Review Summary: Electric Wizard disciples or something much more promising ?
Stoner Rock has a long, long history. Although it wasn’t until the early 90’s when the style was sonically defined, the late 60’s/early 70’s is where it all began. It was during those times, when bands such as Blue Cheer, Sir Lord Baltimore, Hawkwind and of course, Black Sabbath, who magnified the presence of the guitar and based their songwriting on the monolithic blues-influenced riffs, that the genre really took form and substance. When Tony Iommi, out of urgency, started downtuning his guitar, the number of the followers he would gain by the years, was impossible to foresee.
In the early 90’s, a distinct style of Heavy Rock music emerged. The expressers of the genre blended the slow rhythms and heavy riffing of Doom Metal with Blues and Psychedelic Rock and focused their lyrics mostly around the effects of marijuana. Even though the first worshippers had arrived some 20+ years ago, the emerging Stoner Rock scene in the early 90’s, was a distinctive phenomenon. Bands like Kyuss, Sleep, Cathedral and Monster Magnet updated the genre by filtering their sounds through a lot of fuzz and many other distortion effects. As the years went passing by, the gap between Doom Metal and Stoner Rock was bridged by bands such as Electric Wizard, Church of Misery, YOB, Ufomammut and Acid King, while the later works of Cathedral and Sleep were certainly crucial to what we now call Stoner/Doom. Although not an official tag, Stoner/Doom is been given as identification to the bands that utilize ultra-slow rhythms and heavy, fuzzy distortion. Subsequently, the tuning of the instruments is very low and the songs are frequently composed around the Blues Minor Pentatonic scales. This is the category where the American band Windhand comes to fit in.
Starting from the second half of the previous decade, Stoner/Doom has been enjoying a decent run. With a quick search on the net, you’ll discover that we have a ton of new bands coming out almost every year. It’s not hard to see why the majority of the underground bands play this hybrid style. The blueprints are pretty much easy to follow and the songwriting has been proven so far as an undemanding process. You don’t have to be seriously skilled as a musician to play the genre. All you need is a loud guitar and some basic knowledge regarding the music theory. Every newcomer claims a position on the musical map, however not everyone will be remembered after a few months’ time.
At first glance, many of you will reject Windhand. I almost… did. You wouldn’t call the effects of falling rain a refreshing way to start your first album. During the first seconds I was already aware of what’s coming next and I said to myself, “oh great, another Black Sabbath clone”. It is clear that bands such as Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard work as the spiritual guides for Windhand, but when you rely too much on your influences, you cannot expect to achieve much. The next songs did little to change my mind and when I had done with the album I was ready to toss it and move on. Nevertheless, I decided to give it one more careful spin. I’m glad that I did, because the music was proved noteworthy. Repeated listens revealed something I couldn't verify at first and I'm talking about the female vocals. On first listen, I thought the singer was a man. But then, the album exposed the inherent feminity of Dorthia Cottrell’s voice. And the vocals are worth mentioning because they bring a breath of fresh air. Not only because on a male dominating genre we have a woman’s touch, but also, because of the unique way are the vocals being used in the final mix. The production serves the purposes of the music. The band was aiming for a suffocating experience. It might take some time, but after several listens you will get a sense of claustrophobia. In order to heighten this effect, the vocals are “buried” within the mix. The reverb effect is also being used, making the vocals sound as if they come from the bottom of the deepest well. For the sake of information, Cottrell is using a clean singing style but as the album approaches the finale, she adopts a dirtier approach.
Further on, the stifling atmosphere increases in density thanks to the constant sonic attacks. Each riff engulfs the listener like a veil of smoke propagating slowly around bodies of structure. In other words, you will get choked up from the abundant feedback and distortion. Once you get passed the first three songs you might even looking for a window to open so that you can breathe some fresh air. Another thing that should probably be mentioned is the constant use of the falling rain effect which serves as the initiative for the first three songs. Afterwards, the effects change, but the philosophy remains the same throughout the whole album. The falling rain effect might be overused, but serves a specific purpose; to make the album sound as dark as possible. By the way, I must admit that the sound of the falling rain is sometimes the creepiest sound in this world.
For those who worship bands like Electric Wizard or Sleep, Windhand’s hazy debut will be an entrancing listen. For those who are not accustomed to the ways of this genre, this album will sound as a dull and repetitive affair.
Summon The Moon