The Best of the Northwest: Bell Witch & Isenordal Live Reflections

If you follow me on social media, you know that I’m chilling with my family in Baltimore for a bit before moving to the Pacific Northwest (just a hop, skip, and a train ride from the Drunk in a Graveyard woodsy hoser headquarters). While our short film involving “four dingus friends who go into the forest” is still being written, I’ve been enjoying attending some shows with my sister back in the good old incestuous East. While I’ve reached the point in life where I’m sneaking La Croixs into the function instead of passing out with my head underneath a bathroom sink, I’ve really been enjoying tapping back into my roots.

While my sister is an old head when it comes to hip-hop, we both enjoy the post-everything era of metal in which we have been wading for the past couple of years. We grumble, mumble, we complain that it’s too hot, but contrary to our RBFs, we do, indeed, have a good time. I guess getting old is for sissies after all. Since my show attendance rapidly declined during my past year in NOLA after growing tired of being the needle in the haystack of crusties, I will never again take for granted enjoying a show with the company of a like-minded ride-or-die.

One band that’s very special to the both of us is Seattle’s Bell Witch. One day roughly two years ago when we were en route to the ill-fated Maryland Doomfest (at which there was no doom, or Jameson for that matter), she played Longing. In hindsight, the quality of the crushing reverberations pulsing through my car stereo is what rendered a hodge-podge local fest so maddeningly disappointing in comparison. From there, it became the only soundtrack that made sense for our very hot, very hungover summer.

While we both have had the pleasure of seeing Bell Witch perform by ourselves, last week marked the first BW show that’s managed to bridge our distance as sisters, and, as an added bonus, escape the context of my own crippling depression and loneliness. It made for a different experience, but one I certainly appreciated nevertheless.

As expected, the drum and bass duo played a major excerpt of their one-track album, Mirror Reaper. Released last year on Profound Lore, the feat instantly sored to the top of nearly every year end list. Even after having seen them play much of it last November with Primitive Man, it was still interesting to watch a sold-out audience fresh of the heels of Maryland Doomfest 2k18 make sense of such extraordinarily non-beer-swigging music. A few notes in, some hapless dude in an Electric Wizard shirt yelled “yeah, Mirror REAPER!” and people continued to chat at the back bar, but as the performance progressed, the room was rendered utterly silent other than the matter at hand.

Dylan Desmond displayed the limitless potential of a six-string bass, translating the organ-like chimes of the record’s middle section seamlessly through his instrument. Drummer Jesse Shreibman put forth a great deal of emotion into every deliberate beat. His anguish reading through his face, his efforts were quite comparable to another Graveyard favorite, Aaron Hill of Eyehategod. It takes a special kind of drummer to writhe over his kit night after night, and such a style works particularly well for breathing strength into IRL funeral doom. Behind the two unassuming lads were heavily-vignetted projections of old black and white movies. While the various clips wouldn’t necessarily be frightening on their own, the way they were compiled together made for chilly commentary on nature encroaching back on humankind. Combined with the music, it was almost like a trip to the movies, facilitating my comprehension of Mirror Reaper on a more macro level, outside the framework of profound emptiness, isolation, and non-belonging. The tactic seemed to work for others, too—as the last beats waned, the room erupted in applause.

Paying their dues in the underground and overcoming immeasurable loss, Bell Witch seems to finally be getting their deserved glory. As I reflect on hearing them for the first time two years ago, I, as a fan, have also restlessly overcome. In many respects, that is what doom is all about—holding on to hope that you’ll make it to the peak of the mountain even when you don’t think your feet can move another step. While it might not be for everyone, the people who are meant to get it, will.

There was perhaps no greater display that people, indeed, are than when we shambled a couple of bars down a couple of days later.

In an even darker, bottle-shaped cave, fans and performers alike were earnestly repping their freshly-purchased Bell Witch merch—a momento wholesomeness within metal that I can appreciate even when I think I’m completely done and just want to ride out the rest of my days solely listening to nothing,nowhere. While everyone on the bill successfully played their hand at blackening about everything one can put on the metaphorical grill, there was one major standout—Seattle’s Isenordal.

A little funeral doom and a lot neo-American folk metal, the six-piece is a fellow master of subtle theatrics. Cattle skulls were woven into mic stands with feathered hemp and black drapery hung languidly from keyboards. While their extensive equipment took a little while to set up, it proved to be worth the wait as viola held together layers of more traditional black metal elements. Interestingly, Kerry Hall of powerviolence powerhouse Endorphins Lost spearheaded the guitar efforts—his punk rock energy refusing to be dissipated by more delicate intricacies. Notably, Isenordal’s composition plays to each performer’s strengths. While other folk metal efforts seem to just stack on members for the sake of stacking on members, these guys shift the spotlight—particularly when it comes to vocal contributions—where appropriate.

While we’re still sorting through flyers to figure out which show we’ll be shambling through next, I’m already refreshed by the efforts I’ve witnessed in just the past week. If Bell Witch and Isenordal are any indication of my new regional venture, I think I might not exclusively jump ship to the chaotic seas of Soundcloud. Sure, I am proud of myself for achieving the pop punk fantasy of getting the fuck out of my hometown. Yet, sometimes it takes going back to where it all began with the people that you love to make the future look so much brighter, as well as to establish the sanctity of what you inevitably must leave behind.

– Jenna

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