Portland, Oregon-based trio Eight Bells have just released their second album, Landless, on Battleground Records. (Get it from Amazon.) While they’ve been dubbed a doom band by some, Eight Bells don’t really fit easily into any single category. They’re certainly heavy, but the group relies heavily on mood and dynamics in between moments of extreme sonic density.
Consisting of Melynda Jackson, formerly of Subarachnoid Space, on guitar and vocals; Haley Westeiner on bass and vocals; and Rae Amitay of Immortal Bird on drums, Eight Bells must be commended for the egalitarian nature of their sound. Like any great trio, each instrument is equally important to the overall architecture of the sound. To remove any one element would cause the whole thing to come crashing down. Album opener “Hating” immediately displays their modus operandi; it’s languid and depressive, the guitar providing texture rather than any sort of go-for-the-throat metal attack. The sonic weight of Eight Bells is instead often focused on the rhythm section. Westeiner’s bass, with its deep overdriven tone and lumbering riffs, provides the biggest hint of a doom metal sound, while Amitay’s drumming is busy but tasteful, and enormous-sounding, which should come as no surprise since Billy Anderson is at the production helm.
The vocals are also worthy of note. Often cleanly sung, they become even more striking when Jackson and Westeiner sing together. Their disembodied voices float above the music and prove a perfect counterpoint to the immensity of the bass and drums. The title track, “Landless,” comes second on the album, and starts in much the same way as “Hating,” but quickly begins to show a bit of black metal influence, adding more venom to the sound. The trio alternate between a bit of Ludicra-inspired blasting with gentler passages, before fading into a segment of gloomy psychedelia. These free-form moments hint towards Jackson’s former outfit, Subarachnoid Space, a well-regarded but disappointingly underappreciated-in-their-time band.
And even though Jackson’s guitar isn’t always the primary source of heaviness, it does often provide an important sense of focus. She wrings out memorable riffs left and right, tight and compact figures that repeat, such as on “Hold My Breath.” The approach is minimalist but vital, almost indie rock in conception. The motifs are quite unique, though, and do much to establish the band’s identity. Other times she walks a tightrope between extremity and melody with her tremolo picking, such as on the aforementioned title track or in the closing moments of the album. These riffs stand apart from the rest of the album, but instead of coming across as jarring, they act as climaxes utilized for ultimate emotional impact.
Discerning doom metal fans will find much to their liking on Landless, but may still find it difficult to pigeonhole Eight Bells into the category. There is a lot going on here, maybe some of what has been referred to as a “Neur-Isis” vibe, but utterly unique from that particular niche, a sprinkle of black metal, and whatever scene gives birth to West Coast acts such as Agalloch, Ludicra, and their ilk. But like most bands worth discussing, Eight Bells is much more than the sum of their parts. Eight Bells have crafted a unique sound, one that is thematically consistent from lyrics to artwork and sonic palette as well.