Doomed with Bell Witch at Nambucca

I saw Samothrace at The Black Heart in Camden in May 2013, supported by Bell Witch, who at that time shared a member in bass guitarist Dylan Desmond. My main memories of that gig, besides ‘bring earplugs next time’, are of Samothrace being the auditory equivalent of a mountain range forming, and Bell Witch being good, rather than spectacular. The similarities were there, yet they weren’t the same band with different names, and Samothrace were certainly the more engaging act. With reviews praising their recent release Four Phantoms, released on Profound Lore Records, when I heard about Bell Witch’s London show at Holloway’s Nambucca on Thursday 8th October, with Ulcerate as headliners, I thought it was time to see if they can be more than good. All I had heard of Bell Witch’s recorded output was the odd song here and there, one from their 2012 album Longing and one from their 2015 album Four Phantoms (song names are overrated anyway), so I wasn’t waiting to hear a particular song or riff; I was ready to be convinced. Furthermore, it’s not often the chance presents itself to see a metal band with lead bass instead of any guitars.

I eventually found Nambucca, with a bit of a walk courtesy of London Underground, just as Bell Witch were setting up. They started off loud, low’n’slow, and that’s how they ended, two songs and around 35 minutes later. I was impressed that drummer Jesse Shreibman and bass guitarist Desmond, both of whom also roared away, with some clean vocals from Desmond, remembered such long, slow songs, but at the same time, if the songs are so long, and so slow (a musical combination I usually approve of), that I’m impressed that they can be recalled by the musicians who wrote them…that’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, isn’t it? I would like to say that it was all–enveloping, but I didn’t really feel anything throughout their set.

If you’re a fan of Bell Witch’s recorded material, you’d probably enjoy them live, but if you’re not then the live setting won’t convince you otherwise. I wanted to like Bell Witch, but when there are so many power–of–the–cosmos–divining doom bands out there (YOB, Shrinebuilder and Earth spring to mind), they just feel less inspired. I can’t recall a riff or a beat or the vocals; it’s not noise, but part of this gig was the solid auditory wall. At one point I found myself thinking what if this was acoustic? This is a slightly unfair criticism, as Desmond is clearly a talented bass guitarist, using two handed tapping through each of the songs, and had a monstrous tone, using distortion and reverb to great effect, but I feel that their songwriting is too heavily based upon a concept which doesn’t translate into a distinctive sound.

Ulcerate were the headlining act, and having read good words about them, I was keen to see what they were going to do, partially because they had come all the way from New Zealand. Disappointed after Bell Witch, I gave it a couple of songs, found my mind wandering instead of being drawn in by their death metal, and left. This seems like a waste of a ticket, but I was starting to endure instead of enjoying the gig. Sorry Bell Witch. Sorry Ulcerate. I’ll find my doom and death elsewhere.

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