Like the beginning of a redemption story, Windhand faced a sea of calamity three years ago, only to emerge on the other side with a powerful fourth studio album and a new sense of self.
Since the last time Windhand played Savannah, about six years ago, they’ve released three albums with the Pennsylvania-based (mostly) metal label Relapse Records — who have also released albums by Savannah’s Baroness, Kylesa and Black Tusk — garnered national media attention, Billboard charting success and a growing fan base (nigh a 100,000-person strong, based on internet connections).
Drummer Ryan Wolfe booked the band at The Jinx early on, but it didn’t really work out.
“I was in another band,” Wolfe said. “We used to play in Savannah with Baroness and Kylesa. Late '90s. I was always doing shows down there. Years later, when I got into Windhand, I did the early bookings. I said let’s go play Savannah. The shows were never really any good. [laughs] Also, no one really knew who we were. It was early on. They were never really good, so we just stopped going down to the southeast. Things have changed. We are not the band that we were back in 2012.”
They return to The Jinx on Jan. 30 with label mates Genocide Pact, a death metal outfit from Washington, D.C.
Windhand’s third studio album, 2015’s “Grief’s Infernal Flower” was one of their most successful, ascending numerous Billboard Charts and earning attention from NPR, Rolling Stone and Pitchfork through an amalgam of heavy, slow-burning riffs, brazing solos, pounding rhythms and Dorthia Cottrell’s languid vocals that seep through the concrete wall of heavy guitars like water filling the cracks. Pitchfork proclaimed Cottrell “one of the most persuasive metal singers to emerge this decade.”
After the tour for that album, their universe went into disarray. They parted ways with co-founding guitarist Asechiah Bogdan, lost their practice space of eight years, one of their close friends passed away suddenly, and guitarist Garrett Morris had his first child.
“We were kind of scrambling to figure out what was going on,” Wolfe explained. “We had to regroup and figure out what we're going to do. It took a second to get used to being a four piece…There was a lot of new ideas on the table that we were willing and ready to explore.
“It was a weird, chaotic six months…We decided to carry on. Had no place to go. We had to cancel a huge festival tour in Europe.”
“Eternal Return” became their response to calamity. The new album carries in it all the experiences of the past three years, bookended by a celebration of life — Morris’ son’s prenatal heartbeat opens the album — and an epic 13-minute rumination on death in the final track, “Feather.”
Moving into a new era, the band didn’t want to remain beholden to their past.
“The big thing is, you get kind of pigeonholed into a genre and everybody wants to call us a doom band,” Wolfe said. “That’s not what we intended to do or what we want to be.
“We’ve always tried to incorporate our personal preferences of music into the thing we have created that is the Windhand sound. We’ve been trying to get there, but the way things were, we weren’t able to do it in the songwriting. Certain people had different ideas to how and what we should do. Once we became a four piece, everything was on the table.”
They entered the studio with producer Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden), who also worked on “Grief’s Infernal Flower.” During the making of that album, Windhand wanted to experiment with adding space, moments of reprise, to their sound. They added an acoustic ballads Bogdan had written to cut the heavier tracks. For “Eternal Return,” the new four-piece worked to incorporate that notion of space into the actual songs.
“With the last album, we wanted the record to have a pause, or have a moment to breath,” Wolfe explained. “With that, we chose to put some acoustic songs of Asechiah in there to give the record a moment to chill, but … the whole time, we wanted those aspects to be included within the song. We wanted within a song to have a second to reflect and breath. This go-around, these songs, kind of had those parts built into the songs. We were able to put together as a piece. Instead of here’s this loud song, and now here’s an acoustic song. We wanted it to be more uniformed.”
For this tour, Windhand will mostly be drawing from the new album for the live set, with a handful of older tracks tossed in.
“It will be heavy with new songs,” Wolfe said. “We’ve been waiting and waiting. We played some shows in the summer, during the dead period, waiting for the album to come out. We didn’t really want to play any of the new songs live, yet. We had to play old songs. It was dragging. We were ready to not play those songs again. [laughs] We’ve officially put to bed some older songs that have been in the rotation.”