Windhand Brings Doom and Gloom to the Bluebird

Courtesy Windhand
Richmond's Windhand play doom so heavy you may cry.
It's a wonder that Windhand drummer Ryan Wolfe can man the kit for one of doom metal's heaviest bands, especially when he explains how he underwent ulnar nerve surgery on both arms. At one point while he was regaining his strength the past two years, he was unable to even lift a beer can.

“I'd been dealing with that for five years, and I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he says.

Wolfe has a condition that is caused by a repeated motion that puts pressure on the nerves in the hand and elbow, particularly where the ulnar nerve — or “funny bone” — is located. When Wolfe, who also remodels homes, told the doctor he’s been a drummer for nearly thirty years, the diagnosis wasn't surprising.

“I’m 44. I’ve been playing drums since I was fifteen. When I met the doctor years and years back to diagnose it, he asked what I did for work. You know, ‘I remodel homes and play drums,’” Wolfe recalls, adding that the ulnar nerve in his left arm — his snare side — was more out of whack. "The doctor said, ‘Yeah, that would do it. That’s all it takes.’”

With the Richmond, Virginia-based band on an unexpected break from touring, what was initially believed to be a six-week rehabilitation lasted nearly a year.

“I spent about eight months just rehabbing. I didn’t play drums again for fourteen months. I didn’t play until May of 2021,” Wolfe says, admitting that there were periods during that time when he was more worried about leading a normal life than playing the skins again. “There was a moment there that I just didn’t know if I would ever be able to function properly. I just couldn’t do anything; I couldn’t hold anything with any grip. I couldn’t pass a beer to someone. … It's better. It’s numb right now, just because I busted my ass at work for the past couple of days, but it’s getting better.”

With Wolfe back behind the drums, Windhand is back to doing what it does best, too: touring and pummeling eardrums across the country. The band will be in Denver on Wednesday, June 22, at the Bluebird Theater, with Un.

Known for its slow and brooding music, Windhand is fronted by Dorthia Cottrell, who possesses one of the most unique voices in metal. Her croons sedate and carry listeners away to postmortem planes full of dead flowers and silk-lined coffins, with a grief-stricken sound that's achieved by deliberately slackening tempo. Describing what Windhand plays as “slowed-down pop songs,” Wolfe explains how drums can instantly slow the pulse of a piece.

“It’s funny, because I don’t know how people play fast anymore. I try to play fast and I’m like, ‘Man, I suck.’ It’s just all rhythm and feel.  You just try to find a groove,” he says. “Drums can dictate tempo in a heartbeat.”

Add in the fuzzy sounds of guitarist Garrett Morris and bassist Parker Chandler, and Windhand whips up some truly crestfallen music. But that’s what makes it so appealing to its fans. On “Crypt Key” — with lyrics reminiscent of a Grimm Brothers fairy tale — Cottrell poses this opening question: "Sandman, who is lonely as I am?" Simultaneously, a wave of distortion crashes over the vocals, instantly making it one of the most morose songs the band has written.

“I've seen nothing so cruel as God's hand,” Cottrell sings in the 2015 song, which sounds like a presage to Wolfe's medical misfortune.

But now that it's back at full strength, the band plans to write a followup to 2018's Eternal Return, according to Wolfe. “We’re just going to buckle down and focus on putting together new material. A bunch of stuff is written and just sitting there on recorded versions,” he adds.

Until then, get your fix live.

Windhand, with Un, 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 22, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue; tickets are $20.