As some high-profile bands openly discuss the idea of the album format being dead and pondering only releasing EPs in the future, it seems the doom scene’s answer is to go the opposite route. Earlier this year Seattle duo Bell Witch made an emphatic statement with their latest opus, the single track, jaw-dropping Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate, clocking in at a truly monstrous eighty-minute running time.
Stuttgart Germany’s own psychedelic doom crew Bees Made Honey In The Vein Tree seemingly share a similar mindset. Having first converged in 2014 with a mission to channel crushing riffs and mind-bending soundscapes into epic-sounding sonic compositions, they laid out the blueprint for their musical template with Medicine three years later. The debut was described as ‘a 45 min trip from beautiful psychedelic over dusty stoner riffs to heavy doom’ which was followed by the longer, darker and less accessible Grandmother two years later, charting the descent into their craft.
Expanding further on their themes, they now deliver what is surely their most complete statement yet in their third album Aion, the sprawling, elemental-themed eight-track opus that will occupy a massive hour and twenty minutes of your time if you truly surrender yourself.
Framed around the concept of water, the album consists of some big set-piece tracks, four of which straining double figures (including the drifting album closer which runs nearly as long as Reign In Blood in its entirety). Through this epic journey, the concept of water seeps into the lyrics forming the articulation for the ebb and flow of the music. Bees… use the dramatic shifting state of the labyrinthian power contained in the sea to explore the nature of life giving and constant movement that also contains a dark threatening potential.
In between these mammoth compositions, there are light interludes, like the gossamer Consonance which washes passed like a warm gentle breeze across the ocean on a summer’s day. The stripped-down instrumental gives space to the lush guitar, simple bends and slides making up the shortest entry, or the ambient shoegaze-like Courtyard which follows it, interlaced with birdsong and assorted samples which sit at the heart of the album as an eye of the storm moment of calm.
These moments are defined as singular tracks, but in reality work as part of the larger composition and at times it is hard to distinguish individual moments from Aion because it has been very much constructed as a whole and works best when you press play and free yourself from the notion of time. In short, if you haven’t got eighty minutes to give to this album, play something else and come back later. It is only in viewing the album as a complete piece does its beauty and scope become apparent.
Beginning inauspiciously with the title track, droning samples and tentative, understated guitar, the faint choral vocals add to the sense of drifting as the bass plods while the band build an atmosphere. The drum patterns tap on the edge of your consciousness as the psychedelic swirling synths expand; The vocals are otherworldly and drenched in reverb and match the increasing strength of the music, hypnotic and creeping like the power of the tide.
if immersive, indulgent prog-laced doom is your thing, then you are going to fall in love with this album…
In what feels like three acts, the track washes in and out, growing darker with each return and morphing into pummelling doom complete with beautiful and dazzling guitar work. The transition into pounding, intense doom is almost unnoticeable and suddenly you realise the vocals are harsh and the drums and bass are demolishing your eardrums and you didn’t even notice that the undercurrent had pulled you down.
It is not all subtly and meandering, mesmerising passages, Divergence is a solid wall of cavernous riffing and long ringing Sabbath-like notes. The drums stab crisply over the lurching and lumbering of a band in full force. It’s trippy yet razor sharp and focused under the haze, whilst the vocals interplay between the band members to great effect.
Threatening was the first track Bees… wrote in the bid to follow up their sophomore album, and as such, bridges the evolution of the band from album to album. More akin to a sombre funeral doom vibe, the second long-running track builds around the wistful and mournful guitars to create an atmosphere that manages to be both ethereal and somehow unsettling as the slow pace shifts in that imperceptible way making Aion sink its way into your subconscious, rather than smash its way in.
The last three tracks are more robust and powerful, harnessing that psychedelic feel into a warm fuzzy edge, like on Excavation which bristles with the most direct power of everything on offer with its rasping screams, or the desert psyche of Scouring The Land which showcases the ideology of time and space.
Calling back to earlier themes and motifs at times Bees… use this self-referential tool to create a sense of expanding and compressing time as they immerse and explore the concept that inspired this lengthy creation. It also serves as a tool to keep the long player compelling and natural, but also to keep it cohesive, and in its own way catchy and memorable, which is no mean feat considering.
Saving the most complete statement until last, Grey Wels is the showstopper as it walks the gamut of everything that has gone before in the closest thing to a self-contained piece. It’s a retro-influenced saga that has traces of King Crimson and Pink Floyd that’s interspersed with the seismic sonic experience.
Not every band can make something like this work. On some levels, Aion is not crushingly heavy and yet at times it feels like it is, and if immersive, indulgent prog-laced doom is your thing, then you are going to fall in love with this album.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden