Windhand
Soma

Windhand’s self-titled debut dropped early last year and was one of the more promising doom debuts of the year.  The Richmond, Virginia 5-piece inked a deal with Relapse on the strength of the album, and following a solid split EP release with Cough, the band is back on deck with their second full length, titled SomaWindhand has taken their sound into darker, heavier territory, with the sonic metamorphosis hinted at during their EP contribution on the split with Cough.  Windhand’s penchant for lengthy, occasionally long-winded compositions remains intact and Soma finds the band sculpting dense layers of hypnotic doom blanketed in thick, fuzzy distortion.  The mysterious backwoods atmosphere gives the album its own character and identity, setting the tone for the gritty earthiness that defines their style of doom, a trait which identified itself throughout their understated debut.

Dorthia Cottrell remains the ace up Windhand’s sleeve, penetrating the heaving forcefulness of the riffs with alluring melodies and ghostly crooning nestled somewhere in the mid-range of their thick sound.  There are occasions where her voice would benefit from a more upfront stance in the mix, otherwise being slightly buried amidst the waves of doomy distortion lends her voice an ethereal quality.  The remainder of the band certainly make their presence felt, laying down a solid platform of dark and heavy doom, creating a certain vibe which sounds like the album was conceived in the woods somewhere, with a candle-lit cabin lurking ominously in the background.

After the first album floored me out of nowhere, this time around Windhand has the marketing firepower to build anticipation and hype, which will no doubt boost the band’s modest profile and yield them the attention they deserve.  On the flipside of the equation my own expectations have been sub-consciously amplified, and with this in mind Soma hasn’t quite delivered the earworm addictiveness of the debut.  Perhaps this will change in time, but regardless the album represents another solid chapter in a promising young career.  The song-writing ingredients remain similar from the winning approach of the first album.  Subtle variations in tempo and slow and catchy doom riffs are coupled with smart vocal hooks and a hypnotic flow that occasionally stumbles into less appealing repetition.  Thankfully Windhand don’t fire too many blanks, and like on their split with Cough, they have significantly raised the heaviness stakes from the debut.

“Orchard” anchors down with some seriously leaden doom riffs, solid drumming and Cottrell’s trademark croons.  At 6.38-minutes it’s the shortest song on the album and unlike a couple of songs on Soma, the track doesn’t overstay its welcome.  “Woodbine” is a similarly storming tune, clocking-in just under 10-minutes.  Again the power of the riff compels as dual guitars plunder thick, catchy riffs atop the enormous weight and plodding groove of the rhythm section.  Contrast is achieved through the wailing solos that punctuate the colossal waves of sound, and the lilting, almost androgynous vocal swoons that emanate from Cottrell’s smoky pipes.

The occasionally monotonous drone and samey feel of Windhand’s song-writing rears its head during the druggy haze and lackadaisical plod of ‘Feral Bones”, a song with promise not quite fulfilled.   Moments like these find Windhand in need of injecting fresh ideas and few more structural variations and surprises into the mix.  The sublime balladry of “Evergreen” represents a pleasant change of tact that I hope the band will develop in the future.  The song maintains the foreboding qualities of the album however it breaks down their wall of doom in favour of a stripped-back acoustic approach.  The song is a haunting and thoroughly engaging acoustic piece, showcasing the power and emotion of Cottrell’s voice and the mysterious vibe of Windhand’s music.  At nearly 7-minutes in length, the song is fully fleshed-out and not just used as a slapdash interlude.

Soma concludes with a pair of mammoth tunes, serving as an ambitious endurance test for the less patient listener.  “Cassock” (13.45 minutes) is the stronger and shorter of the two songs and is reasonably well-paced with some darker, discordant riffage and menacing tones.  “Boleskine” is an occasionally engaging but somewhat ponderous 31-minute doom epic, punctuated with a quiet acoustic break about halfway through.  Really though, it’s hard to justify finishing an album in a drawn-out fashion such as this.  And although doom has long been defined by bands that favour lengthy, stretched-out compositions, at least in this phase of their career Windhand could certainly benefit from trimming the fat a touch and adding some dynamics into their song-writing.

Although hardly visionaries of doom, Windhand’s rapid rise speaks volumes for their creative drive and work ethic, promptly resulting in a pair of strong back-to-back albums.   With youth on their side and much territory to explore within the realm of doom, one gets the feeling Soma is just a warm-up act for greater things to come.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
October 3rd, 2013

Comments

  1. Commented by: ikillednoe

    Loved the split ep, cant wait to get this


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