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“Sonic diversity” was not exactly the name of the game on a sweaty Wednesday night on July 29th at Cambridge’s Middle East Upstairs. A bill headlined by Virginia’s Windhand and rounded out by locals Fórn and Wormwood promised 3 hours of relentless and bludgeoning doom, and that’s precisely what it delivered to a sold-out crowd. But with three bands who are this good at being this particular sort of heavy, what more can you really ask for?

Wormwood, led by Doomriders guitarist Chris Pupecki, led things off with the evening’s most upbeat set (“upbeat” being an extremely relative term here, of course). Bassist Greg Weeks in particular seemed to be having the time of his life powering through the band’s taught, sludgy songs, but the whole group’s passion for their kinetic brand of doom was fully evident.

Fórn dispensed with any sense of levity for their own set, performing in almost total darkness and largely appearing burdened by the weight of their own sound. Vocalist Chris Pinto quite literally wears his influences on his sleeve, sporting patches from Grief, Noothgrush and other spiritual predecessors in the bleak and hopeless. He’s a compelling presence on stage, never showy but difficult to take your eyes off of anyway. He grips his mic and bellows his lyrics like it’s genuinely the last thing he’ll ever do. This night saw Pinto and the entire band at peak power. From up close, the claustrophobic darkness and chest-shaking physicality of the set approximated the sensation of standing in the basement of a collapsing building in an earthquake. Fórn are worthy of the buzz, locally and beyond.

Not to be outdone, the quintet of Windhand set to work closing out the night with a boom in the shadow of their towering amps. Poised to release their third full length in September, following mounting acclaim behind their 2012 self-titled and 2013’s Soma, the band is facing a big moment as it embarks on a short summer tour and gears up for a much larger run across the U.S. in the fall. As a band who’s songs average in the 7-8 minute range, they’ve never been ones to shy away from widescreen ambition, and if this set was any indication, they should have no trouble rising to the occasion.

For just over an hour, Windhand immersed us fully in their crushing doom epics with little time for respite. The horned Gibson SGs of Asechiah Bogdan and Garrett Morris flanked the stage, exuding vintage-toned riffs at earsplitting volume with the rhythm section of drummer Ryan Wolfe and bassist Parker Chandler holding down the room-consuming low-end. Vocalist Dorthia Cottrell’s unorthodox, often soulful vocal turns proved the band’s most intriguing twist, though the set’s one major drawback was a sound mix that sometimes left her buried and barely audible. Still, her expressive, pained delivery made even the lyrics we couldn’t parse feel affecting.

Windhand’s music is sometimes criticized for taking a simple idea and simply running it into the ground, and hearing them perform leaves no doubt in the mind that repetition is a key factor in their songwriting. But this is music designed to wade through and get lost in. The band’s goal is ostensibly transcendence through hypnosis, and their thick, psychedelic-tinged assault on the senses proves wholly effective to that end in concert. Though the setlist was heavy on a mix of the band’s more familiar material, this was a performance that bodes well for their forthcoming record and future in general.

—Ben Stas

Wormwood

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Fórn

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Windhand

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