Soma is the gargantuan second album by Richmond, Virginia Doom Metal quintet Windhand who set themselves apart from the pack which represents the genre in a few ways but most noticeably via the utilization of clean, female vocals courtesy of lead singer Dorthia Cottrell. Other bands in the genre typically feature male vocalists who sound like they’ve been gargling with gravel nightly since they were pre-teens.
Opening the set with a rumbling thunder toned guitar riff is “Orchard” which sets the stage for the sludge-fest that is about to ensue across this album’s approximately 75 minutes and has perhaps the album’s most straightforward song structure albeit a song which is double the length of a standard radio Rock song. Bursting out of the feedback hum which closes out “Orchard” comes “Woodbine,” another similarly paced tornado of heavily distorted guitar chords and fluctuating drum grooves that ends with a dragged out, highly viscous and quintessentially “doomy” coda that spans the last 3 minutes of its 9 minutes and 22 seconds.
The electrified guitar and drum driven sound that comprises the vast majority of this LP, which has such vastitude that it conjures images of endless skies riddled with storm clouds, is interrupted by acoustic/vocal track “Evergreen” in which Cottrell drones through three or four varied guitar chord progressions while complimenting the strumming with soaring vocal notes that are extended and exaggerated to wonderful, soothing effect. Elsewhere, in closing track “Boleskine” the overall heaviness is punctuated by soft acoustic strumming at the very beginning for a few minutes and then somewhere near the middle, only to end up crashing back into the slow, oozing down-tuned fuzz riffing which informs the majority of the 30 and ½ minute opus. A few instances of lead guitar compliment the main riff before finally (and very slowly) fading out to the field recording sounds of gusting gales and other eerie, unidentifiable scratching sounds.
A band like Windhand is definitely a difficult pill to swallow for the casual listener or even for general fans of mainstream Rock music. What usually puts people off is the fact that most of the songs clock in at over 8 minutes, and a half hour long single song by itself is especially intimidating when you consider the common attention span that most modern music listeners have. However, the genre known as “Doom Metal” has gained a lot of popularity in recent years despite these facts and I would implore any fan of Rock music to attempt to consciously listen to Soma in full in one or even two sittings (I mean…its 75 minutes long. I understand you’ve got stuff to do).
There is something infectious about the increased instance of repetition that comes with the territory of extended duration musical ventures like the songs featured on Soma and every few minutes there is usually a new element; either a guitar solo, an alternating set of drum fills or tempo shifts for example, which all tend to offer up a level of variation that can keep even the reluctant listener interested enough to continue the journey. The most notable purveyor of the aforementioned attributes being “Cassock” which, across its almost 14 minute duration, shows the band seamlessly shifting gears between half-time groove and almost moderate Rock tempos from one lyrical line to the next with multiple sections of the song structure being diced up and set in place by the command of seasoned drum wizard Ryan Wolfe.
The overwhelming loudness and repetitiousness of the music gives a semi-meditative quality to the songs which lends itself nicely to the subtle nods to the Occult via song titles, pieces of lyrical content, and a particularly dreary set of images in the album artwork. Soma will absolutely test a listener’s patience for a number of reasons, but going into the listening experience with an open mind and a focused ear can be incredibly rewarding… you know, if you’ve got that kind of time.