The fourth song on Soma, the new album from the Richmond, Virginia doom metal band Windhand, is a quiet psych-folk lullaby called “Evergreen.” It’s a stark and sad and pretty song, one that approaches the whispery majesty of what the Philly drone-folk band Espers was doing a decade ago, and it positively drips with dark atmosphere. You can hear fingers squeaking on acoustic guitar songs all through the song, and singer Dorthia Cottrell seems to be singing along with herself in multitracked harmony, wailing astral incantations like she’s mourning the death of the world. Because Windhand is, after all, a Virginia doom metal band, and because they can be just blisteringly loud when they want to be, you keep waiting for the hammer to drop, for the first fuzzed-to-death guitar note to thunder its way into the song. It never happens. The song sprawls on for seven minutes, never breaking its own spell, casting shadows on the wall of your soul the whole time. Things only get loud when the song is over — and then, when that happens, they get loud.
You need to be in the right frame of mind to listen to Soma. Windhand, you see, are not a band in a hurry. At seven minutes, “Evergreen” just misses being the shortest song on the album, and the longest, the torrential closer “Boleskine,” inches past half an hour. To properly experience the album, you need to turn off some lights, burn some incense, stare deep into the pit of your being, and just fucking get into it. It’s a heavy album in a way that metal is rarely heavy. It’s not music as power-fantasy, and it doesn’t give any adrenaline jolt, even when it’s at its most punishing. Instead, it’s music for sinking onto your rug and pondering the enormity of the universe. Windhand take their time building up to climactic, raging moments, and when they get to those moments, there’s usually a lot going on: shattering drum fills, screaming guitar solos, Cottrell going full sorcerer. Even there, though, there tends to be a slow and simple space-rock pulse that fills the track up, keeps it elemental and unsparing. All the theatrics stay buried deep in the mix, like they’re fighting to get out.
Windhand tend not to write songs with anything as simple or recognizable as verses and choruses, but they do have a certain structure working for them. “Boleskine,” for instance, opens with whistling-wind sound effects and subdued acoustic guitars, the distortion waiting a few minutes to kick in, and many more minutes to build to its first blazing apex. Someone in the band, I’d wager, has spent a fair amount of time zoning out to Godspeed You! Black Emperor and figuring out how to use that same patient build in a stoner-metal rager. And the band always takes care to find melody in what its doing rather than just blasting you with all-out power. Even dead in the middle of “Boleskine,” there’s a campfire-folk simplicity to what Cottrell is singing. In a way, Soma is something like what might happen if Black Mountain dropped all restraint and just riffed on into infinity.
If you don’t think you have the patience for a half-hour fuzz-metal opus, I sympathize; I usually don’t, either. But that melody is important, and it sets Windhand apart from so many of their peers. A couple of other things make a huge difference, too. First, there’s Cottrell. Female bandleaders are rare in metal, but they’re not quite as rare as bandleaders who can sing, and Cottrell is both. She never attempts the old Cookie Monster roar or the pitched-up variant you hear in crust-punk bands the whole time. Instead, she’s got this open-throated keening moan that can, from time to time, raise goosebumps. Occasionally, you’ll hear bits of soul-music grit in that voice, but for the most part, she sings over these vast and violent songs like a heavy-lidded folksinger. And that decision means these songs tingle when they could just pound you down. And the other thing that matters is, I think, the band’s Southern homebase. With Windhand, as with so many other Southern metal bands, there’s always a bit of melodic swamp-blues push-pull at work, even when the music is raging as hard as it possibly can. That means the solos aren’t just empty displays of technical fury. Instead, they stay rooted in some classic-rock lava-lamp simplicity.
Our own Michael has already repeatedly extolled this band. He’s a real metal guy, and you should listen to him. But even if you aren’t a metal guy — and I’m not, not really — you should know that Windhand keep their rumble warm and inviting. You should also know that this rumble will absolutely hypnotize you if you let it.
Soma is out now on Relapse. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out today:
• MGMT’s zonked-out, happily hermetic self-titled album.
• Carcass’s triumphant, long-awaited reunion Surgical Steel.
• Bill Callahan’s minimal, contented Dream River.
• Elvis Costello and the Roots’ surprising, groove-heavy team-up Wise Up Ghost.
• The Dirtbombs’ badass bubblegum experiment Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey.
• Sebadoh’s heavy-hearted, homespun reunion LP Defend Yourself.
• Potty Mouth’s jangly, fiery debut Hell Bent.
• Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band’s collab-heavy Take Me To The Land Of Hell.
• Islands’ art-pop trip Ski Mask.
• Mark Lanegan’s wizened covers album Imitations.
• Crystal Stilts’ morosely psychedelic Nature Noir.
• Keep Shelly In Athens’s warm, emotive dance album At Home.
• Blouse’s gauzy, nostalgic Imperium.
• LAKE’s approachable indie-popper The World Is Real.
• Former Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong’s solo venture Mediation Of Estactic Energy.
• Arp’s elegantly synthy psych-popper MORE.
• Kal Marks’s anxious DIY debut Life Is Murder.
• Pinkish Black’s dark blurt Razed To The Ground.
• Grave Miasma’s old-school death metal assault Odori Sepulcrorum.
• Sub Rosa’s doom churn More Constant Than The Gods.
• Wolvserpent’s dark, droning sophomore effort Perigaea Antahkarana.
• WHY?’s fan-stalking Golden Tickets EP.
• HSY’s self-titled noise-punk debut EP.
• Grave’s Swedish death metal EP Morbid Ascent.