Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Windhand - Soma


In the dark, dank gloom of the British winter, it's only right that we gravitate to music that paints the same atmosphere. That music is doom and Windhand are tonight's purveyors. Hailing from Richmond (Virginia), Windhand have been playing together since 2010, when they self-released rehearsal space demo. Their first full-length was released in 2012 via the awesome Forcefield Records (Bastard Sapling, Cough, Inter Arma), which set the ball rolling...slowly! A split with label mates Cough followed shortly after via Relapse Records. Soma is their second full-length and due to it's release towards the end of last year, the band made it onto several end-of-year lists. It features six songs and contains over and hour and a quarter of oppressive doom.

Tracklist:-

1. Orchard
2. Woodbine
3. Feral Bones
4. Evergreen
5. Cassock
6. Boleskine

There are some bands that you never forget about hearing for the first time, Electric Wizard are one and you can add Windhand to that list. The heavy bass that heralds in opener Orchard is very similar to the Wizard’s approach. Dorthia’s sung clean vocals are a surprise at first but become soothing amongst the heavy instrumentation underneath. The fact that they also sit deeper in the mix, also helps build their atmosphere. It’s not all fear inducing lows though, with a drawn-out guitar solo at the mid-point that breaks up the song. Orchard is the kind of opener that draws you and prepares your for the journey to come.

Windhand’s groove becomes more apparent during Woodbine. There’s more melody in the vocals and the hypnotic riffs in the background are mesmeric. There’s more lengthy lead work in here as well, it sounds semi-improvised and fits in really well with the rest of the song. The latter part of Woodbine is utterly huge, with the some of the heaviest bass-ridden riffs I’ve heard in a while.  From there the sound gets heavier and thicker. Feral Bones is just that, feral! If it wasn’t for those vocals, you’d be slowly slipping into madness. It’s hauntingly beautiful at times but at others, suitably bleak. You can certainly hear why Relapse wanted to work with them, in all their downed glory. 

Operating in a sub-genre which has seen heavy growth over the last few years, it can be difficult to mark yourselves out as something different and worthy of peoples ears, but I think Windhand have achieved a lot with Soma. They’ve brought forth a mature and endearing sound that will appeal to more that just ardent doom fans, which isn’t an easy task when dealing with a blueprint so inherently misunderstood amongst non-doom fans. The haunting cavernous music, while creeping into the music of bands from other strains of metal, it can scare people away. No so the acoustic beauty of Evergreen though.  Evergreen brings a much needed ray of light to Soma and reminds you of folk music and even Fleetwood Mac’s slower moments. The swirling vocal melodies sound glorious, especially double-tracked. This is where Windhand come into their own and display an enigmatic ability to weave a song that strays from the doom comfort-zone of Soma and into more folk/country avenues, without losing any momentum. 

The peacefulness that surrounded you during Evergreen is abruptly banished by Cassock. This and the album’s closer Boleskine reach almost forty-five minutes in length, which is about the same as the previous four numbers on Soma. Cassock features swirling textures and even obvious tempo changes.Don’t worry though, the tempo does’t reach warp-speed nor does it even reach a mid-pace, but it is noticeable at times amongst the off-kilter rhythms that rumble through the song. It gets heavier and heavier around the ten-minute mark with swathes of bass and feedback flooding the ending and shaking everything around it. 

All that pales in comparison to mammoth closer Boleskine. It starts with the biting wind blowing through the speakers and the light acoustic guitar that graced Evergreen. When the riffs kick in you can’t help but pay attention, because their volume compared to slow-burn of the intro is impossible to ignore. The lead guitar is back with a really dark melody. The pace of this song seems to get slower and slower throughout it’s thirty minute playing time. The vocals add colour but the oppressiveness of the instrumentation keeps it all in check and ensures that it remains hellishly thick. In the early days of doom and psych, bands used to take substances to help the produce music like this and maybe I’m being naive, but it doesn’t strike me that Windhand did. I think they’re just writing and playing from the heart, letting the music walk it’s own course. That foresight and patience are the skills needed to write a truly spectacular album, one which sounds free from outside influence. 

You can lose yourself in Soma here:-


Soma is available to purchase digitally from Windhand's band camp page; however, there is also a link to the Relapse webstore, where you can buy the stunning purple/white double LP version (which is definitely should!).

Windhand Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/Windhand
Relapse Records Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords

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