One of my best friends in the entire world, and one of the main reasons I’m such a metal fanatic, can’t stand doom metal at all. She’s one of the folks that the new Windhand definitely won’t impress. Featuring the bassist from Richmond, VA bad-vibers Cough, Windhand is another group in a long line of doom bands paying tribute to the Sabbathian altar and specializing in mammoth-sized downtuned riffage. For the fans of music that’s “slow and fat,” as described by the ever-eloquent Butthead, Windhand’s newest release Soma is sure to satisfy on some level. The outsiders like Mindy, however, will be left in the cold – and I never thought I’d say this, but there’s a lot of Soma that makes me agree with her arguments.
Soma has just about every element that doom fans have come to expect from a good record. The riffs are slow and plodding like the footfalls of an ancient mastodon, the production is meatier and thicker than anything your dirty mind can conjure out of those two Freudian adjectives, and the barest hint of mournful female vocals and fretboard-wizard guitar solos interplay over a molasses-thick doom landscape. To any seasoned acolyte this sounds like perfection made manifest, and it comes very close at some points. The opener “Orchard” is downright rapturous, with a monstrous and pondering main riff that somehow manages to stay catchy. The problem hamstringing Soma from becoming great is the simple fact that to any listener, whether they be casual or attentive, “Orchard” sounds exactly the same as the rest of the album. It’d be one thing if the songs were possessed of any emotion, whether it be the misanthropic hatred of Cough and Electric Wizard or the forlorn dejection of Saint Vitus, but this is not so. The songs on Soma merely exist.
To their credit, Windhand know well enough to shake up their formula once in a while, throwing in the morose acoustic ballad piece “Evergreen.” This track sounds almost like an outtake from Dax Riggs or Chelsea Wolfe, but it’s the only point where the album changes – even then, it only goes from loud and slow to quiet and slow. The album desperately needs more moments like this to make its runtime less monotonous. The standout track (and not in a good way at all) is the thirty-minute closer “Boleskine.” Starting with a quieter acoustic part, it heads into a colossal bulldozer of a riff that repeats itself over and over and over until it finally fades out into about ten more minutes of a field recording of wind blowing. If you’re going to make a song thirty minutes, use those thirty minutes. Don’t just use them to fill up space and satisfy your obligations to your label. This track is at least half a Dopesmoker, but it doesn’t bring you on anywhere near half the journey Dopesmoker does. It’s just retracing its steps in infinite tedium. Even Sunn O))) know when to evolve their sound – granted, they do it at the speed of tectonic plate movements, but still. My point stands.
Soma is much like the fictional narcotic it’s named after – enjoyable enough, but unsatisfying. It exists in a static and torpid state for more time than you’d care to spend with it, which is why I’d only recommend this album to the most chronic of dopesmokers. Soma shows us everything that can be good about doom metal, but also everything that keeps outsiders from approaching and being able to appreciate it. Only once Windhand is able to create 78 minutes of music worth listening to will they live up to the grand tradition of doom metal. As it is, I can’t help feel that a lot of the album’s time is wasted – and with it, my own.