Doom crew explores cycle of life and death on its most recent album

Going into early writing sessions for Windhand's fourth full-length album, the Richmond, Virginia, doom metal crew was experiencing an unusual sensation: hope.

Guitarist Garrett Morris had recently learned he was going to be a father, and singer Dorthia Cottrell was fresh off releasing her eponymous solo debut, a gentler affair that found her exploring the darkness atop a hazy acoustic backdrop that sounded akin to new life blossoming. But then in 2017, friend Jon Rossi, singer and guitarist in the Rhode Island doom band Pilgrim, died, and the tone of the songs Windhand had written shifted dramatically.

“When [Pilgrim] first started out touring and playing shows with us they were a lot younger; I don't think that they could even drink in the bar. So we had known them a long time, and it was just a very untimely, shocking death,” said Cottrell, who joins her bandmates in concert at Ace of Cups on Tuesday, Nov. 13. “So that was on our minds the entire time — especially when I was writing the lyrics. I couldn't really think about anything else.”

Taken alongside the birth of Morris' son, whose in utero heartbeat can be heard right at the onset of Windhand's appropriately heavy new album, Eternal Return (Relapse Records), the loss pushed the musicians to wrestle with the cycle of life and death — a theme familiar to Cottrell, who grew up fascinated by those things people are normally loathe to confront.

“I was like the fucking weirdest, saddest kid for no reason. My mom said that I used to just start singing songs about people in our family dying, and nothing's really changed,” Cottrell said. “I like darker things in general. I love horror movies. I love all that gory stuff. But I think also I kind of have like a phobia about death, and I think that's where a lot of this comes from. Death still keeps me up at night, but I do think it is helpful to write about it.”

While the band's current set list reflects this more morbid mindset — Eternal Return track “Pilgrim's Rest,” written in tribute to Rossi, explores how we're born soft and then calcified by life's brutality — offstage there are constant reminders that new life always exists to renew hope.

“Garrett's a fucking great dad. He Skypes his little boy every day when we're on tour,” Cottrell said. “Halloween just passed … so we were all looking at pictures of his son dressed up as Spider-Man with these little fake abs. I can't wait until he's old enough to come to our shows, too, though Garrett keeps saying he hopes he doesn't play music.”