Windhand is like the next door neighbor who walks around his front yard in tidy whities whilst swigging from a can of Rheingold ®. You want to like him, but he makes it really tough. As purveyors of super fuzzed-out, monolithic stoner doom, they’re often mentioned in the same breath as Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats; likely due to the groovy, 60s/70s style vocals they utilize. However, where Uncle Acid writes relatively short, hooky doom-rock anthems, Windhand opts for huge, laboriously slow, long-winded odes to mammoth distortion similar to Electric Wizard and Dopesmoker-era Sleep. Their sophomore album Soma is 75 minutes of ponderous, tooth-rattling Sabbath riffs slowed to a dead snail’s pace and each song is an extended exercise in dronation, elongation and attention deficit failure. While certainly heavy, this seemingly wood-themed album is often as interesting as its inanimate subject matter while being devoid of anything the listener can hang onto as the endless waves of monotonous riffs sweep them downstream to the moss peepery. I’m not sure if the “Soma” in the title refers to the drug-induced lethargy known as a “soma coma” in Aldous Huxley’s sci-fi masterpiece Brave New World, but this certainly has a similar effect and that isn’t a good thing.
Once you’ve heard a minute or two of opener “Orchard,” you know the entirety of the Windhand playbook. Big, oversized riffs fuzzier than a pencil troll’s hair; muffled, buried drums and the equally submerged singing of Dorthia Cottrell. At least “Orchard” is a somewhat gentle introduction to their approach with vague hints of old Pentagram and Saint Vitus. It also ends just before the two main riffs grow too tedious, which is a mercy not offered again as tracks like “Woodbine” run on far too long to sustain the few ideas and decent riffs therein (though I dig the hippie/Woodstock vibe of the vocals).
In an overt attempt to make you feel more oppressed than Pussy Riot, they attack with the nearly 14 minutes of mostly do-nothing drone dubbed “Cassock” before slobberknocking survivors with the 30 plus minutes of “Boleskin.” (yes, 30 minutes in real-time). To be blunt, 30 minutes is too long for almost any type of metal and you’re out on a very unstable limb when you dare this type of length. Hell, I’ve had meaningful and rewarding relationships which didn’t last that long! It doesn’t help when it’s 30 minutes of essentially the same dirge riff over and over ad nauseam with almost no variation or tempo shift (random doses of feedback don’t count). It ends with three minutes of wind effects, which is roughly as interesting as the 27 minutes preceding it.
Of the bunch, only the stripped-down acoustic hippie ballad “Evergreen” left a lasting impression and I’m quite taken with its odd, tranquil lilt which reminds me of Hexvessel. Dorthia sounds fragile and emotional and the song just floats along in its own little happy cloud, in no hurry to find the pot of Kush and granola at the end of the stoner rainbow.
Since this is the ultimate in “guitars over all else” kind of album, you’d think Asechiah Bogdan and Garrett Morris would have invested more thought in the riffs. On most of the songs, they just bang away with the same basic idea and the riffs go BWAH, BWAH, BWAH forever. That’s what makes most of this stuff so damn tedious and why they lose me. And it’s not like they craft a killer lead and just over-extend it. Instead, they toss out mind-numbingly simple lines and hammer them until the cows come home. Dorthia tries to provide an ear-catching counter-point with her Mommas & Poppas style crooning and it can be hypnotic, but more often than not, her vocals become as tedious as the riffs and the whole thing crawls up its own ass to die. She has an interesting voice, but it only shines on “Evergreen,” which is a total outlier.
The production also leaves something to be desired. While the guitar tone is seriously huge and massively distorted like on the old Saint Vitus albums, its mixed so prominently and so thick that the drums and the vocals sound like they’re coming from a pocket radio at the end of a long hallway. The guitars and bass rattle my speakers in a bad way and things are just too soupy and muddled (I’m sure the guys at Metal-Fi are shaking their fists at this thing as I write this).
If I was jacked up on Molly and magic mushrooms dipped in angel dust, I’m sure I’d feel differently about Soma. I’d also have a bathtub full of dead bodies and gourmet cheese, but I promised the local authorities I wouldn’t revisit such hobbies. I surely love the guitar sound and appreciate what they’re going for, but I need more from my doom than just weight and repetition. Only diehard stoner doom/drone enthusiasts need apply.