Released: 2013, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Much like the sedating effects of its pharmaceutical namesake, Windhand’s sophomore opus SOMA lulls listeners into a doom induced sense of euphoria, whilst a throbbing ache resonates under the surface, bleeding through to create a listening experience that’s equitable to pain induced bliss. Following up last year’s excellent self-titled debut, SOMA treads carefully as to not upset the formula that’s garnered the band so much (rightfully deserved) attention as of late, while also not retreading that formula so closely as to sound redundant. For the most part, Windhand succeeds in said task, and the resulting 6 tracks make for a solid follow up effort.
Much of what made the band’s debut so enjoyable is still intact – Dorthia Cottrell’s ethereal vocal wail, the dense six string buzz, the zombie like pace, and the pervasive sense of otherworldliness are all here in abundance. But what separates SOMA from its predecessor is a keen injection of melody and a tremendous improvement in production values. Let’s hit the production values first – WOW. What a difference a real production budget makes. As powerful as the band’s indie debut was, SOMA “sounds” like an exponentially heavier album. The songs have more depth and context, the riffs have more weight, it’s an entirely different listening experience. That being said, if anybody at Relapse is reading this – I’d pay special edition prices to hear the debut remastered with this level of audio clarity. Please and thank you.
Okay, the songs - As mentioned, they’re stylistically in step with the debut, but the whole thing feels a bit more serious. “Grown Up”, if you will. Opening track and current single “Orchard” is probably the best example of this; it’s oppressively heavy in structure, but subtle nudges in melody lines amidst the muck and Cottrell’s vocal nuances give it a level of identity that’s often lacking in music like this. “Woodbine” has an almost upbeat (dare I say “pop”?) sensibility to it that makes it no less heavy, but much more memorable, while “Feral Bones” rides a mediocre riff with some dynamic vocal presence. “Evergreen” is an acoustic/vocal track that’s somewhat out of character from the rest of the album, but hauntingly powerful at the same time. And then there’s the one-two closing knockout from “Cassock” and “Boleskine”, which collectively clock in at about 45 minutes. Whereas everything preceding these tracks exhibits traces of brightness and hope, these two tracks are mired in darkness and desolation. “Cassock” is particularly gnarly in the throes of its closing riffs, but “Boleskine” is a truly marvelous experiment in doom thresholds. At 31 minutes, it’s a challenging track to commit to, but if you can endure, the associations between the physically numbing properties of SOMA the album and SOMA the drug begin to converge. When was the last time an album made you feel that way?
So yeah, SOMA is pretty f@#king good. Doom fans, pay attention – if you’re not already familiar with Windhand, you need to be, because they’re about to break big. SOMA is an excellent album from a band that I’m always eager to hear more from, and you should be eager to hear SOMA when it releases on September 17th.