As theories go, it’s a particularly hellish one—the Indian-philosophy tenet that the second you die, you end up back on Earth having to do it all over again. According the concept of “eternal return”—whose proponents have included Friedrich Nietzsche—every one of us is caught in an endless cycle, doomed to repeat each horrible mistake, cursed to relive every misery.
With that in mind, there are a couple of ways to look at the title of the fourth and latest full-length from Virginia doom-metal deconstructionists Windhand. One reading of Eternal Return is that it’s a recognition that—with the exception of the one percenters—we’re all pretty much fucked.
“A friend of ours passed away while we were writing the record, so of course that was on our minds a lot,” says singer Dorthia Cottrell, on the line from an Oakland tour stop. “I think that had something to do with why we chose that name—the fact that our mortality was something that we were all thinking about.”
But there’s also another way to look at the album’s title. If there’s been a criticism levelled at Windhand since it first rolled out of its hometown of Richmond in 2008, it’s that the band wasn’t overly interested in reinventing itself on early records.
Past outings like Windhand and Some offered post-Sabbath bombast slowed down to a grinding, distortion-soaked crawl, Cottrell’s buried-in-the-sludge vocals. Eternal Return mixes things up a bit, partly out of necessity; when founding guitarist Asechiah Bogdan left Windhand after 2015’s critically acclaimed Grief’s Infernal Flower, the band decided against replacing him.
Eternal Return features a more focussed attack, the guitars stripped back and scuzzed up in a way that suggests a fixation on the pioneers of Seattle grunge. Cottrell’s vocals, meanwhile, have never been more in the forefront, and not just on tracks like the skeletal, death-country diversion “Pilgrim’s Rest.” The singer wrenches every bit of drama out of lines like “Isn’t it all a mess/Soon it will go away” in the grinding “Grey Garden”.
Noticeably, even when things are at their blackest on Eternal Return, Cottrell never sounds like someone who’s decided to give up, which isn’t by accident. Positives in the band members’ lives have included guitarist Garrett Morris raising a young son.
“There is a sense of optimism, but I don’t know if we specifically planned it out to that extent,” Cottrell says. “It was more a case of letting things flow and seeing what comes out.”
Guiding them through the process was famed Seattle producer Jack Endino—who also helmed Grief’s Infernal Flower. Cottrell acknowledges that she’s grown as a singer, partly thanks to her unleashing her inner acoustic-Americana fan on a well-received eponymous 2015 solo record. Mostly though, she’s learned that maybe you don’t have to do the same thing over and again—at least in this particular life cycle.
“I’ve always thought that my voice sounded better sitting back in the music with Windhand, mostly because, to me, it made everything sound heavier,” Cottrell says. “But we once again fully trusted Jack and his opinions, so it was very much ‘Let him do what he’s going to do.’ And we all ended up just over the moon with how it came out.”
Eternal Return is out now.