I’ve been asked many times in my life why I listen to metal. Why someone so relentlessly positive, so perpetually upbeat, so aggressively optimistic listens to music so dark and angry. I like to tell people that it’s less of a paradox and more of a cause and effect situation. Maybe I’m as happy as I am because of metal, not in spite of it. Metal puts you face-to-face with emotions that we face daily, but rarely acknowledge. Fear, doubt, anger, sadness, and sorrow are very real feelings that most people would rather ignore than process. At its finest, metal can be a coping mechanism. It lets you know that those feelings are real and that you’re not alone in dealing with them. Everyone is angry. Everyone is sad. Everyone has to deal with loss and pain. Not everyone knows what to do about it.
On May 17, 2016, Bell Witch founding member Adrian Guerra passed away at the age of 36. Up to that point, the Seattle doom duo of Guerra and Dylan Desmond had released two full-length albums, 2012’s Longing and 2015’s Four Phantoms. It is through this tragedy that Mirror Reaper, perhaps the single most impressive release of 2017, came to be. I listed Mirror Reaper on my “Best of the Rest” list from 2017 and haven’t felt right about that since. The only reason the album didn’t crack my top 15 was that I discovered it too late in the year. But Mirror Reaper deserves far more than an end-of-the-year aside for what it accomplishes. It is one of the finest doom metal albums I’ve ever heard, an emotional tour de force that floors you with mesmerizing songwriting and breaks your heart bit by bit as it guides your through a tale of loss and pain.
Unfolding over the course of one 83-minute long track, Mirror Reaper can be difficult to approach at first. After my first couple of listens I was still having trouble recalling segments of the album due to the lack of individual tracks. Now that I’ve become familiar with the record, I see this is a strength of the album. There is a core sound that the album stays true to throughout its daunting run time, never growing stale but never straying too far from the path.
There is also a LOT of negative space on the album. Like, a whole lot. Mirror Reaper is a funeral dirge, letting the lack of sound craft just as much of the atmosphere as the music itself. For every mournful pluck at the guitar, there is a cushion of silence both preceding and following it. Each note hangs in the air, echoing in the abyss in which this album exists.
If you can get past the intimidating façade, Mirror Reaper will reward you with perhaps the most memorable metal release of 2017. Using some of Guerra’s vocals left over from Four Phantoms, Mirror Reaper is an amazing goodbye to someone who clearly made an impact on those in the band. I’ve thrown around words like sorrowful, or mournful, or even just plain sad to describe many a doom album before, but that feels like a waste having listened to this record now upwards of 10 times over the last month and a half. I feel confident in saying that Mirror Reaper is the most emotionally charged album that I’ve heard in my life. No matter how many listens have passed, the record still creates of groundswell of sadness inside me each and every time I put it on. Mirror Reaper won’t wow anybody looking for guitar wankery or technical wizardry, but it is an achievement in innovative songwriting. I doubt we will hear anything like it any time soon.