Windhand is the bane of those cursed with ADD. They write long, glacially slow, minimalist doom songs with little variation or tempo shifts. Their songwriting approach is mostly limited to unearthing one mammoth riff and beating you with it for anywhere from six to fourteen minutes without respite, mercy or bathroom breaks. This modality makes them spiritual kin to Electric Wizard, and that band’s penchant for slow speed neural battery informs pretty much everything Windhand does. I found their 2013 Soma opus a pretty tough biscuit to chew, and with such sparse, hard to love arrangements and excessively drawn out lengths, even my steely attention span eventually decamped to moss peep and navel gaze. Grief’s Infernal Flower doesn’t really depart from this abusive approach, but it does find the band stretching their snail wings ever so slightly, shortening some songs, increasing the energy and urgency and toying with sad acoustic pieces. This gives the listener a more diverse musical palette to hang their attention on, and Steel appreciates such benevolence.
You wouldn’t know things had changed at all from opener “Two Urns,” which picks up right where Soma left off and shellacs you for eight long minutes with one big riff as Dorthia Cottrell chants from her hiding place deep below the fuzzed-out riffs. At first the simplicity of the song works and drags you in with its Saint Vitus meets Electric Wizard heaviness, but as they are wont to do, they drag things out past the expiration date and before too long, the riff you enjoyed becomes an irritant. If this was a five-minute tune, it would rate much higher. The same malady infects “Forest Clouds” and despite some interesting guitar-work it just rambles on too long repeating too few ideas.
Shorter songs like “Crypt Key” fare much better and feel more lively with a strong hippie-dippie 60s vibe in the chant-like vocals. Better still is “Sparrow” which is a simple acoustic song not far from the recent Wino albums and Dorthia sounds great in this kind of stripped down setting. “Hyperion” is another sharp number with a very occulty, Jex Thoth atmosphere and some captivating vocals.
And then the intrinsic riddles of the album arrive with back-to-back fourteen minute behemoths “Hesperus” and “Kingfisher.” While as long-winded as a Catholic mass circa 1520 A.D., both songs actually work pretty well and keep the listener roped in and on task. The former features loads of classic Dave Chandler (Saint Vitus) fuzztastic whammy bar abuse and the music is just lively enough to entertain. The latter is better still, conjuring the charm of old Pentagram while unleashing Dorthia from her usual chant-repeat routines. Sure, they could have sliced two or four minutes off the droning back sections of both songs, but they still work way better than the previous doom marathons they penned. And the relative success of these monolithic ditties makes me wonder if they’ve finally hit upon a sweet spot in their writing that can be developed into something special next time. Here’s to hoping.
The sound is muddy, but that was likely intentional and the guitars do their job and oppress you mercilessly. The bigger issue is the sheer length of the album at an hour and ten minutes. That’s a lot of dirge for the average music lover to plod and slog through. Still, much of what they offer here is worthwhile, so to the patient goes the rewards and traumas.
The Windhand experience is two parts crushing riff work by Aeschiah Bogdan and Garrett Morris and one part hypnotic chants by Dorthia. Guitar-wise they manage to craft better leads this time out and though they do overuse them, these particular riffs age better. The plethora of trippy, stoned out of your mind solos are always a delight and I’m sure they’re even more fun when pharmacology is involved (not that it ever should be, mind you). Likewise, Dorthia is a boon this time, doing more with her voice and trying different things. She still goes for that hypnotic, zombie-like drone too often, but she sounds more energetic and interesting than on Soma and that aids the songs a lot. It also helps that she isn’t quite as buried in the mix this time out.
Grief’s Infernal Flower is much more listenable than Soma, and it feels like this may be the band’s gateway to something bigger and more engaging in the future. It still has its share of issues and the ADD crowd should probably give it a wide berth, but there’s something going on here that feels like fruitful evolution. Come for the extended beatings, but stay for the interestingly trippy doom.