The Virginia metal scene is quite impressive these days, launching a number of interesting acts into the metal consciousness. One of the bigger tickets is the monolithic stoner doom harnessed by Windhand. Led by the sultry vocals of Dorthia Cottrell, the band crafts monstrously oppressive odes to distortion and weight, taking plenty of inspiration from Saint Vitus and Electric Wizard. While their early works were very raw and unrefined, 2015s Grief’s Eternal Flower felt like a stepping stone to more cultured environs, polishing the rawness into something more hypnotic and enchanting. Eternal Return essentially picks up where Grief’s left off, trying to find that elusive sweet spot between oppressively heavy and catchy, but some nagging obstacles still hold Windhand back from taking that next big step.
The Windhand formula is a very basic one – hammer the listener with simple, heavily distorted riffs as Dorthia enchants with her seductive voice and simple vocal patterns, oft repeated. This works well on opener “Halcyon” which reeks of bong water and free love. You’re fresh to the record, open to what may come and the band plays on that like a conniving cult recruiter. You”ll be impressed by that huge guitar sound and Dorthia’s crooning, and buy in without much reflection. It’s around the 6 minute mark that the first misgivings begin to surface as things become more and more repetitious without new ideas presenting themselves.
This is the paradox of Windhand‘s approach. On shorter songs like “Grey Gardens” it works quite well, as the riffs are indeed solid, and Dorthia is a talented, betwitching siren. The vocal hooks dig deep, the groove is infectious, and things wrap up before you start looking at your watch. When the band stretches their template out further, as they do on the 11 minute “Eyeshine,” the returns diminish in direct proportion to the length. Tedium becomes the stalking horse, despite solid playing and compelling moments, especially on the 13-minute closing titan “Feather.” Even the shorter “First to Die” falls victim to musical malaise, starting off interestingly before becoming annoying due to heavy recycling of too few ideas. To my ears, the best moments occur when the band breaks from their tried-and-true pattern of writing, as they do on the quasi-country western ballad “Pilgrim’s Rest.” Here melancholy guitar strumming compliments Dorthia’s downcast but beautiful vocals and it’s hard not to love what they do. It’s almost like Messa with all the nuance and jazz club flavor stripped away.
Considering the Achilles’ heel of the band is too much recycling of too few ideas, they don’t do themselves any favors by opting for an hour-plus runtime. In fact, this magnifies the shortcomings in the band’s writing, making for an album that feels bloated and overlong. It’s a testament to their talent that Eternal Return still can be enjoyable despite these flaws, and indeed, there are many positive moments to keep the listener engaged.
Dorthia is the band’s best asset. Her earthy voice is very easy on the ears, cutting through the fuzzed out booming of the riffs and the ponderous plod of the rhythm section. Her delivery bears some resemblance to Jex Thoth, but she feels more raw and unpolished. Garrett Morris wields a deadly doom axe, churning out ginormous, distortion soaked riffs that sound like they escaped the 70s and spent the ensuing decades hiding in a dank, dark sub-basement. His playing channels a lot of Saint Vitus mastermind Dave Chandler’s style, living for feedback and 70s psychedelic noise.
Eternal Return is a funky, heavy, doom monster with some glaring flaws. The short, spry songs work far better than the long-form mammoths, which eventually get bogged down and pulled into the tar pits due to sheer repetition. I was hoping this would be another big step for the band, but they seem stuck in place by the limited scope of their writing palate. They’re going to need to use bigger, less predictable colors if they ever want to get their wheels out of the Virginia mud and onto bigger things. I’m pulling for them to do so.