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Windham Hell was a metal band from the United States. Windham Hell was an underground band in practically every sense of the word, a band who did things on its own terms with no regard to mass appeal. Theirs was one of those have-to-hear-it-for-yourself styles, blending classically influence guitars, extensive ambient/atmospheric effects, intense riffing, and sparse death vocals (really, the band was mostly instrumental), an original and intriguing style (though at times uneven) that lent itself to much experimentalism. The band is presumed to be no more.
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WINDHAM HELL Discography

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WINDHAM HELL South Facing Epitaph album cover 2.00 | 1 ratings
South Facing Epitaph
Avant-garde Metal 1994
WINDHAM HELL Window of Souls album cover 3.50 | 1 ratings
Window of Souls
Avant-garde Metal 1996
WINDHAM HELL Reflective Depths Imbibe album cover 3.00 | 1 ratings
Reflective Depths Imbibe
Avant-garde Metal 1999


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WINDHAM HELL South Facing Epitaph

Album · 1994 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Conor Fynes
'South Facing Epitaph' - Windham Hell (4/10)

Windham Hell is an archetypal underground band, even many metalheads already leaning towards avant-garde approaches know next to nothing about them, and yet they are considered legendary by their sparse fans. This was originally a one man act of neoclassical guitarist Leland Windham's, but fellow multi-instrumentalist Eric Friesen also joins him on this debut, and the two would have a productive partnership for the better part of a decade. 'South Facing Epitaph' is one album that polarizes what few listeners it receives, with some lauding it for its experimental zest, and others seeing it as a brutally incoherent mess. Most often when it comes to albums like these, I am able to see the merits of both arguments, although in the case of Windham Hell's debut, I might say that this album is a little too rough, and far too aimless to be the classic that fans make it out to be.

Call it avant-metal, or neoclassical, or anything, Windham Hell has an interesting style to them, although it lacks the direction that would give a lasting impression on me. It is clear that Windham Hell are a band that aren't playing for anyone but themselves, and the meandering, at times challenging nature of the music reflects that; a flurry of neoclassical shred sections contrasted with sections of dark ambiance and excerpts from cult horror films. There are a few sparse sections where the band uses death growls or muffled clean vocals, but for the most part, this is an instrumental band, and that is probably for the best. Windham Hell isn't a band about melody or things sounding pretty. It is a fairly rough recording that promises some very interesting experimental art, but it does come out a bit short. What metal sounds that are here are feel dispassionate and cold, the shredding passes me as a slightly sloppier Yngwie Malmsteen, and the compositions feel like sketches, rather than completed pieces.

The neoclassical, or metal elements of Windham Hell really do little here, the heavier riffs are very basic and are given a very barebones feel to them, and while I'll say that its clear the both Windham and Friesen are good guitarists, their neoclassical shreds are something that has been done in the past, much, much better. The most interesting thing here are the ambient angles, especially when dialogue is used. Hearing garbled dialogue from the cult horror film Jacob's Ladder, with a disembodied voice telling someone that he is dead and in hell is pretty chilling, and the way that the band works in into the music is a little unpolished, but effective.

Windham Hell's debut is like a vast buffet of stale food; there's plenty of stuff to experience and try out, but the experience as a whole is none too impressive. There is reason for Windham to be acclaimed on the underground, but as it stands, I can't call myself a fan of what these guys are doing here.

WINDHAM HELL Reflective Depths Imbibe

Album · 1999 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Conor Fynes
'Reflective Depths Imbibe' - Windham Hell (6/10)

With as many bands as there are playing within the metal umbrella, it is difficult to find bands that have a sound to themselves, let alone coming up with unique metal. The style of shred guitar is one such style which all too often seems to throw away thoughts of distinguishing oneself stylistically, instead aiming to wow the listener with an erudite knowledge of scales, theory, and the ability to ply fast enough to dislocate the Earth off its orbit. Windham Hell therefore comes as an oddity; in a style of music I have largely grown out of, they have done something with it that I would not have imagined; an avant-garde, experimental twist on shredding. There is still good reason why this band never met much of an audience during its time, but the unique sound here is certainly worth checking out what Windham Hell has to offer on 'Reflective Depths Imbibe'.

When I think of neoclassical shred metal, I typically think of artists like Yngwie Malmsteen; musicians whose skill and speed with the guitar are outweighed by their titanic egos, and this usually reflects greatly in, as well as deters from the musical product. Not much is known about Windham Hell's Leland Windham and fellow axeman Eric Friesen, but if the music on this third album is any indicator, it seems they have alot more on their minds than themselves. Neoclassical shredding (IE: playing scales faster than most people can play them) is a large part of the music here, but it is combined with a profound sense of atmosphere, one that might be even best identified with black metal. There are parts here where the counterpointing guitar lines sound like the work of an orchestral composer, and these two guitarists manage to play up to par with many shredders. Although labelled often as avant-garde metal, this is not so much experimental as it is taking existing elements and putting them together in a way that other artists have not really done before; it is the atmosphere that gives Windham Hell their unique vibe.

While this third album is much stronger than the debut 'South Facing Epitaph', there still seems to be something lacking in Windham Hell's sound. Maybe it is the amateurish feel or pounding drum machines, or even the fairly inconsistent level of quality in the music, but Windham Hell still seems to be coping with some issues, even on their last leg. I will say that when 'Reflective Depths Imbibe' is at its best, it touches the level of mastery. On the contrary, when it reaches its worst, it can get pretty painful, particularly the gloomy mixing of the drums and barely audible vocals- which are scarce enough as it is. Windham's best traits lie in the neoclassical arrangement, the sections where the music makes an effort to sound composed and classical. The shredding is well-done, but at this point for me, it runs thin very quickly. There are even a few thrashy moments here that don't do much for me.

Windham Hell's music sometimes verges on brilliance, but like the two albums before it, 'Reflective Depths Imbibe' suffers from a very patchy, inconsistent framework that tends to give me a rather mixed impression, rather than being able to call it a grand, or bland album. For what its worth, the excellence demonstrated in doses here is more than worth the parts where I was less convinced of the band's strength, although it does disappoint me to hear such potential greatness only feel partially realized in the end.

WINDHAM HELL Window of Souls

Album · 1996 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Conor Fynes
'Window Of Souls' - Windham Hell (7/10)

Although Windham Hell is typically labelled as a neoclassical shred metal project, it certainly gives the wrong connotation about what this band is all about. Although this two man partnership is now defunct, shredders Windham and Friesen made some pretty chilling music over a trilogy of albums, and while I did not always like where they went with their music, I always respected the vision and intent behind it. 'Window Of The Souls' is the second in the trilogy, and it is arguably the best of the three. The music here is undoubtedly neoclassical metal, but the style has been tweaked to the point where it might be best to call Windham Hell something else all together.

Much in the style of artists like Jason Becker or Yngiwe Malmsteen, Windham Hell's primary draw are from the great classical composers like Bach, as well as the virtuosic violinists who would lead their concertos. The style is largely characterized by playing compositions with a puritanical devotion to theory and scale. As one might imagine, the style is sometimes condemned for what some consider to be a one-dimensional attitude in the music; focusing on speed and technicality over feeling. Don't get me wrong, I do love hearing Becker or Malmsteen now and again, but I would agree that it often feels like a vessel for egotism rather than earnest musical expression. Windham Hell now brings a new article to shred metal that I do not think I have heard before from it; atmosphere.

Windham Hell is best described as neoclassical shred filtered through a dark filter of atmosphere, most readily associated with black metal. The soundscape is filled with reverb and ambiance, and this is really where Windham Hell raises themselves up beyond just being another shred project. As is standard for this band's albums, 'Window Of Souls' also have ambient sections that use film dialogue from cult horror movies, and it fits in very well; parts towards the end gave me chills, and as far as ambiance goes, the sections of quiet really add to the effect of the album. The metal aspects of the album are also the best you will hear from Windham Hell. Much of the guitar work is true to neoclassical metal, worshiping scales and paying tribute to much of Vivaldi's work. The closer 'The Last Of Summer' takes the theme from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' and gives it a metal do-over; its nothing revolutionary or new, but it is done very well. There are scarce growls, but they are usually so drowned out in the mix that it feels unnecessary. This is not the only thing that feels a little flimsy in the recording. Although I cannot say I have heard a combination of styles like Windham Hell's before, it still suffers from a fairly amateurish sense of production. There are aspects here kike the vocals that more or less fail at doing anything for the music, and this takes away from the brilliant effect that the original feel of this album creates.

Windham Hell won't likely be making any more music now that Eric Friesen has passed on, but this album is a great thing; a unique and chilling take on a genre that usually does not see anyone experimenting with it. 'Window Of Souls' is my favourite of the three records that Windham churned out, and best balances their metal aspects with the dark ambiance that dominates the quieter side of their nature.

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