Monday 12 October 2015

Windhand - 'Grief's Infernal Flower' (Album Review)

By: Joosep Nilk
Album Type: Full-Length
Date Released: 18/09/2015
Label: Relapse Records

It is obviously their best record to date if not damn-near flawless. Having Ms Cottrell’s growing prowess alongside the combination of hypnotic riffing and rhythms as trance-inducing as ever, all layered by pristine production, there’s really not much else one could ask for

’Grief’s Infernal Flower’ CD//DD/LP track listing:
1.)     Two Urns
2.)     Forest Clouds
3.)     Crypt Key
4.)     Tanngrisnir
5.)     Sparrow
6.)     Hyperion
7.)     Hesperus
8.)     Kingfisher
9.)     Aition

Windhand are:
Asechiah Bogdan | Guitar
Dorthia Cottrell  | Vocals
Parker Chandler | Bass
Ryan Wolfe | Drums
Garrett Morris | Guitar
The Review:
In 2015’s calendar, September 18th carried a heavy load. With the promise of bringing one of the most awaited follow-ups for aficinados of the down-trodden and down-tuned, came Windhand’s third album and their second full-length on Relapse Records. With one of the most hyped releases in the [breached by this very album?] underground world of heavy music, there was little doubt that Windhand would deliver.
Opening up in their customary manner the band set off roaring riffs sheathing the familiar ethereal voice of Ms Cottrell’s, sweeping you up. With its down-right seductive up-beat rhythm, ’Two Urns’ plays a bit faster than your regular Windhand tune. Bringing strong leads and a blistering burn-out-riff-out of an outro that solos off into the distance in all in their trademark fashion, one couldn’t have asked for a more solid opener.  Already thoroughly worn out with repeated listens from their split with Salem’s Pot a year ago, ’Forest Clouds’ in comparison is a slow-burner, leading further into the fold of Windhand’s riff-laden shroud. An interesting choice here is that they’ve opted for a different mix, surely to have it fit better into the overall aesthetic of the album, the tune sounds fresh yet again. Crosschecking the track-lengths to discover the newer ones are tad bit shorter, leading me to think perhaps the riffs might also have been sped up a tad. Either way, the vocals here come off more stern than usual with Dorthia really pulling from deep within, for that spellbinding timbre. A perfect fit to go along the absolutely hypnotic brooding of the guitars.
Easing the grip from around your neck a little comes ’Crypt Key’, instantly springing ’Evergreen’ to mind upon the first strums of the gorgeous acoustic intro. It’s a welcome change of pace betwixt the constant thundering. The band’s unison on this one is to be especially noted, the tune carrying itself with a remarkably tight blasting tempo along with its grungy melodies, making it one of the poppier tunes of the album (released as a radio edit, no less!). With Windhand, one of course has to take the term lightly, particulary for a track carrying ’Crypt Key’ as its title, evoking and conveying ideals of a silent slumber under the watching eye of stone statues, safe inside the cemetery gates. Quite a straight reference to the ever-amazing Roperian artwork commissioned for the cover, with the leads slightly distant in the background splendidly paying heed to that image.
Between the release of ’Soma’ and ’GIF’ Ms Cottrell found time to put out her debut solo album of lone deserty-doom folk that allowed her to truly explore the limits of her vocal range. On ’GIF’ she stays true to tradition and the guttural growls found on ealier albums are nowhere to be found, indeed they would perhaps be missed if not for all that that fresh proficiency which has been brought along onto the band effort. This growth becomes especially obvious on the blaring and ominous-sounding blast-off that is ’Tanngrisnir’. Developing in a swelling manner, the enticing chorus comes back in frail swells and is only brought crashing down in the form of a spiralling passage muffled and way down-tuned by even Windhand’s own standard. The singing grows ever-more poisoning only to be finally carried off by a piercing solo. The first straight reference to Cottrell’s solo endeavor comes in the form of ’Sparrow’, a thoroughly somber number that would not have been amiss on that very record. A recent interview with the leading-lady confirms that it was indeed a cut choice from the pensive tunes of her debut, the desolate acoustic strums lifted from that venture a welcome switch of pace.
As if intensified from this delicate diversion, an abyssal intro comes bellowing, soon halted by the stumbling drums which shortly set the track into its languid pace. With the pop(ish) vocal melodies experimented with on ’Soma’ fully realized, ’Hyperion’ is an alluring doomed dirge. Lulling vocal melodies conveying wistful words, making it as sullen and concurrently catchy as a the band gets on the album.  In contrast, the opening tremors of ’Hesperus’ rumble until the shattering burst of riffs blatantly lets you know it truly is the backbone of the album. Summon-The-Moon-psychedelic in its approach, it begins opening up, awash with bleak repetition, as if brought forth from the depths. The combination of rhythms looming with persistence instill dread, and the austere pillar of vocals, deliver dreary imagery, making this one of the definite highlights of the album. Grueling with its majestic despair the track steadily grows until only a noxious fog remains, leaving you waiting for  its conclsion. Just when you expect the murky riffs would abate in some sort of climax, theres an abrupt cut-off at the close.
Undoubtedly the oddest moment on the album as the band knows better solutions of setting the riffs down (’Woodbine’ comes to mind). The first few dozen times it feels like the almost equally dreaded fade-out could have been more appropriate here but perhaps there’s still something to be said for unexpected jolts.
With reference to that ending the finale is redemptive. Not in the literal sense of course, as just when you thought you couldn’t be buried any deeper, an equally lengthy and stirring beast of a tune titled ’Kingfisher’ throws more over your head. Here Windhand have taken the suffocating cloak of ’Feral Bones’, added the infectious hooks of ’Woodbine’ and mixed it with the nefarious endurance of ’Cassock’. Name-dropping personal favourites from their back-catalogue aside, the intro is quite an obvious hark to the lead-ins oft-used on their self-titled. The solos are much clearer here and give a sense of culmination in all its relentlessness, as a manifestation of what the rest of the album foreshadowed. Amidst the intimidation the band offers a moment to recoup, knowing well that asphyxiation is infinitely worse when you’ve been given a feeble chance at breath. Then the eerie-sounding meandering that sets in at the midway point is quite unlike anything the band has done, inviting further respite in its mesmerizing drone. A lovely ambient outro then sends you off into the night.
Before one can be fully absolved though, comes ’Aition’. A reassuring lullaby to round out the album, sounding almost like a pacifying nursery rhyme after all the punishment.
On ’GIF’ Windhand have carried their torch further into the mausoleum, simultaneously delving deeper into the mist yet slightly smoothing out their occultish edge. Their third album undoubtedly finds the band at their most self-assured, which is not to say that there’s any complacency. Many of their usual twists and turns have been rehashed, but without venturing too far into new territory so as not to alienate loyal fans, they’ve nevertheless introduced new elements in quite a meticulous manner. It is obviously their best record to date if not damn-near flawless. Having Ms Cottrell’s growing prowess alongside the combination of hypnotic riffing and rhythms as trance-inducing as ever, all layered by pristine production, there’s really not much else one could ask for. Without venturing on a too brave of a departure from their tried-and-true ’Grief’s Infernal Flower’ is an ambitious and wholly consummate effort marking another huge mile- [or better yet tomb-/ ?] stone on Windhand’s pathway.

’Grief’s Infernal Flower’ is available here

FFO: Pallbearer, Sleep, Electric Wizard, Graveyard, Yob, Uncle Acid