Centered mostly around its heavy-hitting title cut, the debut self-released full-length from British doomers Wiht culls together heavy sludge tonality and foreboding atmospherics to tell the story of William the Conqueror’s quelling of a Scottish rebellion in the late 1060s. With no vocals. Okay, maybe relying on instruments only to tell a highly-specific, historically-based narrative is a bold move, but sure, one could read the eight component movements that are combined into the 20:47 “Harrowing of the North” as having a narrative flow. In any case, the song is certainly grand enough to stand in line with its purported themes, and the trio Wiht do well in evoking an array of moods all within a singular direction. The Harrowing of the North has several familiar elements, but guitarist Chris Wayper, bassist Joe Hall and drummer Rick Contini carve a personality out of them nonetheless, and the Ross Halden production job at Leeds’ Ghosttown Recording Studio does well to bring that out. Halden also adds synth to “The Harrowing of the North” (Charlie Barnes of prog rockers Amplifier donates piano), and though the effect is one that rounds out to Wiht having some measure of a post-metal influence, they’re working with a more complex palette than just the basic and well-worn tactics of the subgenre.
That said, like most releases with even the most vague post-metal leanings, Wiht have their “Stones From the Sky” moment, and by that I mean they too fall prey to the inclusion of post-metal’s most copped riff from the end of the closer of Neurosis’ seminal 2001 album, A Sun That Never Sets. “The Harrowing of the North” has about 10 full minutes before it gets there, though, opening quietly with a movement dubbed “1069” (again, these are all presented as one track, so if I get the timing wrong, I apologize; I’m basically guessing based on the changes in the song) for the first several minutes that leads to the heavier riffing of “From the Humber to the Tees” at around four minutes in. Contini proves an immediate asset to The Harrowing of the North, with steady tom hits and effective crashes punctuating Wayper’s spacebound guitar layers. A stretch of genuine stoner rock riffage commences with “Scortched Earth” that’s probably Wiht’s most straightforward move within “The Harrowing of the North,” setting up the softer but still active “Famine,” which in turn gives way to the half-time drummed “Wasta Est,” and finally, the aforementioned “Remorse,” which becomes the crux of the song for its second half almost immediately upon its arrival at 12:37. They could, and others have, but Wayper, Hall and Contini don’t just ride that riff out for the last 10 minutes of “The Harrowing of the North,” instead transitioning smoothly into the quieter “William the Bastard,” only to be revived as closing segment “1087” – the year of William’s death – rounds out the track. That riff is really the only repeated element of “The Harrowing of the North,” and though it’s been done many times over at this point, Wiht put it to good use, finishing the journey of the song with some string sounds buried under the distorted portions of the mix — likely that would be Halden’s synth – and coming out sounding more influenced than derived.
It’s a big difference for a band like Wiht, who are clearly still finding their way. The Harrowing of the North’s second track, “Orderic Vitalis,” is eight and a half minutes shorter than the titular piece, and carries no names for its different movements or parts. It does, however, play off some of the same heavy/soft contrasting and echoing ambience. Contini injects a little double-kick, though and that goes a long way toward establishing an overall groove, and the song as a whole feels more uniform than did “The Harrowing of the North,” which, despite accomplishing its goals, did so sounding less tight than Wiht do on the follow-up. There is less back and forth on “Orderic Vitalis,” and the effect it has on the listener – especially as regards Hall’s steady work on bass in the quiet section following the bombastic intro – is suitably hypnotic. One could see the difference between the two songs as that between loud/quiet shifts and pulling off an overall build. Wiht prove on their first record they’re pretty good working within either structure, and “Orderic Vitalis” provides ample payoff both for itself and the album as a whole, however much focus is intended to be on the preceding cut. The Harrowing of the North is short at 33 minutes, but appropriately so. With another 10-12 minutes included, the focus might be lost on these two tracks, and both prove worthy of the attention they demand. There are some underlying progressive influences at play in Wiht, and it should be interesting to hear how they develop between now and their next release. Wherever they end up stylistically, I’d be willing to wager they grow into a more individualized sound going forward, as they have a strong creative sense and will for exploration, and that almost always leads to something unique.
Tags: Leeds, UK, Unsigned bands, Wiht