Bell Witch

support Monarch! + Bethmoora
author AP date 04/04/18 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

It feels as though the hands of the clock move more languidly than usual in order to accommodate the trio of slow-worshippers that comprise the line-up at Pumpehuset tonight. Doom metal is the name of the game of course, and as it tends to be with this genre in Copenhagen, supporters of the scene have turned up en masse, eager, like me, to experience the phenomenal “Mirror Reaper” by Bell Witch played live for the first time here in Denmark.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Bethmoora

It is becoming quite rare to attend a doom metal concert in Copenhagen without Bethmoora either on stage or in the audience. Tonight the quintet is here in the former capacity, tasked with bringing pulses down in preparation for the two international acts to follow. They handle this task splendidly, taking plenty of time between each beat and letting each chord rumble so long that you start to wonder whether another one will actually ever follow. This sonic magma is interspersed with eerie harmonic notes here and there until the band injects some adrenaline into it and enters one of their looping, psychedelic segments à la Ufomammut, during which the rhythm is faster and the five musicians rock out like men possessed. I’m not gonna lie: in keeping with my past experiences with this outfit, too much of the space within a given song is still dedicated to the most primitive and sluggish style of doom available (think Conan for a good reference), to the extent that it sometimes feels like Bethmoora is simply treading water. But when the band lets rip one of those stoning jams, they become quite entrancing; a more ritualistic act for whom ultra-heaviness is no longer of the utmost concern. I think that in order for Bethmoora to convert me into a full-fledged fan, the group needs to embrace its ‘wilder’ side more often and make the psychedelic element their main selling point. Until such a time, however, I will continue to be harrowed by the sheer sludgy weight of their music live, albeit not remembering much else about it.

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Monarch!

Monarch!, from the cities of Bayonne and Bordeaux in France, lists ‘amps’ as their main interest on Facebook, and once you have experienced their music played live, you will understand why. Leaning heavily into the experimental drone style of Sunn O))) and perhaps Thou, the band’s music manifests itself more as a swelling tide of (at times cacophonous) noise than individual songs, rolling over the audience at an astonishing volume as the five musicians punish and brandish their instruments in a display that is paradoxically energetic, given the nature of the music. Like stateside their idols, there is an atavistic, ritualistic feel to the proceedings, supplemented by candles and incense and witchy, esoteric singing by vocalist/electronicist Emilie Bresson. There is a number of more traditional doom metal segments to be found within the deluge, during which guitarists Shiran Kaïdine & Stéphane Miollan rise to the occasion with some heavy riffs and cool, harmonised melodies, but it is not these segments by which you will remember the name of Monarch!. Rather, it is the sensation of being completely enveloped and consumed by sheer sound that leaves the greatest impression — even if it is also clear that a full concert’s worth of this could be nigh unbearable. There are a lot of perplexed expressions to be seen around the venue once the band steps off the stage, including yours truly’s; I am not sure what exactly I have just watched and listened to, but I feel like I have had an experience.

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Bell Witch

Having composed one of the longest and most ambitious single pieces of music that metal has ever seen, it is a surprise to discover Bell Witch looking so low-key in their live configuration. The only striking aspect to the duo is Dylan Desmond’s mammoth six-string bass and the unusual technique he mostly uses to play it — both hands on the neck, and lots of tapped and sliding notes. Given their intention to ‘only’ play the “As Above” segment of “Mirror Reaper” tonight, the band has elected not to show the film that otherwise accompanies the album, and so the visual component of their show tonight is limited to the two musicians facing one another amidst slowly moving beams of light in a variety of dim and moody colours. On the surface of it, there isn’t a whole lot to look at and indeed many an audience member chooses to take the concert in with their eyes shut. But in doing so, they miss out on the many subtleties, like Jesse Shreibman hopelessly slumping over his snare drum during sections of the song that are without percussion, or Desmond seeming to achieve catharsis when the song hits its climax some 45 minutes in.

The litany of emotions that went into, and were produced by “Mirror Reaper” are so clearly felt in the performance that for once, the audience takes it without uttering a word. Because of this, one is able to feel the power that quiet moments — even silence — also can have when deployed with elegance. As such, the dynamics between the quiet and the loud that are so intrinsic to “Mirror Reaper” work even better in the live setting; the quiet moments are truly quiet, while the loud segments are made extra raw by the clatter and small imperfections that inevitably arise in-concert. Instead of sounding silky smooth like on record, “Mirror Reaper” is thus made even more visceral in the live setting, which is almost equivalent to hearing the song for the first time anew… which only adds to my frustration that the “So Below” segment (the final 35 minutes of the composition) is not included in this performance due to the unavailability of Aerial Ruin’s Erik Moggridge, who lends his voice to the lyrics in that part. The composition is divided in such a way that the two parts can stand on their own but I am nonetheless left with a nagging feeling of incompleteness when the concert ends after 48 minutes. This thing needs to be heard in its full grandeur, with the elusive film that was created for it projecting onto the backdrop.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Mirror Reaper (‘As Above’ segment)

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