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18 March 2014

[Review] Windhand - Soma


After a very good debut album (s/t, 2012) and a remarkable split with Cough (“Reflection of the Negative”, 2013), Windhand “celebrate” their fifth year of action with their second full length album named “Soma”. 

Before going any further with this review, I have to say that here we have an album that its final taste in your mouth, depends absolutely from your listening approach and your expectations. If you are not into monolithic stoner doom records, or if you expect “Soma” to be a landmark album such as “Dopesmoker” or “Dopethrone”, then this album is not for you. On the other hand, if you share my perspective that in order to enjoy a good stoner doom album you need some really good riffs, a proper production, and some decent compositions, then you are reading about the right album.

The first thing that came into my head while I was listening to the first songs of “Soma”, was that the spirit of Electric Wizard is omnipresent, and this is a feeling that continues till the very last note of the album. Gigantic fuzzed out guitars, repetitive “open” riffs, slow to mid-tempo compositions. The perfect ingredients in order to set a heavy and stuffy, atmosphere of doom. And it gets even better, with the addition of the ethereal and haunting vocals of miss Dorthia Cottrell. Her mesmerizing vocals in cooperation with the great production of the album, emphasize the beautiful antithesis between the ethereal singing and the total fuzzed out heaviness of the music. This “recipe” seems to work even better in “Soma” than Windhand’s debut, unveiling, in an unorthodox but also effective way, the “hooks” of the singing lines.

Despite the fact that the first three songs (“Orchard”, “Woodbine”, “Feral Bones”) using Windhand’s trademark song-writing pattern, they manage to maintain a distinctive character. This is the part of the album, that we find the best riffs and the best compositions of “Soma”. The great quality of these three songs, makes the 24 minutes they last all together, to look passable and unnoticed to the experienced stoner doom listener. This temporary “convenience” seems to be even greater when you find out that the fourth song of the album (“Evergreen”) is an atmospheric acoustic song. A really nice surprise, that adds character to the album. But the “easy” parts of the album end here. A good but not great -nearly fourteen minute long- song follows and slightly spoils the perfect image of the album so far. Don’t get me wrong, “Cassock” is not a bad song, but I think it’s not good enough to last 14 minutes. A seven minute long version of it, would be enough and much better.

In a parallel universe, this is the point of the album that it would be perfect in order to close the record. But not in this universe, and not for Windhand. The band decided not only to add one more song, but also the duration of this song to be over 30 minutes! Needless to say, that after this addition the balance of the album is disturbed. “Boleskin” starts in a slow acoustic way, storms out after a couple of minutes with the band’s known heaviness, calms down somewhere in the middle, in order to become a massive fuzzed out giant again, and finally fades away slowly. Despite sharing the same great production and having the same great sound with the rest of the album, “Boleskin” looks unnecessary and weak. During its length, it gave me the impression that it consists of replayed themes of the first songs of the album. This isn’t also a bad song, but having in mind that it lasts nearly the half of the total duration of the album, without adding something new, it seems quite unnecessary. I think it would have a better shot if it was the only song following “Evergreen”, or even better if the band had decided to publish it alone as an EP. At this point “Boleskin” turns a “really great” stoner doom album to a just “very good” record.

So, what is the final taste of "Soma"? As I wrote in the beginning of this review: it depends. If you approach "Boleskin" as a 30 minute long
drone outro and not a vital part of the album, "Soma" is one of the five best stoner doom albums of 2013. If you approach "Boleskin" as a composition of equal significance with the rest, the things get complicated. Personally, I choose the first approach and I really enjoy the atmosphere and the great sound this album has to offer. It would be unfair for "Soma" to be thrown into the arena of doom extravaganza albums because of "Boleskin". In this arena albums such as "Dopesmoker"(Sleep) and "III: So Long Suckers" (Reverend Bizarre) lurk, and they have quite sharper teeth.

by Vasilis Durden


Tracklist:
1. Orchard
2. Woodbine
3. Feral Bones
4. Evergreen
5. Cassock
6. Boleskin







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