters of the form like Pallbearer and Asunder. Comes in digipack packaging featuring superb impressionistic artwork from Paolo Girardi.