Singer-songwriter Dorthia Cottrell hails from King George, Virginia, a rural town about an hour and a half from Washington, D.C. Best known as front woman of underrated Richmond doom-metal band Windhand, Cottrell also makes solo recordings that recall the beauty and terror of the music of her youth—the folk songs she heard with family as well as the goth and alternative rock she gravitated to on her own. Her new second album, Death Folk Country (Relapse),is mesmerizing and beautiful. It explores death as a source of horror and of comfort (underpinned best by its opening and closing tracks, “Death Is the Punishment for Love” and “Death Is the Reward for Love”) in a gothic folk style that feels like doom metal stripped down to its barest bones. The record’s first single, “Family Annihilator” (released with an evocative video), has tight, intense murder-ballad energy and uses a slow rocking rhythm to build ritualistic power. Its second single, “Take Up Serpents,” is based on the Bible verse that has inspired churchgoers in Pentecostal Holiness denominations to handle snakes and drink poison, and its joyous country-gospel sound makes it one of the album’s most soothing songs—if you don’t think too hard about its themes. “Midnight Boy,” with its slinky, smoky, crunchy guitar, celebrates a demon lover with delirious horniness. Cottrell’s sly, gritty vocal delivery is so absorbing that it feels like the blink of an eye before the song fades into “Hell in My Water,” a bitter bluesy ballad about alcoholism and regret. Though Cottrell leans hard into death and sorrow, some of the album’s best moments are its most yearning. On “Eat What I Kill,” she sings: “Stop your crying and castin’ on runes / Once a bad girl, a bad girl for good / I think we both know, we’ve done more for worse / So why are you saying my name like a curse?” The same day Cottrell releases Death Folk Country, Relapse reissues Windhand’s self-titled 2012 debut album in a remastered edition with five previously unreleased bonus tracks—juxtaposing two sides of Cottrell’s remarkable career.
Dorthia Cotrell’s Death Folk Country is available through Bandcamp.