The sound of Bell Witch’s first and only release – Longing (2012) – is one that, on the face of it, should be relatively easy to replicate in a live setting: bass, drums, some vocals. But more than the ability to create the right noises is the tone of the record: incorporeal, but emerging from searing pain. That’s hard to recreate in a warm night in a room above a pub in Camden, but Bell Witch did. That was not a matter of being transported elsewhere – of the conjuring up of another world – but rather draining of it. It is a music of concentration, not imagination. I’m sorry for this transcendental wish-wash, but it’s really the only way of talking about it.
Bell Witch is Dylan Desmond on bass and Adrian Guerra on drums. Both sing. Neither of them look especially like their music, though it’s hard to imagine what that would look like. They remained largely static throughout the performance, and rarely spoke, though weren’t distant. The room was small, but well-filled. People moved a little, though largely (it felt) in anticipation, not so much headbanging as an expression of thanks that something had been resolved, a little, for a short while – before picking themselves up again with the realisation that such things can only be temporary.
Much of the force of Longing comes from that urge to move on and get somewhere (though always combined with the hopelessness that there’s nowhere else to go). There’s a relentless revisiting of themes, and – though doom has a tendency to repetition – those seem unusually obsessive, like the picking of a scab. The live experience increases that, the awareness that eventually this must resolve, that drum must meet stick and fingers must hit string. But that too is temporary.
If all of this sounds a little negative, it isn’t meant to be. What I’m really trying to get at is the achievement that Bell Witch have pulled off, with Longing, and with their live show: doom has (obviously) a tendency towards the bleak, and the desperate. But Bell Witch’s music, for me, is rare in its ability to use time and sound to do that not through the imagination of a new and difficult world, but through the sharpening of concentration upon the one that exists.