Windhand, Eternal Return: Chiaroscuro

windhand eternal return

A quick search through the album announcement and tour press releases thus far for Windhand‘s Eternal Return shows that, from either the label or the Richmond, Virginia, natives themselves, the word “doom” appears zero times. Listening to the nine-song/62-minute offering, that hardly feels like a coincidence. Instead, Eternal Return — which stands as Windhand‘s fourth album behind 2015’s Grief’s Infernal Flower (review here), their 2013 Relapse Records debut, Soma (review here), and their 2012 self-titled debut (streamed here) — has been positioned amid heavy psychedelia and seen highlighted an influence from ’90s alternative and grunge rock. Fair. There are definitely some of those elements at work tonally and in the songwriting, but as the group renews its collaboration with producer Jack Endino, who also recorded Grief’s Infernal Flower, and sees further continuity in Eternal Return‘s Arik Roper cover art, there’s still plenty of doom to the proceedings in songs like “First to Die,” “Eyeshine,” in which vocalist Dorthia Cottrell delivers the album’s title line, and “Red Cloud,” which nonetheless stands among the faster pieces here.

The tones of Garrett Morris and Parker Chandler are still molasses thick, and drummer Ryan Wolfe still pushes the atmospheric murk forward with consistent and creative rhythm. But there is a change as well. Between Grief’s Infernal Flower and Eternal ReturnWindhand have gone from a five- to a four-piece, losing guitarist Asechiah Bogdan. I don’t know how much Bogdan (also formerly of Alabama Thunderpussy) was involved in the songwriting for Windhand, but even if he wasn’t really at all, a change in dynamic is to be expected with any shift in lineup on the part of a given group, and that might be what’s happening with Windhand as different influences come to the surface. Certainly if the band were “bored” of doom, that would be well enough earned — it’s ground they’ve well covered across their three prior full-lengths and other releases like their earlier 2018 split with tourmates Satan’s Satyrs (discussed here) — and Eternal Return does on the whole play to the psychedelic aspects of their sound, but it’s not as if those aspects are appearing out of nowhere. Windhand‘s otherworldly sensibility has been there all along. It’s part of what’s stood them out from their early influences and helped define them stylistically.

Okay. But to listen to “Grey Garden” (video posted here), or even the eight-minute opener “Halcyon” that directly precedes it, there’s definitely something different happening. And the positioning is correct: it’s derived from grunge. Generationally speaking, the genre feels like fair enough game, and in “Red Cloud,” the mellow acoustic-led “Pilgrim’s Rest” and especially in closer “Feather,” in Cottrell‘s vocals and in the rhythmic lurch, there’s a reinterpretation of early ’90s aesthetics happening, but the key there is it’s reinterpretation. Windhand aren’t simply donning a flannel and tucking their jeans into their Doc Martens — they’re taking the influence of grunge and working it into their own sonic context, just as they’ve always done with their influences. The penultimate “Diablerie” (video posted here) shows this integration well and offers a fair summary of all sides that Eternal Return has on offer. Its leads are clean and shine through the low-end murk surrounding with a particularly spacious shimmer, Cottrell‘s voice leads the way through a resonant, said-as-plainly-as-possible hook with some subtly layered-in harmonies, and the overarching groove is fluid en route to a jangly finish that leads the way into “Feather.”


And though it’s relatively buried with 50 minutes of densely-weighted material before it and positioned way down at the end of side D, “Feather” is the truly standout moment on Eternal Return in terms of stylistic progression. It seems to follow directly the lead-in that “Diablerie” gives it, with a hard-strummed guitar line tapping into that particular downerism before a Cantrell-esque lead line enters the mix. Nirvana have been a strong presence throughout, but as “Feather” dips into minimalist atmospherics about four and a half minutes through its total 13, ahead of the full-tonal kick to come, it sets up a middle section of the track that seems especially geared toward Alice in Chains, with Cottrell playing both the Staley and Cantrell roles vocally, self-harmonizing over a lumbering riff. Though the track grows more mournful as it proceeds toward a long-fading noisy washout, I’d gladly argue that midpoint as the culmination of Windhand‘s expansion of style on Eternal Return, and it shows not only how far they’ve come — spoiler: they’ve come pretty far — but how far they can still go should they desire to do so.

And really, that’s the main question as regards Eternal Return: Cool, you can do this? How far are you going to take it? Invariably that’s not something that can be answered at this point or within the next album cycle or even two should they get there, but while the band got their start a decade ago, one of the steadiest aspects of their work has been the fact that it has always seemed to lead one to look ahead to what’s coming next, and in that regard, Eternal Return feels all the more transitional. With the change in lineup behind them and a thus-far busy tour schedule ahead, what will come of Windhand‘s foray into grunge and their retipping the balance toward psychedelia? Will their next album still have the same kind of bottom end one hears in the plodding “First to Die,” or is the swirling centerpiece interlude “Light into Dark” a tell for a continuing shift underway that will make them less immediately recognizable to their fanbase?

Because, if nothing else, Windhand are that, and it’s to their credit how much they’ve taken their early influences from the likes of Black SabbathElectric Wizard, etc., and internalized and reshaped them into an identity of their own. That’s never been more the case than it is on Eternal Return, but Windhand don’t sound like they’re finished coming into their own, and ultimately, this record may prove over the longer term to be as much departure as it is an arrival. If that’s the case, so be it. For the moment, these songs legitimately push Windhand onto new ground and move them into a niche all the more their own. There’s still doom in the heart of their sound, but increasingly, they’re defining for themselves just what that means and how it manifests.

Windhand, “Diablerie”

Windhand, “Grey Garden” official video

Windhand on Thee Facebooks

Windhand on Instagram

Windhand on Bandcamp

Relapse Records website

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4 Responses to “Windhand, Eternal Return: Chiaroscuro”

  1. Mr Moonlight says:

    I totally agree with that, I’ld just like to add that the album is dedicated to Jon Rossi from Pilgrim and that the lyrics, tell me if i’m wrong (my english isn’t perfect), are all centered on his life and passing. A definitely very strong album.
    (really like what you’re doing with The Obelisk, thanks)

    • JJ Koczan says:

      I don’t know whether or not that’s true about the lyrics, but even the dedication is a crucial bit of information that I didn’t receive with the digital promo of the album I got. Thank you for letting me know.

  2. Kevin says:

    FYI, you linked to the wrong bandcamp. Should be

  3. Tom From Maplewood says:

    I do not like grunge. None of it. But I like Windhand. This is a great album. Not as great as their earlier stuff, but still, an excellent 2xLP on mint green & baby blue splatter vinyl. And yet, I do not like grunge. Zero grunge for me, thanks. Zero. Go figure.

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