On their new, collaborative album Stygian Bough Volume I, the members of Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin have presented an emotionally commanding portrait of sinking into an abyss of contemplation. The songs feel inescapably powerful, and listening might be compared to an experience of falling through a pit of quicksand.
The heavy, shuddering bass and drums that might be familiar from Bell Witch’s previous music run powerfully through the record. Here, they’re joined by and somewhat tempered by the soulful singing from Erik Moggridge, the musician behind Aerial Ruin, who has repeatedly collaborated with the members of Bell Witch in the past in contexts like the crushing 2017 album Mirror Reaper.
An acoustic guitar also ends up prominent on this new record, and the mood of the prominently somber melodies performed on that particular instrument bleeds into the rest of the record, even the heaviest parts.
The lengthy opening track, which clocks in at over 19 minutes, sets a truly mournful tone for the record. It’s not an oppressive, overwhelming mournfulness, but it’s a tone that captures a sense of somber finality, like that inherent in the inevitability of death. The slowly proceeding melodies feel broad and definitively expansive yet piercingly certain. The thunder-toned riffs that eventually emerge in this song and proceed throughout much of its runtime like wisps of slowly immersing smoke make that somberness feel expressed on some kind of cosmic, huge scale.
The music, which is available now via Profound Lore Records, feels like some kind of funeral dirge for a heavenly body like those in the otherworldly scene depicted on the album’s cover art.
As a whole, Stygian Bough Volume I includes some rich, emotionally captivating dynamics, ranging from the prominent acoustic guitar on the first couple of tracks to much heavier, doom-laden components on the particularly formidable “Heaven Torn Low II (the toll)” and elsewhere. On the opening track, titled “The Bastard Wind,” slowly swaying, mournful melodies on the acoustic guitar gradually morph into a similarly somber-yet-significantly-heavier performance. The musicians behind this record feel like they’re expanding the already immersive feel of doom into an impressively even more all-encompassing experience.
A true, legitimate sense of an emotionally real “doom” pervades this record to its core, and it takes some real power to sustain the experience through to the shuddering crescendos of the lengthy, concluding track.