Stygian Bough is something exceptional, as it is a collaborative record between Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin. Yes, that Bell Witch, who released the overwhelming wall of sound that is ‘Mirror Reaper,’ over 83 minutes of sonic mass. Aerial Ruin is a dark folk project from Eric Moggridge, in a sense, a long time collaborator. Stygian Bough is the result, and this is about ‘Volume 1’.
Stygian Bough is loosely based on the book ‘The Golden Bough’, by James George Frazer from 1890. Particularly a story about slaves becoming kings by slaying the king stuck out to Dylan Desmond. In a sense, the slaves exchange one tyranny for another, a deception. Stygian turns it all upside down, introducing the stream that separates life from death in ancient mythology. And there we have it, the theme for a dirge that unfolds storylike: “I ran with this idea and started to think of the ghost of a king who, if he reached land, could be reborn and rule again. The king is also a larger metaphor for humanity who rules over the planet and other species. On this new album, our ghost upon the waves flees not towards the land but death.” (From the Stereogum Interview)
‘The Bastard Wind’ feels far removed from the soul-crushing heaviness that is Bell Witch. It is more of a dark folk song, akin to the :Of The Wand Of & The Moon: and the works of Aerial Ruin. Well, it’s a long way to go as this winding track leads us down a 20-minute journey full of soaring guitars, wandering fingerpicking, and dark, gloomy atmospheres. ‘Heaven Torn Low I (the passage)’ is equally subdued and mellow. It definitely has the feeling of a dark, autumny folk song, but it is well complemented by its second part, on which we hear the monolithic riffing of Bell Witch, slowly harmonizing with those vocals. It is a beautiful thing, a natural phenomenon almost, where the music becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s as if the waves start crashing in harmony with a lonely song.
To me, the sound of Stygian Bough ties into the nautical movement in doom. Long-stretched notes with an eerie, minor sound. No crunching basslines, but a clear, soaring note that pierces the damp air and fog. Crashing waves and clear vocals piercing at the right moments. It is a wonderful way to voice your message. There’s a reverberation to every note as ripples on the water, even the gentle ‘Prelude’, which is the fourth track on the album. As the song trickles in, with mild notes, you are bracing yourself for what is to come. It most certainly will not be mild. It gradually builds to where we need to be.
And so it is, the track ‘The Unbodied Air’ closes this effort with primitive riffing on an epic scale. It is a mournful dirge, slowly lumbering towards the gates. The vocals rise up over the abyssal sludge to create a final declaration. There are some times of peace, simply drifting on the aural elements as a listener, as we ever come closer to the edge and fall over in the end as the record comes to a close.
Stygian Bough is exceptionally strong. It should be listened to a lot. Not being able to bring this to a live audience in the format it deserved is a terrible loss, but one we can hopefully remedy in the future.