Bell Witch has become one of the better-known funeral doom bands over the past decade, with 2017’s mammoth Mirror Reaper generating a considerable amount of buzz. Unlike some of the genre’s originators who had quite a few members contributing towards the slow burning riffs and desolate atmosphere, Bell Witch has remained a duo of just bass, drums, and vocals with guest contributions adding textures to their material. Their last effort, volume one of a new collaboration with Aerial Ruin’s Erik Moggridge represented a significant shift with guitars and different singing pitches taking the spotlight over some of the band’s established elements. So, what does a group like this do after a lengthy collaboration that’s part one in a series? Starting a new trilogy doesn’t seem like the obvious answer, but that’s exactly what Bell Witch has done on Future's Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate. This first installment runs almost as long as Mirror Reaper, and the band’s made note that the ideas here will be cyclical and flow together from beginning to end in a seamless manner once all three are out. It’s another daunting listen and admittedly some parts come across as overstretched, but this album still some hauntingly beautiful passages that make it worth your time.
Although this album has been out for almost three months now, it’s taken me awhile to get in the right head space and have the free time to properly approach it. While long albums aren’t a rarity in what I cover, having things broken up into individual tracks does reduce the barrier to entry as it makes it easier to pause and come back. Bell Witch’s material demands you approach it in its entirety, and at an hour and twenty-three minutes that’s a significant span of time. That’s not anything new for the group, but with this track serving as part one of three the songwriting has sprawled outwards towards even sparser, methodical build-ups. Synthesizers now play just as big of a role as the bass and drums, and haunting synth/organ melodies are what greet you as you start Future's Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate. As you’d expect, it takes a bit before the drums and rumbling bass come in and compared to some of Bell Witch’s past material the atmosphere is a little less tense and a bit more reflective and meditative. Everything flows together seamlessly, but I can’t help feeling that a few of the passages are stretched for longer than they need to. In particular, the drop out to almost complete silence around the quarter mark goes on for too long and makes my attention waver as it goes a bit too minimalistic. But patience is rewarded, as once you get around the halfway to three quarter mark the slow build-up reaches a perfect balance of destructive and beautiful instrumentation that is sure to stick with listeners. It doesn’t quite reach the same heights as Mirror Reaper or even Stygian Bough: Volume I for me but seeing as this is the beginning stages of a larger piece and I’m hearing it is in isolation that might be why.
Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman continue to trade off on vocals, but this is the first Bell Witch release since the 2011 demo that doesn’t have Erik Moggridge as a guest. This hasn’t changed the core approach of the performance though, as the first appearance of vocals comes in the form of sorrowful clean singing that hangs over the recording with an ethereal presence. During the sparsest passages this is reduced to a whisper, and spoken word comes in an out of your speakers with a haunting tone. It isn’t until a significant ways in that the growls emerge, and they’re used fairly sparingly on this album. This is where Bell Witch continues to differentiate themselves from a lot of other funeral doom, and the reduced emphasis on harsher vocals also contributes to the more relaxed mood. Vocals ultimately serve as a small piece of the puzzle for an album like this, but what’s here does suit the material and consistently catches your attention.
Reviewing material like this in parts is admittedly difficult, knowing that it’s leading into something else that isn’t available to hear yet. With that in mind, this first chapter doesn’t draw me back quite as much as Mirror Reaper or even Stygian Bough, mostly because of the extreme minimalistic approach and even more stretched out build-ups that drag a bit during its hour plus run-time. When it does reach its peaks Bell Witch is still just as beautiful and desolate, and the layers of synthesizer and calmer tone does push the duo in some different directions. I suspect this will need a re-assessment once all three albums are released, but if you’ve liked what this band has done before this album worth experiencing at this present time. The question now is, what comes next, Stygian Bough volume two, or Future’s Shadow part two? Future's Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate is available from Profound Lore Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg