THE SELF-TITLED debut album from Richmond, Virginia, metal band Windhand came out 18 months ago, without much fanfare, on a small but respected local record label. Windhand guitarist Garrett Morris, who also produced the album, talks about it like it was just another rite of passage in his hometown.

"Everybody was putting out records," Morris says. "So we were just doing the same thing everyone else was in Richmond: putting out an album on Forcefield Records."

Such is life in one of America's best metal scenes, where veteran heavies like Lamb of God, Municipal Waste, and, of course, GWAR have paved the way for a rising crop of young, adventurous metal bands such as Inter Arma, Bastard Sapling, Cough, and Mutilation Rites. And then there's Windhand, which just might have the most growth potential in white-hot Richmond, thanks to its bracing collision of thick, sludgy doom metal and Dorthia Cottrell's vocal melodies, which are unmistakably catchy despite being smeared with effects and submerged in thunderous riffs.

The reach of Windhand far outstripped its modest origins. The album got the attention of big-time metal label Relapse Records, which put out a Windhand/Cough split album last year and signed the band for its excellent sophomore effort Soma. Relapse had no interest in tinkering with Windhand's formula, Morris says, instead insisting that he man the booth on the new record.

Smart move. Put simply, Soma sounds incredible; it's both suffocatingly heavy and super melodic, reflecting Morris' production aesthetic. "I wanted it to sound dirty and gritty, like an old 1930s movie," he says. "I love metal. I listen to... heavy records. But I also like a lot of stuff. I grew up mainly in the '90s, so I was really into Nirvana [and] early Sub Pop. I like Sonic Youth and Pavement, stuff like that."

Perhaps that background will give him something to talk about with Windhand's fanbase, which is ballooning as the band's profile grows and as metal continues to find its way into new ears.

"We're definitely crossing over into not just the crusty metal people or the doom people or the record-collector guys," Morris says. "There's another audience there, and it's almost... kind of an indie rock-type crowd that's starting to come in. I notice those people way more than I notice the straight-up doom guys.

"There's a definite difference between those two groups," he continues. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying one is better than the other. It's just different, and it's noticeable. And we're all for it."