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Windhand: Eternal Return Album Review

Posted on July 30, 2018 by Abdi
82 out of 100 based on 693 user ratings
Windhand: Eternal Return Album Review

Windhand do not do fancy. During their productive first decade, the Richmond quartet burrowed fully into the doom-metal form, mining its long riffs and splintering rhythms for a steel-clad series of three albums and two excellent splits. Their specialties have forever been their subgenre’s staples—lumbering anthems with hypnotic hooks, pummeling jams with spooky underpinnings, haunting acoustic beauties with defiant melodies. Aside from the crisscrossing harmonies of rugged guitars, flirtations with field-recorded preambles, and one half-hour epic best dismissed as a rite of passage, Windhand have kept their sound streamlined. No electronic abstraction or multi-tracked drum militias, no ostentatious guests or audacious operatic themes: Windhand have never taken the bait of experimentalism or willful eccentricity. At their best, as with 2015’s Grief’s Infernal Flower, they have simply been the powerful platform for the soul blues of Dorthia Cottrell, one of the most persuasive metal singers to emerge this decade.

On the unrepentant Eternal Return, Windhand peel away even more layers and complications, getting closer to a core of grunge and psych rock than their doom orthodoxy has ever allowed. Their fourth album, Eternal Return is Windhand’s first full-length since splitting with cofounding guitarist Asechiah Bogdan. The personnel change appears not in the way these songs sound, per se. The guitars are again omnipresent and enormous, with Garrett Morris doubling his parts, taking lengthy solos over his own riffs, and giving bassist Parker Chandler more melodic space in the mix. The rhythm section remains righteously heavy, dueling with the density overhead. And Cottrell is still the star, as convincing inside the bleary drift of “Grey Garden” as she is above the sermon-sized zeal of “Eyeshine.”

The songs themselves, though, suggest a Windhand more comfortable with itself, unashamed to show the frame beneath that lingering doom bulwark. Both “Red Cloud” and “Halcyon” sound like Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. slowed by viscosity, the band’s weight pushing back against Cottrell’s voice with a Sisyphean relentlessness. There’s a new openness and sense of exploration here, too, as evident on the spellbinding psych exit of “Halcyon” as on the brief but terrific “Light Into the Dark,” where Windhand pursue the instrumental heights of Earthless. “Pilgrim’s Rest” is the best and most developed ballad of Windhand’s career. Supported by a sympathetic pulse and shrouded by fluorescent electric hum, the song benefits from the full-band treatment, becoming more than the afterthought or interlude between heavyweight bouts its predecessors have been. Backed by her own harmonies, Cottrell ponders the ways innocence can curdle into ugliness, how even our children are destined to submit to or stare down the world’s cruelties. Cottrell’s often been great on Windhand’s quiet songs, but she’s never sounded like such a convincing rock bandleader.

All these threads—the psych, the grunge, the doom, the ballads—converge for the finale, “Feather.” Windhand begin with four minutes of strummed chords and plaintive vocals, framing a feeling of suppressed grievance and conjuring the same potency as Nirvana or Stone Temple Pilots while saddled onto MTV’s “Unplugged” stage. It’s not hard to imagine this as a potential hit of that era, either. But the song steps decisively into a span of monolithic doom, all marching drums and arching guitar. Cottrell moves in and out of the fray, the ghost-story narrator temporarily lighting the dark. The song triples in length, making this Windhand’s real moment of excess on Eternal Return and a telling reminder of how elemental and concise they otherwise are. End to end, it is riveting.

Windhand wrote Eternal Return after a close friend died and after Morris became a new father. (Speaking of field-recorded preambles, that’s his son’s prenatal heartbeat at the record’s start.) That cyclical nature and the polarity of our experience shape the line that secretly winds through Cottrell’s lyrics here, whether she is mapping the route between purity and pain on “Pilgrim’s Rest” or setting the price tag of life as death on “First to Die.” And during “Grey Garden,” arguably the masterpiece of the band’s four albums, she pushes past the enormous guitars to capture the razor-edge essence of existence. She’s waiting for a pot of flowers to bloom in the spring before deciding how to handle them: “If they’re going to die, I won’t do anything.” The same tension between ends and beginnings that animates so much of Eternal Return also propels Windhand. They took their most significant lineup shift ever as an invitation to turn not outward, for new influences and sounds, but inward, exploring their own four-part interplay and their doom fundamentals—nothing fancier, then, than another Windhand benchmark.