Whenever I hear a song by Windhand — a metal band from Richmond that does magic tricks with density, slowness and scale — the first thing my itchy brain tries to establish is the physical location of singer Dorthia Cottrell. Where does she stand in all of that sound? Is she floating over the churn? Or is the band roaring at her back? Or is she positioned behind her ace bandmates, pressing her words through their noise?
When I called Cottrell on the phone to ask, her voice leapt across a series of cell towers, traveling more than 100 miles in an instant, to say: none of the above. “I’ve always leaned toward the vocals being more of an accompanying instrument, an undertone beneath everything,” she said. “I think that makes the music seem bigger, too.”
So singing from beneath the sound allows her to accentuate the music’s overall girth, like a golf tee supporting a medicine ball or Atlas holding up our flash-fried planet. It’s demanding work, and whenever the tempos accelerate on Windhand’s latest album, “Eternal Return,” it requires increased focus. “This new album is a lot faster than things we’ve done in the past,” Cottrell explained. “It made me think more critically about what I was singing, melody-wise. I wanted the melody to slow down the music.”
Was I hearing that right? In order to slow things down, Cottrell didn’t tamper with her phrasing. She tinkered with the notes themselves. That’s like trying to slow down a racecar by painting it yellow — an amazing, nonsensical tactic that’s impossible to visualize. And if you listen to this music hard enough, you might hear exactly what she means.
Show: Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at U Street Music Hall, 1115 U St. NW. $15.