Album Review: WINDHAND Eternal Return
There's a difference between releasing music as a band and perfecting a sonic signature to a point where a band's name means something. Over the course of the past three albums, Windhand swirled about in its haze to reveal various facets of their capabilities. They never quite managed to unveil their true range though. Now after three years between full-lengths, Windhand returns (eternally) to lift the fog, clear the mist, and define their own obscurities through a fantastic album that properly carves out their identity.
Eternal Return nails what's been missing in Windhand's sound for the previous three albums: a solid flow that keeps the music interesting. Just look at what the first half has to offer and how it offers it. The record kicks off with "Halcyon" and "Grey Garden," both of which adhere to the band's usual fuzz-heavy cloudiness with the added bonus of the former bringing forth a stoner breakdown riff that Elon Musk would approve of right at the end. There's the clean-toned ballad "Pilgrim's Rest" and the suffocating smoke of "First To Die," which quietly passes away into the noisy interlude "Light Into Dark," and into the deafening darkness of the second half.
In the past, Windhand launched the world's slowest assault without any real reprieve or change of pace. It always felt like a detriment to their work. The songs were good, but when the tempo hardly shifts and there's no discernible variation, the listening experience turns into something akin to highway hypnosis. Especially at the end of both Soma and Grief's Infernal Flower. The former ends on two tracks that combined were 43 minutes long. The latter meanwhile pairs two 14 minute stoner epics back-to-back before the closer. In contrast, Eternal Return's final four tracks pack songs clocking in at 11 minutes and 13 minutes. They are also broken up by shorter ones that purposefully stray in mood from their lengthy counterparts.
The songs on Eternal Return brandish a very strong sense of identity to go along with the album's intelligent layout. It is easy to hum the riffs after a few listens and to anticipate the choruses Dorthia Cottrell chose perfectly memorable words for. In addition, Windhand also carefully considers song tempos and how to best serve the riffs.
"Eyeshine" needs to be as slow as it is to properly allow the notes birth certain feelings of menace. On the other hand, "Red Cloud" and "Grey Garden" benefit from their head-nodding mid-tempo stomp. Occasionally, Windhand experiments a little with tempo change within a track, like in the monolithic ending to the closer "Feather." There's no other way to describe the closing five minutes of that track as anything other than a fifty-foot tall steamroller driving through wet tar toward a very trapped you, on a planet where gravity is increased by two-hundred percent.
Eternal Return's ultimate success lies in the fact that one instantly knows it's a Windhand record. There are no massive, head-scratching departures in sound that'll make you look up who quit the band or who produced it. Instead, Eternal Return takes their murky, swampy brand of doom and throws a little color and detail at it. The haunting vocal harmonies on "Red Cloud" are prominent. Garrett Morris' spacey guitar effects and distant feedback on "Grey Gardens" transport you to another dimension.
The odd, almost muted lead guitar work on "Feathers" is reassuring with just a fleeting smirk of hinted danger. All of "Light Into Dark" comes and goes as if it isn't a beautifully rambling freakout of an interlude. Though as always, bassist Parker Chandler and drummer Ryan Wolfe ground Windhand to allow notable experimentation. I'd argue they're one of the most interesting, solid, and criminally underrated rhythm sections in the genre.
Four records and 10 years into their career, Windhand could not be anymore themselves than they are on Eternal Return. It's an album that you can listen to straight through, get to the fade out at the end, and loop right back into the beginning without wondering what else you should be listening to today. Simply put, Eternal Return is the record by which all future Windhand albums will be judged.