For a band’s promotional blurb to claim that the album you are about to listen to is, on its surface, a “top 5 of all time doom record” you cannot help but feel a sense of cynicism and label hyperbole creeping in. When the band in question is Richmond, Virginia’s Windhand, a band who on previous releases have not strayed far from Electric Wizard’s fuzzed out approach to Black Sabbath’s mammoth back catalogue, you’ve got to ask yourself – does Soma really deserve such high praise?
The band kick in with opener ‘Orchard’, solid riffage and feedback collide together with Ryan Wolfe’s pounding drums that join at a tangent before the band lock into a solid hook-filled groove. Enter Dorthia Cottrell’s vocals, floating over the dual guitars of Asechiah Bogdan and Garrett Morris, before they are replaced with a fuzz-wah solo supported by the tight rhythm section of Parker Chandler’s bass and Wolfe’s elaborate drumming, something that holds solid throughout the entire album. In terms of tone, the familiar tube-driven fuzz closely associated with the stoner/doom genre is here in spades, opening up to warm feedback before the entrance of ‘Woodbine’.
The second track has an immediate impact, with Cottrell’s vocals pushed to the fore-front. There is a more obvious verse/chorus pattern at play here, and again the vocals drop out to a guitar solo after the second chorus as the rest of the band hold steady, giving the leads room to breathe. Dopethronian feedback and single guitar riffage swells until the band kick into a riff reminiscent of said album which carries the song to a familiar end.
Next song ‘Feral Bones’ begins with some colossal drums and dirty guitar, producing a riff of less groove but more weight than the previous two, meandering through a riff structure more akin to Pallbearer, the vocal lend the song more of an Acid King-type quality, a much needed change of pace and avoiding another tribute to the first two song’s obvious influences. That’s not saying Windhand are completely derivative in their pursuits, but as Soma stands at over an hour in length, a change in style helps keep the attention focused.
Given that the next track (‘Evergreen’) is an acoustic number, allowing Cottrell’s voice to be clearly heard away from the walls of fuzz and highlights the obvious talent there, it seems the band realised the listener needed a palette-cleanser of sorts, but respite for the senses is short as the band launch into ‘Cassock’; 14 minutes worth of riffage firmly back in the Wizard mold. A tom thumping build up breaks down into solid beats and fills, dwelling under another cyclopean riff, one that gives fits and spurts of chorus before falling back into the original Sleep aping Sabbath drawl. Solos drift in, intertwined between vocals, and the song follows a familiar pattern of verse and chorus laid down by ‘Orchard’ and ‘Woodbine’, until the halfway point, where Windhand drop the pace and the strong vocal performance really begins driving the song. Atmosphere swelling, the guitars start to build and the drums are given room to develop and carry the song to the end.
After close to 45 minutes you’d forgive a band finishing with what could be considered a solid final track in ‘Cassock’, but no, Windhand are not that band. Album closer ‘Boleskin’ is a murky, windblown 30 minutes and 30 seconds, beginning with acoustic guitar and samples that conjure the desolate image adorning the album cover, ‘Boleskin’ gives way to a simple, circular riff that repeats and repeats under miserable soloing and forlorn vocals keeping attention until you realise a significant time has passed. The electric guitars drop out, replaced by more acoustic and the song builds again, until finally dropping to its knees, crawling to its inevitable conclusion.
Do Windhand deserve such high praise? Praise indeed should be given for a fine album that builds from a solid beginning towards an impressive end, but to rank it within the top 5 doom albums is pure hyperbole. Although Windhand very clearly worship at the altar of Dorset’s finest, they hold a few extra tricks up their sleeve. While a lot of bands would have been happy to churn out the standard stoner/doom tracks to muted acclaim, Soma shows a band that are able to take their influences and build something of their own. One of the Top 5 doom albums this year? I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a few people’s lists come January.
Scribed by: John McNulty