From inhuman growls to operatic trills, heavy metal has long been home to a broad range of voices. But few singers summon the gutsy, unadorned immediacy of Dorthia Cottrell. The frontwoman of the Richmond, Va., metal band Windhand ventured out on her own earlier this year with her self-titled solo album, a powerful acoustic set that gave her soulful pipes a subtle airing out. Now Windhand is back with a new record titled Grief’s Infernal Flower — the band’s third full-length, and its best yet.
Windhand has been trawling the murky underworld of the doom scene for years, always bringing supple melodicism to its mix of mammoth riffs and morbid atmosphere. But with a solo album under her belt, Cottrell sounds more forceful than ever. The album was produced by Jack Endino, famous for his recording of grunge milestones such as Nirvana‘s Bleach and Soundgarden‘s Screaming Life, and there’s a hint of vintage sludge to Grief’s Infernal Flower‘s throttling low-end and raw, sinuous menace. As steeped in the heavy sounds of yesteryear as the album is, though, it doesn’t scan as a throwback; instead, it transcends era and genre, thanks to the group’s ear for deceptively infectious songwriting — not to mention Cottrell’s hypnotic voice.
Alongside the soaring psychedelia of “Forest Clouds” and the savage tunefulness of “Tannsgrisnir” — both of which test the limit of how much melancholy can be wrung out of industrial-strength distortion — Grief’s Infernal Flower goes long with a pair of songs that each top out at more than 14 minutes: “Hesperus” and “Kingfisher.” Taken together, the two tracks are practically an album unto themselves: The former crawls along like a prehistoric creature, while the latter propels itself through some far reach of the cosmos. “Crypt Key” is the album’s reality check, as a moody acoustic intro drifts into a gargantuan hook, topped off by Cottrell’s ethereal yet gritty delivery.
The album isn’t all about volume. Two folky, unplugged tracks, “Sparrow” and “Aition,” showcase the group’s increasingly potent sense of dynamics — and its knack for making even the quietest songs feel like earth-movers. “When I sleep, I dream of death,” Cottrell sings in “Sparrow,” her voice somehow sleepy and aggressive at the same time. In fact, either of these acoustic songs would have fit beautifully on her solo album, though Grief’s Infernal Flower doesn’t signal any kind of significant pivot in Windhand’s heavy methodology. But it does cement the band as one of doom’s leading absences of light, and it makes a great soundtrack for the death and rebirth of your choice.