Eight Bells are the byproduct of when doom, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, black metal and post-rock coalesce. That may seem like a totally ludicrous amalgam of genres, but it is one that this Portland trio pulls off with finesse. They are too broad to simply considered a doom metal band or even a prog outfit. Eight Bells are just, well, Eight Bells. Evidence of their uniqueness was first heard in their 2013 debut, The Captain’s Daughter, which defied categorization at every turn. Shimmering, ambient melodies would give way to lumbering metallic crawls, which would then morph into frostbitten black metal adjacent stampedes or playful guitar acrobatics. Their multifaceted, exploratory passages immediately made them stand out among a bunch of records released that year. Eight Bells found a formula that worked and continue to use it on their sophomore release, Landless. The band’s affinity for slow-burning passages, rife with genre cross-pollination are still present on this new full-length. However, the band scale back the psych rock freakouts in favor of more focused, sprawling compositions that make for one grandiose record.
Landless features roughly 40 minutes of new material that is housed in a mere five tracks. The bulk of these songs are rather lengthy, with the longest nearly clocking in at 13 minutes. These slow-building leviathans are full of tension and release, as well as naturally unfolding passages. Nothing on the record sounds forced, tired or boresome. The record flows rather smoothly and the longer numbers aren’t overly repetitious to the point of monotony. Each track has a final destination, and the paths to get there are enthralling.
Landless begins with wavering, hazy-eyed chord progressions that float atop clouds of ambiance on “Hating”. The brooding doom number slowly crawls along, bringing additional distortion and buzzing bass lines along with it. Melynda Jackson and Haley Westeiner’s soaring vocal harmonies carry the track up until its hollow, atmospheric ending. The album’s title track and centerpiece explodes right out of the gate with bright, bouncing guitar melodies that morph into tremolo picked assaults during the track’s first 60 seconds or so. The aggressive intro bleeds seamlessly into droning, clean verses in which Jackson and Westeiner’s calming vocals lull the listener into a false sense of security. These ethereal verses are scattered throughout the track and are interwoven with sections of thunderous black metal, sludge and hovering layers of guitar-generated drone. These different stylistic sections struggle for dominance throughout the track, until they finally give way to one last burst of blast beat laden aggression. The track ends rather abruptly, however, which might leave some yearning for a more explosive ending.
The eight-minute “Hold My Breath” rips through lengthy sections of bright guitar melodies that dance about in angular fashions. The guitars churn out memorable leads that are drenched in effects as these aforementioned melodies continue their jubilant frolic. Melodic black metal and haunting atmospheric drones also make an appearance on this erratic tune. Ambient soundscapes and emotive clean guitars make up the short but sweet “The Mortal’s Suite”, which offers the listener a bit of breathing room before the final act. The album is brought to a close by the nearly nine-minute “Touch Me”. The track’s first seven minutes are comprised of a back and forth squabble between Codeine-esque dirges and fuzzy, towering sludge. Afterwards, the band embarks on a mad dash to the end. Triumphant tremolo-picked melodies spiral about fiercely and lead into hammering sludge riffs and noisy guitar convulsions. The song’s tumultuous final three minutes are one of the most explosive parts of the entire record.
Doom, progressive, post-everything, black metal, Eight Bells features a bit of it all. The trio further refines and expands their already unique sound on this new record. The band deal away with a bulk of the jaggedness and upfront aggression found on their first effort in favor of more build-ups, melody, atmosphere and general grandiosity. Landless is merely their second full-length and there are surely more to come. But Eight Bells have really set the bar high with this record and the next offering has to be damn near epic to top it. (Lane Oliver)