Windhand, the band that should need no introduction to the readers who frequent this site, recently embarked on a tour in Europe. For those of you who have an opportunity to catch them, I would make damn sure you make good on it. Prior to their latest journey of low-end drugged-out riffs was an American tour that lasted about a month. I was fortunate enough to attend some of these sonic rituals and they were some shows that I won’t soon forget.
It was my first time at St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, New York and only my second time ever being in New York City. St. Vitus, the venue, is something of a rarity because it’s a very niche place. First off, the name says it all; it’s dark inside with a decidedly sinister ambiance – all black. Sort of reminds me of an American variation on the legendary black metal shop/hangout Helvete in Oslo, albeit not as dangerously serious or fervently exclusive. Unlike many venues that host multiple genres, St. Vitus cater to the heavy.
This show sold out and it was obvious by the time Windhand began setting up their massive wall of sound. I’ve seen this band many times but as soon as they begin setting up that feeling of anticipation always comes back. The first show that I ever went to gave me a feeling of excitement seeing the band lug their equipment to the stage, set up, plug in and begin the soundcheck. I honestly can’t recall with any degree of certainty what my very first show was but there’s something about hearing the feedback that results when the switch is flipped and electricity introduces guitar to amplifier.
As the first low rumbles of the bass and guitars reared their ugly heads indicating the music was about to commence, a steady herd of people filled into the back room where the stage is. It’s a second nature type of thing at shows like this, no one comes up to the stage to announce anything – the instruments do that. Everyone’s ready, the incense is lit and Dorthia takes the stage and with little to no prompting nonchalantly states, “We’re Windhand”. A few seconds of silence, except for the airy buzz of the massive stacks, is broken with a deluge of raw sound. The show has begun. Immediately, like it was all choreographed, the heads of everyone in the crowd begin to bow along with thick syrupy riffs. Just like their new record ‘Soma’, they start off with ‘Orchard’. Already these songs have character as if they’ve been out for years. Dorthia’s voice is so intertwined within the music that she is more of an instrument than merely the singer. I’ve heard other people say this about Windhand as well and it’s something rather unique to come across. For a band that’s got followers all over the world they remain very humble and very heavy, none of them are ostentatious on or off the stage (except for Ryan, I would recognize that laugh anywhere!). Dorthia is never static and at times sings with her back to the audience. I don’t read much into that other than this is just her style as everyone has a different way of doing things. Asechiah and Garret provide the sonic haze of guitar while Parker, from the severely heavy monolith that is Cough, guides the lumbering bass to the deepest and darkest fathoms. Rounding out this mammoth is Ryan pounding out the drums that lay the foundation for what you see before you.
As the show progresses crawling along from one song to the next, the mass of people seem to be entranced in the experience. No one is talking; the sheer volume makes this form of interaction impossible. I noticed one person making a feeble attempt to say something to a friend only inches away who just responded with a hand gesture that basically said, “Sorry man, I have NO idea what you’re saying. I can’t hear a god damned thing.” I shot this show with my video camera and tried the best I could to make sure the audio levels were not in the red and looking at the audio meter I thought I was doing a good job. When I got home I found out that the audio did come through, but with a permanent buzz that I couldn’t get rid of, it was just so heavy that the mic I was using simply could not handle the weight.
The show moved on until they reached their last song. ‘Cassock’, a dirge that I’ve been enamored with ever since I saw them play it for the first time at Strange Matter in Richmond, is a mid-tempo behemoth of a song. As ‘Cassock’ is from the new record it was probably the first time hearing it for many at the show. The riff in this song is just so foreboding and sinister. As the bass rumbles and makes its way to the surface to eventually break through the blanket of feedback, the drumming picks up momentum and again everyone in the crowd braces for the impending flood walls to open once again.
Seeing this band live puts me into another state of mind, sort of like an aural acid trip I suppose. About halfway through ‘Cassock’ is when the feeling of transcendence really begins and it happens every time. I can’t explain it other than by saying the elements of volume, feedback, distortion, bass and tone bellowing from the fortress of massive tube amplifiers must transport me to an alternate level of consciousness. Eventually it comes the point in the song where it slows down to more of a slug’s pace – you think it’s ending, but not yet. Figuratively speaking, this is where the blotter starts to kick in and this is where things get hazy and perhaps a bit out of control. The affect it has on people varies. The guy next to me seemed to be having a mild freakout. We were leaning right against the front of the stage and I noticed that he was pummeling the floor with his fists. Upon closer inspection I could see that his knuckles were raw and bloody. The song lumbers on like a giant prehistoric land mammal and one by one the riders get off. Dorthia has now stopped singing and before long Asechiah will bow out leaving Garret, Parker and Ryan to guide this giant. This is where the trip takes on a life of its own. I can only think of film footage I’ve seen of legends like Jimi or Pete because I’m not old enough to remember these things firsthand. Garret shoves his guitar into the stack in all matter of ways producing the metallic shrieks and squelches, in the process nearly knocking the tower of sound over. Physically attacking the amp stack may be violence in its most basic form but it’s not malicious in nature. A primal reaction wrought with emotion brought on by this otherworldly tone is my theory. The swirling feedback subsides, and then there were two. Parker slowly plucks the bass along to the now stumbling drumming until finally the beast comes to rest. The airy buzz of the massive stacks is now all that can be heard once again. The ritual has concluded and in a daze, as if coming out of a drug-induced state, the audience returns to earth.
The new record is one heavy piece of slag and if you dig this music then of course get this record but if given the chance to attend a Windhand show you must take it. It’s one heavy experience.
Scribed, Photos & Video by: Jordan Vance