Photography by Jon Hadusek
The heaviest tour of the year arrived in Denver on a cold, rainy November night. For the stoner-doom scene, this gig was the big one, and there was a strange poeticism to it: the weedy bands playing the weedy city. A large and sufficiently stoned crowd gathered inside the cozy Bluebird Theater for a night of riffs and heavy melody.
Swedish trio Monolord opened the show with an enthusiastic (if abbreviated) set of minimalist doom, playing choice cuts from their RidingEasy releases Empress Rising and Vaenir. The title track from the former and the crushing “Cursing the One” were slightly sped up compared to the droning plod of the album versions (Monolord are known coffee-holics), but the tempo change worked well in the live setting, adding an unexpected energy and pace to their performance. Drummer Esben Willems’ every note was an assault on his kit as he lent the full force of his burly frame into cymbal crashes and rolling snare buildups. Bassist Mika Hakki slung and tossed his guitar about, stomping his feet as the music triggered his physical compulsions. Meanwhile, guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jager stood in stoic contrast, tall and menacing.
Sandwiched between the methodical doom of Monolord and Windhand was Portland’s Danava, a cultish hard rock band with a mountain of riffs and a deep love of ’70s prog. Both elements showed through during a tight, lively set that brought the thrashers and headbangers to the front row. “Quiet Babies Astray in a Manger” proved to be the highlight as guitarist/vocalist Gregory Meleney hoisted his guitar over the crowd while shredding a violent solo, of which there were many throughout the set. To his right, bassist Dominic Casciato — looking Zappa-esque in bellbottoms and a vintage Yes shirt — played every scale to perfection, his fingers flowing across his instrument. As the set closed, rhythm guitarist Phil Hughes lifted his Gibson SG in triumph. Danava positively ripped, and they proved to be a tough act to follow.
Windhand looked dead tired. The Richmond band was coming off a string of sold-out West Coast shows and had the appearance of road-weary headliners on the tail end of a grueling tour. Incense burned, mingling with wafts of marijuana. The scene was somber and sleepy. Frontwoman Dorthia Cottrell shyly approached center stage, clutching the mic cable like a rope, following it to the stand, avoiding eye contact with the growing audience.
Their set was meditative. Guitarists Asechiah Bogdan and Garrett Morris stood on either side of Cottrell with their heads down, locked into their respective riffs, rarely looking up. Bassist Parker Chandler remained obscured behind his long dark hair. A stage show Windhand is not. Rather, it’s an introspective sonic journey for band and audience: There is time to ponder and reflect during songs like “Orchard”, “Tanngrisnir”, and “Kingfisher”, the latter being the highlight of the performance. With their massive guitar rigs, Windhand are loud, and the lengthy song from Grief’s Infernal Flower achieved a powerful melancholy that can’t be captured on a recording. Its spacious coda could’ve gone on forever.