Blackwater Holylight. Photo by Erin Gragson.

Winds of Winter

Portland heavy rock band with Eugene roots plays Old Nick’s

In 1970, the riff-centric songwriting and dark atmosphere of Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut stood at the intersection of two emerging styles: metal and goth rock. Just Another Diamond Day also came that year from the unusual English singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan, who along with artists like Sandy Denny added elements of hippie psychedelia to traditional folk music of the British Isles. 

Fifty years later, Portland riff-rock quintet Blackwater Holylight ties these threads together with its latest release, Veils of Winter. Last time through town, Blackwater Holylight supported internationally acclaimed Eugene doom rock trio YOB at WOW Hall. 

Rendered entirely in low-end hum and in the high register of the singing voices — all five members of the band share vocals — with next to nothing in the mid-range, Veils of Winter alternates between dreaminess and riff-centered intensity.

Psychedelic folk music like Bunyan’s definitely influenced Blackwater Holylight, says guitarist and singer Laura Hopkins in an email from Mexico, where the band has been on tour since the first of the year.

“We got to experience Mexico City and all of the culture while hanging out with our friends from Guadalajara. It’s been amazing,” Hopkins says.

Unlike psych-folk, though, Hopkins demurs when asked about the impact of metal music. “Each band member is influenced by a different genre,” she says. “So when we get together, you get the whole mixed bag.”

Hopkins grew up in Eugene, graduating from Wellsprings High School, where her interest in music was well supported. “I was encouraged to write songs and perform in front of people by my amazing teachers there,” she says. 

After moving to Portland about eight years ago, Hopkins and Blackwater Holylight bassist Alison “Sunny” Faris started playing music together. “Over the course of time, we started turning up the volume of our instruments,” Hopkins says. 

The band’s lineup was completed with Sarah McKenna on synthesizers and Mikayla Mayhew on guitar. In 2019, Eliese Dorsay joined the band on drums.

Like Sabbath, Blackwater Holylight is undeniably electrified and unquestionably heavy. A bit like Bunyan, though, the music stretches back beyond the 19th century to something medieval and at times even pre-Christian, with otherworldly mood and mystical atmosphere, particularly on dreamy and dark album tracks like “Death Realms.” 

Elsewhere, the band proves its metal prowess in the sludgy middle section of the song “Motorcycle,” while the song “The Protector” slowly slinks along with a stony vibe.

Hopkins describes the sound a bit more plainly. It’s a choose-your-own adventure, she says.

“Whatever it brings to the listener, it’s really up to you,” she says, the music coming together through the collaboration of all five band members.

“We get into a room and whatever we are hearing, we play. It comes very naturally to us.” 

Blackwater Holylight plays with Eugene post-rock band Gazelle(S) and hard rocking local band Coyote 9 pm Saturday, March 7, at Old Nick’s; $8 advance, $10 door, 21-plus.