It has been a great while since I have updated my blog. 2020 was a really stressful and trying year (also for many other people). Because of the pandemic and working from home for over thirteen months now, I have lost interest in writing consistently. Now I feel like I am good to write again after much-needed multiple vacations in Ireland. I wanted to write a review for an album that has really been in consistent rotation since the album’s release and has really hit my emotions I have been dealing with when COVID became a thing. This album is “Stygian Bough Volume I” a collaborative project by Aerial Ruin and Bell Witch. I would say if I could choose one album that has hit all the right notes for these dark times “Stygian Bough Volume I” is that album!
This album hits the darkness, intensity, and emotional ruin of Bell Witch’s music. While also including the airy, melancholic, and withdrawn hopelessness of Aerial Ruin. I have a huge reverence and love for both these bands and hearing this collaborative project between the two is absolute musical gold. If I were to choose an album that fits my recent emotional trials and tribulations, this would be it. There are so many moods and feelings throughout the five tracks of “Stygian Bough Volume I” that it has been a cathartic and important listening experience for me. Listening to the album takes patience, determination, and grit to get through. There is nothing catchy about the album. What it lacks in earworms it more than makes up for in musical vistas of suffocating darkness, death and retribution.
The album begins with the stunning track “The Bastard Wind” it starts out with Erik Moggridge’s sorrowful voice and acoustic strumming and I picture an image of someone standing on a cliff side overlooking a calm sea shrouded in fog and moonlight. There is darkness everywhere and a sense of loneliness and apprehension. As the song progresses we are introduced to a wall of bass feedback and riffs by Dylan Desmond of Bell Witch and that calm sea ends up roiling and raging as a storm rolls in from the firmament. There is a sense of absolute anger and rage at the world as the song grows heavier and heavier. This ties directly to the funeral marching beats and fills of Bell Witch’s Jesse Shreibman’s drumming talents. That cold loneliness I felt in the first half of the song leads to overwhelming anger and sadness in the second half of the song. Throughout the massive sound and growls from Bell Witch, Moggridge’s voice filters through the storm as a strong and steadfast sentinel standing firm in the sea. The storm rages but there is a sense of calm and balance like the beam of a lighthouse guiding you out of the dark.
As the “The Bastard Wind” dissipates, we are then introduced to a 13-minute acoustic driven song called “Heaven Torn Low I (the passage)” while the first song gave a sense of looking over the raging sea this song gives a sense of wandering an endless labyrinth of trees in perpetual twilight. The sudden emotional highs and lows of “The Bastard Wind” has transitioned to a feeling of stasis/numbness in a forest of emotional limbo. There is a sense of peaceful uease in the song, like walking without disturbances but feeling like someone or something is following you. It gives a sense of creeping doom that you really aren’t completely safe from whatever is stalking you. As the song ends we are then introduced to a sea of feedback and drones that leads to one of the quicker songs on the album “Heaven Torn Low II (the toll)” this is a powerful, intense and moving piece of music that overwhelms the senses with despair and sadness. The way the guitars, bass, drums and vocals swirl in with one another is otherworldly and emotionally draining. It is like all the feelings from the prior two songs have unearthed almost a madness of the mind where there is no control but just utter mental/emotional wreckage. As the song progresses it suddenly comes to a close with an instrumental interlude called “Prelude” where the madness subsides and there is just silence in a void with quiet contemplation. Then the song ends and we are introduced to one of the best closing songs in a metal album I have heard in a long while, “The Unbodied Air”.
If I were to describe the sound of “The Unbodied Air” it is literally all the emotional hills and valleys the whole “Stygian Bough Volume I” album puts the listener through coming to a crushing and apocalyptic end. The growls are on the forefront in the first half of the song and it makes a setting of being lost and ripped to shreds within the ominous and destructive clouds of severe thunderstorms. Hail hits your flesh and causes you to bleed, the electricity of lighting courses through your nervous system making you feel like you are dying over and over again. There is no sense of calm. You are continuously tumbling, and tumbling in endless storms without a sense of direction or even a sense of self. Eventually the winds subside and you feel the lashing cold rain hit your face. It almost brings you a sense of relaxation, but you know a storm of hail and lightning could hit you when you least expect it. Though as the song progresses it is almost as if the storm is dissipating. The rain is not as overwhelming, it seems to fall lighter and the warmth of the sun enters this aggressive, and deadly weather system. You feel a balance of warmth and cool. As soon as you hear Erik Moggridge’s ethereal voice come out of the fog you see land surrounded by roiling and churning ocean waves.
There is shade standing in the middle of granite monoliths stacked perfectly and organized. Your soul drifts to the land like a slowly falling leaf. And you join the shade and your soul becomes flesh and you come to see this land goes on forever. There are endless mountains, rivers, streams and green trees lying before you. “The Unbodied Air” ends with a crescendo of vocals, drum beats and waves of guitar/bass feedback. Everything sounds organized and even hopeful. The emotionally draining journey of “Stygian Bough Volume I” ends and your mind and soul is once again full of life and light. You are not entirely sure what hides within these hills, trees and dales. You have left a life of disease and looming dread, you have come to the world that exists hereafter.
“Stygian Bough Volume I” is easily one of the best albums to come out in 2020. It is the perfect remedy to the depression, loneliness, anxiety and pain that this pandemic wrought. This album has really helped me get out of a darkness I thought I got lost in for too long. What is even more exciting is that Aerial Ruin and Bell Witch are working on “Stygian Bough Volume II” maybe we will hear how the journey goes for our soul once we have arrived into the hereafter. Who knows what vistas and lands we will visit when we hear the next album. I for one do not wish this sonically cathartic journey to end that Aerial Ruin and Bell Witch has created. I hope it can continue onward into a land where COVID is finally eradicated and we can live our lives without fear and have a little hope again.
Aerial Ruin Bandcamp: https://aerialruin.bandcamp.com/
Aerial Ruin Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aerialruin/
Bell Witch Bandcamp: https://bellwitch.bandcamp.com/
Bell Witch Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BellWitchDoom/
Bell Witch Official Site: https://bellwitchdoom.blogspot.com/