Much of personal significance has happened to the members of Virginia Doom troupe Windhand since third album Grief’s Infernal Flower (Relapse) dropped in 2015: the resignation of co-founder and guitarist Asechiah Bogdan, after which the band has remained a quartet; the death of a friend close to the band; and the birth of guitarist Garrett Morris’ child. Given the joy and despair surrounding such events, it’s understandable the new full-length Eternal Return (Relapse) is a different beast from the droning sound usually expected.
The crushing heaviness is still here: the first titanic chords of opener ‘Halcyon’ assure us of that. Even Dorthia Cottrell’s hypnotic sigh, though more melodic than usual, is still in evidence. There’s a quickening of pace, however, a lightness if you will, dictated by the phenomenal rhythm section and Morris’ mournful yet enlivening solo. ‘Grey Garden’ follows a similar template, a wistful lament given air by Cottrell’s lazy, mellifluous tones and the brutal bucking of drummer Ryan Wolfe’s irresistible rhythm. The mid-section is dreamy yet melancholic, sandwiched between more wondrous riffs and leadwork.
‘Pilgrim’s Rest’ is an electrified harking to Cottrell’s acoustic solo outings. A gentle, Country-infused lament, slow of pace, with delicious overlaid harmonies and tender howls from the guitar. ‘First To Die’ brings back the colossal, grinding riff, the track an aural equivalent of a swaying body unleashing a sashaying gypsy skirt with rocks in the hem. Here is the epitome of Windhand: a repetitive sound that could easily get lost in the world of Morpheus yet skips along the planet’s surface with a laconic groove and a siren’s call, a female-led Electric Wizard with Grunge tendencies.
‘Light Into Dark’ is a brief interlude of squalling, swelling guitar pedals, underscored by Parker Chandler’s plum pudding bassline and a gently pummelling beat which segues into ‘Red Cloud’: a wicked Groove monster with bewitching harmonies. The eleven-minute ‘Eyeshine’ begins in delightfully sinister fashion: a riff from the Iommi handbook crawling through the sludge, dragged like a sarsen stone by that resonant rhythm, with Cottrell’s eerie wail both a juxtaposition and a relief. There’s a return to an otherworldly trance with ‘Diablerie’, reminiscent of Nirvana’s groovy moments before the album closes with a further nod to Americana in the form of ‘Feather’, a delicate incantation preceding an explosive riff which blasts the track into fizzing, murky life.
The album cover seemingly depicts Ophelia debating her plunge into darkness. It is often said that conflict is the penultimate torture for those beset by such demons yet Windhand has somehow created light whilst highlighting the tragedy of life’s battles. In doing so they have created arguably the most diverse, contradictory and involving album of their career.