Windhand/Savagist/Musket Hawk/Ophidian at The Sidebar

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Monday, September 16, 2013

A little over a week ago I had the chance to see Windhand perform at The Sidebar in Baltimore. It was my third time seeing the Richmond doom band, and since my first encounter with their material about a year or so ago I have been hooked. Their sophomore album Soma releases next Tuesday, and this show was the first date of their current headlining tour which runs through the beginning of October. While some groups have on and off nights during their live performance, Windhand once again proved that they always seem to be at the top of their game whenever they come through.

There were three opening bands on this show, and what was interesting about the bill was that I had seen this same lineup minus Windhand a few months back. Local support came from Ophidian and Musket Hawk, and Georgia’s Savagist had returned to level The Sidebar once again. It’s rare for an entire show lineup to have bands that I really want to watch on it, but I’m really happy when it does happen as it makes the night that much more enjoyable and this was exactly what happened on this particular night.

Ophidian has been around since 2011 and become a regular fixture in the Baltimore area, opening for touring metal bands and playing other local shows frequently. Despite this, I somehow seem to miss the majority of the shows they have played so far and as a result this was only the second time I had seen them perform. But Ophidian was just as impressive as the first time around, and they played some newer material along with the songs I remembered from before. The group plays sludge/doom that goes for a grittier, haunting sound rather than the fuzzed out grooves sometimes associated with the Maryland doom scene. Slower melodies fill the room as vocalist Jim Webb unleashes what I can only describe as a howl that threatens to completely overwhelm the listener with its intensity. There’s a certain subtlety to their material that is sometimes missing from this style, as the songs build slowly and hit hard when they reach their climaxes, which in a live setting really gives the group the impact they need. Right now Ophidian only has a few songs up streaming online but are still in the middle of recording, and I truly believe that once this band is able to get their material out there they will be able to gain exposure outside of the Baltimore area as they have some really stunning arrangements to offer potential listeners.

Musket Hawk is another Baltimore area group that has only been around for a little while, but their members have all been a part of other bands over the past few years and as a result they sound a lot more polished and cohesive than your average local. It’s hard to really put them into one particular category, as the instrumentals pull from a whole slew of influences. Throughout their set there were faster sections that had a bit of a grind and hardcore feel, but there were also slower sections that took on more of a sludge vibe. I think the best way to describe Musket Hawk would be just as a heavy hitting metal/punk band that is able to switch things up on a regular basis. The fact that they aren’t just another grind/crust style group that blasts away for their entire set definitely makes a difference, and the quality of the slower sections is what has continued to keep me interested in what they have to offer now that I’ve seen them a second time. But it wasn’t just the instrumental work that grabbed me, as the vocal work was killer as well. The group’s bassist Gary has a very high pitched, raspy scream while guitarist Marty has an extremely low growl, putting the two pitches at almost the exact end of the spectrum. This is one of the reasons that Musket Hawk gave off such a grind feel to me, as the constant switch between distorted low and high pitched vocals was very reminiscent of a number of different grindcore acts from over the years and it worked extremely well. I enjoyed watching these guys again, and would definitely head to a show early if they’re opening to check them out again.

I was excited that Savagist was coming back around, as their set earlier in the year had been one of my highlights. At that particular show the turnout was a bit low, so thankfully this time they had a larger crowd to deliver their heavy hitting music. The group is based out of Athens, GA and play fast paced bottom heavy sludge and noise rock that reminds me quite a bit of Black Cobra, but I think I like them even better than that particular group. Each of their songs fly by at a fast pace with plenty of twists and turns, but it is performed with razor sharp precision and the occasional slower section to break things up. But even with this emphasis on mid-tempo and fast paced arrangements, Savagist always has hooks that keep you coming back to their songs. Unlike some of the others in this genre, these guys seem to be able to really make each track distinctive from the last and don’t fall into repetition and for the second time because I was so drawn in by their performance it seemed to be over in a really short amount of time. The vocals fall into the harsher screaming/singing category, as lead vocalist Clem Adams has a style that has a jagged edge but is still easy to understand and the rawness of the performance is what gave me a noise rock vibe. Bassist Daniel Shroyer contributes some much lower distorted screams/growls, and while they got drowned out a bit by the overall noise level they were still able to break through on occasion. One of Savagist’s newest tracks found Adams adopting a much cleaner vocal style that seemed to fit their sound quite well, and I’m curious to hear what they have in store as they move forward. If you like sludge, noise rock, or any kind of heavy hitting rock or metal check these guys out as they know how to put on a great show.

While Soma may have found Windhand experimenting with some mellower ideas on certain tracks, their live performance is still oriented towards their loud, groove heavy songs. I really enjoy having the opportunity to see them play in smaller venues like The Sidebar, as singer Dorthia Cottrell spends her time off the stage right in the middle of the crowd which gives the performance a very different dynamic. Although there seemed to be some issues with one of the guitars early on, this didn’t take away from the music and the band’s distorted grooves were just as entrancing as the previous times I had heard them in person. Windhand engulfs you with their riffs live, and I’m pretty sure my hearing took a beating the next day, but despite the sheer volume there is something downright calming about their arrangements and their material has a fairly warm feeling about it. One thing I’ve been worried about is how Cottrell’s softer, ethereal vocal style would come through in a live setting, but for the third time this has proven to not be a problem as her singing remained audible for the entire performance and was able to break through the wall of sound. I do hope that at some point the band will be able to start including some of their softer moments into their set list as I’d like to see how they translate into a live setting, but for now their choice of sticking with the heavy grooves seems reasonable and are sure to impress audiences. Now that I have had the chance to see them yet again and take in everything from Soma, I’ve come to the conclusion that Windhand may be my favorite act out of this current generation of doom bands and suspect that quite a few of you will feel the same way if you’re able to check them out. The headlining tour continues on through October 3rd, and after that the group will be supporting High on Fire for some dates so there will be plenty of chances to catch them if you haven’t been able to yet. I’m excited that another high quality Richmond act has been gaining national exposure, and would gladly go see this band play any time they come through.







Musket Hawk-




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