Windhand: in danger of becoming a Sabbath clone, and a tired one at that

Windhand, self-titled, Forcefield Records, CDGRIMM25 (2012)

A sure sign that Windhand traffick in no-nonsense straight-ahead retro doom metal is the album cover of a rural scene in black silhouette, the branches of trees drawn in such a way as to suggest spidery fingers stretching outwards, against a purple background; this recalls Black Sabbath album covers of similar minimal two-toned design and a pastoral scene. The album is solemn riff-heavy doom with a powerful sound that contrasts with a clear high vocal, courtesy of one Dorthia Cottrell who is set somewhat far back in the mix so the lyrics are rather hard to make out unless the album is played very loudly.

“Black Candles” leads off with a slight ambient intro into the track proper which is mostly repetitive riff loop with a touch of echoing effect to give the song an occasional psychedelic feel. Although the riff is very strong, the song as a whole feels very enervated; the bland singing doesn’t enliven it much. Likewise, “Libusen” is steady-as-it-goes with a heavy riff that repeats over and over without much variation while Cottrell wails at close to the high end of her range far into the distance. It’s a graceful song, slow and majestic, and if it were a bit slower with more drawn-out droning tones and icy-cold space ambient effects, it would be an excellent song indeed.

“Heap Wolves” perks up with more melodic riffs and Cottrell’s siren vocals sounding off over the sinister roiling music and oily lead guitar. It’s clear that this lady is not only Windhand’s best asset but has the potential to be Queen Bee of female doom metal vocalists if the band can raise its profile higher among the US doom metal community and beyond; on all tracks, Cottrell commands attention even though her vocal range barely strays from the higher end and her style is basically a wailing one. If she can experiment with her style more and use the lower, deeper end of her vocal range on future songs, she is sure to go a very long way.

Individual songs are quite good without being outstanding but when put together, the album feels very tired for some reason. Part of the problem may be that Cottrell’s vocals are so far back in the mix in most songs and are so restricted in the range of sounds that for some listeners she can sound the same from one song to the next. The singing is bland and needs an injection of aggression to roughen up the tone now and again. Songs tend to be much the same in basic structure, all dependent on repeating riffs and time-keeping drums with the obligatory lead guitar solo; they rarely vary in pace and mood. There is a danger that Windhand will fall into the category of Sabbath clones of which there are far too many already. Outro track “Winter Sun” suggests in some instrumental parts that the musicians aren’t averse to improvising and playing about with their sound and upsetting people’s expectations of what a doom band should do. Some individual members in the band have talent that should be stretched a lot further.

It’s quite possible though that with this debut, Windhand are playing a bit safe and perhaps on the second album they will show us what they’re really made of.

Contact: Forcefield Records

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