Friday Full-Length: Windhand, Windhand

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I’ve been thinking again about some of the best albums from this rapidly-coming-to-a-close decade, and how could Windhand not be on that list? The Richmond, Virginia, doom lurkers made their self-titled debut (review here) through Forcefield Records in 2012. They’ve never been a catchy band. In the studio and on stage, their method has always been to overwhelm with sound. Distortion comes in swells of riffs, plodding grooves that are massive both in terms of pace and in their sheer tonality — a largesse brought to bear on the first album by founding guitarists Garrett Morris and Asechiah Bogdan. The latter played guitar in Alabama Thunderpussy, so that was an immediate draw to the band, while drummer Ryan Wolfe had done a stint in The Might Could with guitarist/vocalists T.J. Childers (currently of Inter Arma) and also-ex-ATP guitarist Erik Larson (currently drumming in Backwoods Payback) and also played in post-Eyehategod sludgers Facedowninshit. Together with vocalist Dorthia Cottrell and then-bassist Nathan Hilbish, Wolfe, Bogdan and Morris embarked on the creation of an immersive wash of doom that has become among the most distinctive calling cards of their generation. A touchstone for their sound has always been an Electric Wizard influence, but listening back to the self-titled these seven years later, hindsight makes even clearer just how much the band were charting an individual path even at their outset. That is to say, Windhand‘s Windhand doesn’t sound so much like anything as much as it sounds like Windhand.

Cottrell‘s vocals, echoing through the fog in vague, forlorn lines, are a signature part of that. Pacing back and forth across the stage, sometimes not even looking at the crowd, her performance has never been one reaching out in some cloying or showy way, but like the music itself, holds some kind of hypnotic aspect. I’ve been lucky enough to see the band on probably more than a handful of occasions — not every time, but definitely some of the times — as they’ve toured hard over the last half-decade-plus, and the sound is consuming in how it follows the patterns of the studio versions of the material, the central difference being the level of attainable volume for that wash. But it was there at the beginning. It doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to “Black Candles” or “Libusen” or “Heap Wolves” on side A or the longer pair “Summon the Moon” and “Winter Sun” on side B, Windhand‘s Windhand makes its intent felt from front to back in a molten boil of abyssal doom. It is at once cavernous and claustrophobic. The riff of “Summon the Moon” seems to rise and fall like a chest inhaling and exhaling. The music becomes this breathing, lurching thing and still manages to convey some sense of happening in the real world with samples of rain and thunder at the beginning of “Black Candles” and between the side A tracks and wind later at the start of “Winter Sun,” whatever landscape they’re conjuring taking on an otherworldlyWindhand - Windhand cover art presence thanks to the riffs, melodies and lumber of the rhythm — and indeed, to Cottrell‘s vocals.

It’s not that Windhand don’t have verses or choruses — every now and then, they land a zinger of a hook — but that’s never been the priority. Among the accomplishments of the self-titled was to set the atmosphere they would continue to develop afterward, to cast it so vividly and paint the world as deeply purple as the cover art. That commitment to ambience has been one of the most consistent factors of their sound, and as they’ve moved through signing to Relapse for the release of Soma (review here) and their split with Cough — whose Parker Chandler had (I’m pretty sure) by then already joined them on bass — in 2013, 2015’s Grief’s Infernal Flower (review here) and last year’s Eternal Return (review here), their style has never stopped progressing or growing, but that growth has come not at the expense of their murk, but to its refinement. Even as they touched on psychedelic grunge with the last album, Windhand‘s core, lung-crushing sonic oozing was as prevalent as ever.

Given the work they’ve put in on tour, the measure of influence they’ve had and their ongoing creative evolution, I have no qualms in calling them one of the best American doom acts of their generation. I think sometimes because they don’t beat their audience over the head with choruses and they’re not up there “selling it” on stage — though they tour hard and have for years at this point — they get forgotten about when people consider the league of acts like Pallbearer and whoever else. Gender, of course, has to be considered as well. But if Windhand have taken the longer, less marketing-ready route to notoriety, they’ve gotten there just the same, and one looks forward as much to their next studio work as to the next time they’ll come through and play live. They’ve refused to work not on their own terms and they’ve refused to compromise the essential components of their aesthetic even as they’ve pushed those into new territory and helped expand the boundaries of genre as a whole. What the hell else would you want for a magazine cover?

Windhand‘s self-titled — five tracks, 42 minutes, one great overarching plunge — probably isn’t their greatest sonic achievement to-date. Once Chandler joined the band and they really solidified the lineup they began to develop something really special through Soma and the subsequent offerings, and even as they’ve become a four-piece, Eternal Return has kept that thread going. But it’s the fact that it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think their next album will be even better that really emphasizes the level of achievement at which they work. They’ve been a band for over a decade, and in that time, they’ve established a pattern for finding their own way through their own songs, not so much guiding the listener through to safety, but leading down an overgrown and harrowing path that only seems to get deeper as it goes. What their ultimate story will be remains to be seen, but Windhand was the beginning of it, preceded just by a 2010 demo, and a crucial moment of arrival for and band who’ve only proved more and more necessary with time.

As always, I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.

So yesterday was the Fourth of July. America puts immigrants in camps. We steal children from their moms. We were founded on the backs of slaves and continue to pay women less for equal work. Also, apparently endless war.

I was in bed before the fireworks were on tv last night. I didn’t even make it to the end of the baseball game. We’re at the beach in CT and the next-door neighbor took it upon himself to play reggae for eight hours straight through his $20,000 outdoor speaker system. Which is a long way of saying he’s a fucking asshole and should get hit by a train.

Quarterly Review wraps up Monday.

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio is a repeat today, but it’s still on at 1PM Eastern, so please check it out if you can: http://gimmeradio.com.

The rest is blah blah blah, and as Captain Kirk once said, “No more blah blah blah.”

Have a great and safe weekend. Forum, Radio, merch at Dropout.

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