Putting themselves quickly at the fore of a burgeoning Stateside death-doom revival, Seattle-based duo Bell Witch made their debut in 2011 with a remarkably well-received demo. The initial four-track release (review here) landed with enough of an impact to bring bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond (also of Samothrace) and drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra (formerly of Sod Hauler) to the attention of tastemaking imprint Profound Lore, which picked them up for the release of the subsequent debut, Longing (review here). Desmond and Guerra, who’d released an album called Mnemosyne together as part of a heavy psychedelic trio called Lethe (review here), departed those stylistic confines with Bell Witch, opting instead for the dreary drama and far-off melodicism they present on Longing‘s six-track/67-minute sprawl.
It’s a fascinating album for several reasons. Primarily because Desmond and Guerra do so well in alternating between a sense of wide-open space, oppressive tonality and nascent harmonized vocals, but also because of the intricacies they bring to the material, working in defiance of the notion that just because something is slow and open-sounding, it has to be simple all the time. That’s never been true, and as Bell Witch switch between growls and clean-sung arrangements and Desmond taps his six-string bass to emulate a guitar solo, it’s clear that there’s more to the band than just holding out riffs until the sound fades away — though when they do that as well, it works greatly to enhance the atmosphere of Longing, the mood of which has no trouble living up to the title it’s been given.
Perhaps the album’s greatest achievement comes on 13-minute second track “Rows (of Endless Waves),” on which Desmond and Guerra, both contributing to the initial barrage of screams and growls, are joined by Erik Moggridge, known for his Portland, Oregon-based solo-project, Aerial Ruin. As the lumbering fury winds down, Moggridge comes on to top periodic rhythm lines and higher-register bass notes with folkish verses that don’t necessarily depart from the darkness of the rest of the full-length, but provide complexity and depth to what that darkness means on a sonic level. At 9:35, bolstered by colossal instrumental swell, Moggridge leads a defiant recitation of vaguely Celtic-derived sway, and from the standpoint of melody and emotional resonance, it’s as rich as Longing gets, begging in its last minute to be sung along to as the waves of destruction mentioned in the lyrics seem to be crashing all around the final moaning vocalizations.
The inclusion and expansion of “Beneath the Mask” and “I Wait” from the demo was a launch point for the conversation, but there was much more than just that I wanted to discuss with Desmond, including the differences between recording with Bell Witch and with Samothrace — whose 2012 outing, Reverence to Stone (review here), was among the year’s most exciting albums, on recording Longing and what other than those two tracks they wanted to bring to their first album, on the use of melody and how it might continue to develop on their next batch of material, which Desmond reveals is already in progress. Choosing his words carefully, the bassist talked openly about all these and more.
Please find the complete 3,200-word Q&A after the jump, and please enjoy: