Band: Bell Witch / Aerial Ruin
Album: Stygian Bough: Volume I
Label: Profound Lore Records
Genre: Folk, Doom, Funeral Doom
Country: United States
Release Date: June 26, 2020
For Fans Of: Evoken, Panopticon (Acousitc), Mournful Congregation
“Stygian Bough- Volume 1”, is the first collaborative release, of what is hopefully many, between two of the most talked about musical projects in recent memory. Erik Moggridge, the mastermind behind Aerial Ruin, has been a longtime collaborator with the funeral-doom duo known as Bell Witch, and has made an appearance on all of their previous albums. It should be added that Moggridge, notably, contributed vocals on the album “Mirror Reaper”, which saw Bell Witch reach new levels of popularity and acclaim. Aerial Ruin, the acoustic folk solo project of Moggridge, has also been in the spotlight as of late as a result of the astonishing contribution on a recent split record with black metal / folk legends Panopticon.
Collaborative albums can be tricky as they fairly regularly come across as a clash of sound and ideas that may make for an interesting listen but don’t often have much replay value. Thankfully, “Stygian Bough- Volume 1” does not fall victim to this. The album is great, like really great! It’s heavy, and haunting, and gorgeous. It’s simultaneously captivating and heartbreaking. It pulls you in and doesn’t let go. In what could have easily come off as a gimmick, or something done for fun between friends, this album is able to create an emotional experience unlike anything else that has come out this year. Most impressively this sounds like a true collaboration, it showcases the strengths and sensibilities of both projects without sounding completely like either, it could almost be another band entirely.
“Stygian Bough- Volume 1” rewards multiple listens, as does almost anything Bell Witch has ever done. On first listen, the album can sound a bit one dimensional, but listening through it again and again, the nuance becomes apparent and the realization that this sound is wholly unique begins to become undeniable. All that being said, this is not an album for the impatient music fan. The songs are very slow and they are long, with 3 tracks over ten minutes long, and two of those nearing the twenty-minute mark. Opening track, “The Bastard Wind”, sets the tone for the album, kicking the album off with the acoustic guitars and majestic vocals of Moggridge. The song is a slow descent into agony, as the songs get heavier and the vocals become more guttural. “Heaven Torn Low I and II” are perhaps where the division between the two projects is most prevalent, with “I” sounding like an Aerial Ruin song and “II” sounding like a Bell Witch song, however, the intent behind this decision is clear when you listen to the two as a whole and it becomes apparent just how perfectly one sets up the other. “Stygian Bough- Volume 1” is concluded with “Prelude” and “The Unbodied Air”, and the album reaches new levels of crushing, both sonically and emotionally and when the album was finished my first thought was, “When does volume 2 come out?”.
I can honestly say that I am absolutely in love with this album and have not stopped listening to it since it first came my way. This is easily among the best that either Bell Witch or Aerial Ruin have done up to this point. It’ll be hard for another doom album to dethrone “Stygian Bough” as the best doom album of the year. I hope for much more from this collaboration.The sound of this album may not be for everyone, however, if folk-tinged funeral doom sounds like your thing then this is the album for you…….. Actually, Fuck That!!!!! Go listen to this album, even if it doesn’t sound like your thing, I’m sure that you will find something to love.
Rating: 9.5 / 10
- The Bastard Wind
- Heaven Torn Low I (The Passage)
- Heaven Torn Low II (The Toll)
- The Unbodied Air
Total Playing Time: 64:16