2015 is the year doom broke. Albums by Pallbearer, YOB, Bell Witch, and Electric Wizard have garnered exceptional attention for a metal subgenre that's been around...well, forever. Richmond, Virginia's loud-and-proud Windhand, signed with Relapse after Soma, their grimy sophomore album, received rave reviews and made a slew of 2013 year-end lists. Expectations run high for Grief's Infernal Flower. Produced by Jack Endino (Nirvana's Bleach and Soundgarden's Screaming Life), the sound on most of this set is enormous. It may be just a tad less gritty, and the songs are (a bit) tighter and shorter -- there are no half-hour marathons. There is a more expansive sonic approach to the songwriting and vocal production on this date. Vocalist Dorthia Cottrell's commanding presence bends the riff-o-sonic wall of sludge to her will and reveals more subtle post-psych melodies and actual hooks that lurk within them -- check the stellar "Two Urns" and "Crypt Key." Parker Chandler's uber-low, mega-fuzzed bass throb and Ryan Wolfe's drumming govern the instrumental attack, leaving ample opportunity for guitarists Asechiah Bogdan and Garrett Morris to focus on plodding power riffs and spiral around one another in solos on the epic-length tracks. On the blistering "Forest Clouds," Cottrell rides every circular vamp, rising with more power until it all collapses around her. Windhand attempt a wall-plastering psych-blues groove and syncopation simultaneously on "Tanngrisnir." They only partially succeed but they earn points for the attempt. Cottrell has two solo vocal and acoustic guitar numbers here, "Sparrow" and closer "Aition," which stand with Grief's Infernal Flower's best moments even if they seem like outliers. She released a killer self-titled solo album earlier in 2015; these tracks -- equal parts Townes Van Zandt, Conny Ochs, Steve Von Till, and Jeffrey Lee Pierce -- could have come from those sessions. "Hesperus" is the first of two back-to-back 14-minute jams. Despite its glacial-paced riffing, it eventually erupts in a blackout squall of guitar distortion and dissolute drumming. "Kingfisher" begins more abstractly before the doomy stoner vibe grabs center stage, one Sabbath-esque riff at a time. Cottrell is at her most physical here, using her low range to carve a pronounced melody from the guitar-and-bass attack. It's just as menacing but more alluring, which makes the whole thing more sinister. Grief's Infernal Flower is almost doom-by-the-numbers (which should reassure fans), but Endino's production, Cottrell's vocal confidence and lyricism, and the band's willingness to push its grooves into the red, offer an admirable next step. ~ Thom Jurek
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