Virginia’s Windhand are a stoner/doom band releasing their second full album on Relapse Records. ‘Soma’ is being made available over many, often lavishly rendered, formats, which leads me to believe they already have a fairly rabid fan base. I now count myself among them!
Windhand‘s mournful, super heavy wah-wah drenched guitar sound reminds me of the early playing of Kim Thayil in Soundgarden circa ‘Screaming Life’. The whole album shares a sound with the Black Sabbath worship of early grunge bands. Also, the lyrical darkness they deal in is akin to the more personal hell of Kurt Cobain et al, as evidenced on benchmark setting opener ‘Orchard’:
“I’m having trouble with the downside/Can’t get myself up off the floor”.
Singer Dorthia Cottrell has a high, almost sexless, ethereal voice like a whisper carried through the pines. It is a ghostly, otherworldly presence riding high above the raging thunder of the band’s crushing heft. Only on the acoustic “Evergreen” does it become feminine and enchanting. “Evergreen” serves as a wonderful palette cleanser mid-way through ‘Soma’, which otherwise is almost trance-like in it’s relentless, but somehow elegant, grind.
From here on in it gets really epic. “Evergreen” shows the band’s more bucolic song-writing side before luring you into 45 minutes of total doom overload. “Cassock” begins with the sort of “Supernaut” superfuzz menace so often employed by Boris before launching yet another huge, rolling riff. The guitar playing here by Asechiah Bogdan is absolutely sublime; he never leaves the confines of the genre but every note is thrillingly right, like he has the template and invented this stuff. For me the playing here is up there with psych legends The Heads and White Hills. The track builds in tension with an almost military rhythmic precision to the point where you just expect the whole thing to explode, leaving bloody nubs where your ears used to be.
On any other album the 14 minutes-plus of “Cassock” would probably be the pinnacle of excess but no – welcome to the half-hour epic doom endurance test of “Boleskin”. This ambitious “Fuck you!” of a song has a classic, unstoppable doomy chug that marches for eternity, heads down into the black. There is a mellow passage halfway through the track but then the last 15 minutes are like the longest, most ominous fade out in metal history. As it slides back into the howling gale at the song’s end you know that somewhere it’s still playing. This is timeless stuff, and if there’s been a better doom album released this year I’d like to hear it.