The man who would later become known as William the Conqueror set about earning his name in 1066, leading the Norman Conquest of England. Until his new moniker took its place, he was William the Bastard, and as England‘s first Norman king, he would struggle to keep his hold of power till the time of his death in 1088, quelling rebellions and continuously working to secure his position.
It’s the story of that struggle that seems to have interested Leeds instrumental post-doom trio Wiht (not to be confused with German stonerly heavyweights Wight) , who’ve given the title The Harrowing of the North to their self-released debut full-length in reference to William‘s quashing an uprising in Scotland shortly after assuming the throne in the late 1060s. Using historical documentation, Wiht craft a narrative through the album’s 20-minute titular cut entirely without the use of vocals, relying solely on the shifting mood of the song to act as emotional and functional descriptor.
That alone would be fascinating enough for me to want to hit the band up with Six Dumb Questions, but I was also eager to find out how “Orderic Vitalis,” the second and only other track on The Harrowing of the North, fit into the story, and how the idea came about to delve into England‘s rich imperial history of wars and kings. The band, who recorded The Harrowing of the North at Ghosttown Recording Studio, were happy to comply, with both guitarist Chris Wayper and bassist Joe Hall — the lineup is rounded out by drummer Rick Contini — offering explanation of the motives and circumstances behind the creation.
The Harrowing of the North was previously reviewed here, if you’d like to check it out, and please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. Tell me how the band got together. Things seem to have worked out pretty quickly between when you started playing and when you did your first show between April-August, 2009. Did you know specifically the sound you guys wanted when you started playing?
Chris: All three of us have been good friends for as long as we can remember, we played in bands together when we were younger but then all went our separate ways musically. Myself and Joe spoke for a while about getting something together, something heavy and fuzzed out. We then contacted Rick (drummer) and it all got together pretty sharpish!! Our first rehearsal revolved around several riffs and a bottle of good dark rum!! We felt the best way to get our shit together would be to book some gigs and have something to aim towards, it worked and the gigs went down a treat! The first EP we kind of knew what we wanted to do, and we were all really happy with the way it came out.
Joe: THotN was nothing like what we expected, due to adding/changing/breaking down and swapping parts around, it turned into something completely different… So I guess we have changed drastically from the way we initially wanted Wiht to sound, but still keeping the slow and heavy side to it alive and healthy.
2. What was it about the story of William the Conqueror that inspired you to take it on for The Harrowing of the North? Many bands write about the histories of their homelands, but with such a rich well to draw from, were there other stories that competed with this one?
Joe: I guess due to the fact that we were all brought up in Yorkshire, this is the tale that had the most relevance to us, and with it being a morbid and cruel subject it fits the overall feel of the band quite well. The first EP was loosely based around this concept also, just not to the degree THotN is.
I think Neil Edward, the artist who did the cover, did an absolute sterling job at replicating this into drawing for us as well.
There are tones of other tales and stories we would love to write about, maybe in the future we will explore further subjects such as British/Northern myths and tales, tales concerning Christianity, Scandinavian myths/Sagas, folklore etc. The possibilities here are endless….
Chris: We had written “Orderic Vitalis” long before we started writing “The Harrowing of the North.” “Orderic” was written just after we released the s/t EP and represented a change in direction. We then began to think about recording the next record and set about writing the next song “The Harrowing of the North.” This took about a year!! The song initially was written in sections then was drawn together before entering the studio. With the help of Ross [Halden] from Ghost Town Studios in Leeds, the song manifested itself into something we never could have imagined!! Ross is a genius, he’d probably hate being called that but it’s true!! He really helped us see our ambition of developing and creating this “concept” piece. So, I guess the writing process was done in the studio and practice room. As we were writing the parts to “The Harrowing of the North” I think we began to develop a sense of what this could turn into but the theme and concept for the record developed with the songwriting process
4. At what point did you realize you wanted Wiht to be completely instrumental? Working with such a specific theme and narrative, was there ever any temptation to take on a singer or have one of the three of you take on the role yourselves?
Chris: Singers are a pain in the arse!!! Nah… I guess as the band developed the need for a singer declined. We thought of the idea at the start and it’s probably fair to say some of the earlier tracks may have benefited in some cases from a singer. Personally, the greatest compliments from the reviews so far of The Harrowing of the North is the universal acceptance we don’t need or lose out from not having a singer on this record. Now, I think, we have developed a dynamic that means we write songs with no singing in mind, the need for vocals is replaced by a need for more riffs! The concept of The Harrowing of the North also lends itself well to our instrumental style. Having a concept and no vocals can allow the listener to imagine their own narrative without someone wailing over the top!
Joe: It’s all about the riff!
5. How does “Orderic Vitalis” relate to the concept of the album, or does it? Will subsequent releases also keep to historical themes, or do you see a change in the songwriting process in the future of the band?
Chris: “Orderic Vitalis” pays homage to the outspoken chronicler of William the Conqueror. A loyal subject, he was outraged and sickened with the unrelenting fury and cruelty William showed during the raids. He basically deserved his own song, not many people would of spoken so ill of the king! Orderic was also there at the time of William’s death, he claims William’s remorse of the raids and regret of the massacres he inflicted. The quote on the inside of The Harrowing of the North and on the back of our s/t EP are quotes from Orderic Vitalis in his epic writings Historia Ecclesiastica. It felt right to make this a separate track, an opus to Orderic and a vindication of William the Bastard!
The songwriting process is a pretty natural occurrence, I can’t see that changing. In regards to whether we continue with a theme or concept, I don’t know. They are pretty tough to write and to also make relevant to the listener, especially without vocals and I guess we hit something special with The Harrowing of the North, it may be foolish to try and repeat it!
6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
Chris & Joe: Yeah… we’ve started writing for the next record, sounding different from the last but that’s not to say it will change too much! We’re aiming for a vinyl release of The Harrowing of the North… you heard it here first!! Hopefully February/March 2012. Got some great shows lined up too, London, Edinburgh, Leeds, Oxford; check our Facebook page for them. Big shout out to the Leeds scene too, there are some truly great bands kicking around, most notably Wizard’s Beard, Tree of Sores, Khuda and A Forest of Stars. Also some mates from around the UK you MUST check out, (if you haven’t already): Undersmile, Conan, Slabdragger and Haar.
See you around!!
Tags: Leeds, UK, Unsigned bands, Wiht