The new album by doom duo Bell Witch and dark folk artist Aerial Ruin, Stygian Bough Volume I feels like a true collaboration–a meshing of two similar but wholly unique projects that are both at home on this full-length record.
The songs are long, the space enormous. Bell Witch has always done a great job of using space to their advantage, and when the first acoustic passage from Aerial Ruin gives way to the first bass line, it is a match made in heaven. Then an organ repeats the melody when the heavy bass drives in with the drums and for a moment you question how this trio is making the sound. It is fluid and natural. There is chemistry between these three immediately, making them a true power trio which is rare in the days of electronics and infinite possibilities. The performances are as satisfying as the production.
As “The Bastard Wind,” the first nineteen minute behemoth trudges on gloriously, clean vocals give way to growls and the listener continues to be introduced to their dynamics as a live band and as collaborators.
With three people, there are able to employ so many options and explore how the two respective projects utilize these dynamics together is mostly exciting and compelling. Although the first long down period becomes too long at some point, you begin to listen to the lyrics and realize that you’re fifteen minutes in. The movement builds carefully this time, making for a truly triumphant end to this epic beginning of Stygian Bough Volume I.Stygian Bough Volume I by BELL WITCH and AERIAL RUIN
If the opening track, “The Bastard Wind” is varied and contrasting, “Heaven Torn Low (a passage)” is a more classic melodic ballad. Here you can hear the classics of metal and hard rock but with a modern atmospheric perspective that harkens back to formative influences, updates the form, and improves upon the storytelling.
“Heaven Torn Low (the toll)” is a perfect continuation. These two are conceptually one piece, two halves of a whole. This time the ballad is heavier, with some noisy guitar and vocals that break the mold from the rest of the record. It ends with a beautiful organ, and it is just what the listener needed. In fact that organ could have gone on for two minutes and this listener would have been content.
The acoustic guitar in “Prelude” changes the pace, which is welcomed at this point in the album. It is accompanied by a sample of wind blowing and develops with a clean electric bass and an organ. This track is another example of how well this group plays together. Bell Witch drummer Jesse Shreibman must have been playing organ for this to work, showing that he contributes more than drums. The liner notes say that Shreibmann played organ, piano, and synthesize in addition to drums and percussion.
By the time you make it to huge closer “The Unbodied Air,” clocking in at well over nineteen minutes, you sort of know to expect but you also sort of don’t. This is when one the heaviest tracks on this release, and it finally reaches the full level of brutality that you’ve been waiting for. Screams and growls collide, the bass is turned up real high and the band lets it roar.
But then it goes soft in a fluid transition. A beautiful synth is matched by a droning bass, a soft guitar, and angelic vocals. Although the part is beautiful, this listener does wish the band would have left you wanting more, leaving it on a more cryptic and louder note. Instead it ends almost unremarkably. It is note intense enough to be a true closer and then it stops. Still the sudden end to a long record makes you want to listen to it again, it was the journey that made it great.