Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cough / Windhand - Reflections of the Negative (album review)

Cover photo by Krist Mort
This is another of those long, long overdue reviews.  Okay, so this thing has been out forever and a day, it's on a big label (Relapse) and it's already been featured on this blog (in the form of its appearance on the inaugural Super Doom Charts).  There's no way any of you readers out there have missed this one, right?  Well, I'm never one to be overconfident of an assumption, so consider this your final warning not to miss out on this three song split that is so heavy it's like having your face run over and ground up by a tank tread.

Before this split came in the mail, Cough was a band that I had been familiar with in name only.  They are one of the bigger, more established names within the genre of doom in my estimation, so it's no wonder one comes across the name repeatedly.  And yes, now I know why.  It seems pointless to dissect the pros and cons of the band's overall sound (the vomitous vocals could use some tuning down, etc.) as this is a single song appearance on a split record.  Not a large enough sample to really familiarize oneself with any band.  After all, I came here for the Windhand.  But Cough does a few things really well here.  For one, the use of organ pierces through the dull grey haze of droney darkness.  The "ritual suicide" middle section of the song is steeped in the jet black mood of the subject matter and it builds and builds to a satisfying conclusion before giving way to a now reinvigorated main riff, redlining the volume controls, adding a tidal wave of excitement resulting in nothing less than a full bend headbang that begins in the legs and hips and contorts one's hands in odd way in still photography.  It's a long way to travel to simply end up where one started out (18 and a half minutes) but in the end the journey really is better than the destination.  This song isn't about progression, it's all about crushing heaviness and to that end, "Athame" is a screaming success.  It's enough of a taste to make me want to dig deeper into the band.  I will definitely take a closer look at their 'Ritual Abuse' full-length in the near future.

Windhand however, are the real draw here, the stars of the show.  They are definitely imbued with a "special something" that few bands have, above or below ground.  They hit upon a perfect balance of mood, fantastic riffs and spectral vocals with haunting melodies that strikes a particularly horrific mood without having to go full on extreme.  Slightly more earnest than Electric Wizard but not nearly as grossly dark as some other bands out there, Windhand have the benefit of an amazing, one of a kind vocalist in the form of Dorthia Cottrell who evokes those sinister, witchy feelings without having to try very hard to do so.

Their two selections on this split, "Amaranth" and "Shepherd's Crook" are some of the slowest jams the band has put out yet, especially the latter.  Mind you, their entire discography contains a grand total of seven songs at this point and none of them are exactly barn-burners in terms of tempo.  The emphasis here is on the slower, sludgier side of the band, at times its like trying to run underwater or in a dream when your body just won't respond.  This all sounds a bit like a put down.  It's not.  This is music to get hot under the collar about.  Stress making stuff.  Tension is pushed to test limits.  "Shepherd's Crook" in particular stomps on some of the same ground as a longer cut like "Summon the Moon" from their self-titled debut.  But there's something filthier about these new songs.  Where the aforementioned LP was literally awash in the sound of rain between songs there's something drier in the guitar tone, dusty even.  In this case the wind hand gathers its strength of gale, cocks back a fist full of sand and unleashes a sand storm.

Windhand is set to release their Relapse Records debut 'Soma' on September 17 and one way or the other it's going to be huge.  Their self-released, self-titled demo is one of my top 10 favorite albums from last year and they're one of the best new bands in the world.  Their side of this record does nothing to alter that status.  Cough definitely made a big impression on me though, and just may have stolen the show here.  However, there is a kind of unity of vision to 'Reflection of the Negative' not often found on splits, the best ones have it though, and this one does.  The name of the game here on both sides of the flip is slow, slow grind-you-down-to-a-nub doom, the kind to get passionate about if you're into that particular kind of thing as I'm sure many of you are.  Guitars fuzz and rage like a forest fire on all three numbers.  'Reflection of the Negative' is well worth checking out and highly recommended for those hunched shouldered, collar up, shifty eyed intense moods.

Highlights include: "Athame" and "Amaranth"

Rating: 4/5

Total Run Time: 36:42

From: Richmond, Virginia

Genre: Doom

Reminds me of: Indian, Moss

Release Date: March 12, 2013

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: Take an early morning power walk through the woods before sun-up.  There, stumble upon an altar with ritual dagger and do what thou wilt ...

Better Review:
Cvlt Nation (by Doom Chart contributor Cheryl Prime)
Sleeping Shaman

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