“Clear-headed” probably isn’t a fitting descriptor for something so fuzzed out as Through the Woods into Deep Water, but in trying to sum up the progression of German stoner trio Wight on their second album, nothing else quite fits. The Darmsdadt three-piece made their debut early in 2011 with the Sabbathian heavy psych of Wight Weedy Wight (review here), and for all the potential that record showed, the follow-up seems to be the band taking their sound to a new level. What that means, essentially, is a more professional approach all around and a firmer idea of what they want their style to be. Hence “clear-headed.” Available through Bilocation Records as a limited double-vinyl or in a Fat and Holy Records CD digipak edition of 500 with a foldout poster of the Arik Roper artwork, the physical presentation of Through the Woods into Deep Water is just one way in which the band has developed from their already impressive beginnings. The nine-track/58-minute release shares in part with its predecessor the recording work of Jorge Medina – Lorenz “Lolo” Blümler also engineered five of the songs – and there are sonic consistencies on account of that, but on the whole the mix is better and guitarist/vocalist Rene Hofmann, oft-sunglassed bassist/saxophonist Peter-Philipp Schierhorn (also of black metallers Fallen Tyrant) and drummer Michael Kluck have more of a sense of what they want to do as a band. Songs blend elements from modern European heavy jamming, as on the thoroughly-percussed, thoroughly-soloed instrumental opening stretch of the 11:20 “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” with classic heavy rock boogie and shuffle – see “Master of Nuggets” – and the organic live feel of the first album is maintained even as Hofmann layers solos over top of each other and he and Schierhorn come together in sub-harmony for creepy opener “Kiss Your Friends Goodbye,” giving a sense of foreboding to what might otherwise just seem to be stonerly shenanigans and weighted jamming.
Not to say that stonerly shenanigans and weighted jamming aren’t part of it and a big part at that –Wight maintain a lighthearted atmosphere even in darker moments like the opener or the somber acoustic interlude “Halfway to Infinity” – but altogether, Through the Woods into Deep Water is a more professional record than was Wight Weedy Wight on nearly every level. More importantly, it’s among the best representations of next-gen heavy rock and psych that I’ve heard this year. The band’s songwriting purpose is clearly established, but a loose vibe is maintained, and even as Kluck crashes to emphasize the dooming plod of “Kiss Your Friends Goodbye” and the creepy lines, “My lap will be your graveyard/Kiss your friends goodbye,” are repeated in a manner reminiscent of a thicker take on The Kings of Frog Island, there’s something laid back in Wight’s mood that doesn’t take away as much from the threat as makes it even more vague and mysterious. After five minutes in, the opening fades and a slow, open jam fades up, underscored by Hofmann’s organ work. It’s a curious transition, but just as likely intended to defy expectation as anything else. As an introduction, it sets you up to not know what’s coming next. Fitting since what’s coming next is “I Spit on Your Grave,” an almost direct port of the riff to Pentagram’s classic “Forever My Queen.” Now, I don’t hold it against a band like Wight to cull parts from a band like Pentagram – it’s so obvious here what’s going on sonically and they take it somewhere else in the chorus, so I don’t at all get the sense that they’re trying to pass that riff as something they just came up with. Hell, even the drums are same in the intro. By the halfway point, however, it’s clear “I Spit on Your Grave” is repurposing more than it’s simply adopting, and the song puts that classic musical hook to good use. After five minutes in, the pace picks up and Wight unveil the first of Through the Woods into Deep Water’s several effective shuffles, only to shortly turn it on its head with metallic crunch. Only 13 minutes in, and the band has shown they’re nothing if not big on surprises.
“Southern Comfort and Northern Lights” arrives not entirely without precedent. Both “Let Me Know When You’ve Found God” and “Wight Weedy Wight” from Wight Weedy Wight were extended jams on either side of 11 minutes long. There’s more to “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights” than that, however. It basically breaks down into four parts: the opening jam, a boogie verse and chorus that cycles through twice, an organ-led break that also boasts some excellent interplay between Schierhorn’s sax and Hofmann’s guitar, a return cycle through that verse and chorus, and beginning just after 10 minutes in, a swaggering riff that’s too thick to really be a shuffle, but moves nonetheless. The structure isn’t what stands out in listening so much as the catchy chorus or the performances of all three players, but it shows that Wight, however far out they might go, still have a sense of not letting the song they’re writing get away from them, and with the dreamier acoustic interlude “Halfway to Infinity” following “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” it shows they feel that way about the whole of Through the Woods into Deep Water as well. After the sprawl of the preceding cut, it makes sense to have the classic Zeppelin-style acoustics where they are, the 3:32 track gradually introducing Kluck’s drums and Schierhorn’s bass to the mix before blowing out to an echoing and distorted finish that somehow keeps its otherworldly sweetness. Aside from sounding warm on its own, it’s a good bridge between “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights” and the 9:52 centerpiece “Master of Nuggets,” the riff of which is quick to infect and long to let go. Again Wight unleash a shuffling rhythm, the bass and drums holding it down while Hofmann breaks out a verse of lead lines on guitar and matches it vocally, pulling strings and holding notes at the same time in a classic kind of indulgence. After two verses, they move to a bouncing chorus of “oohs” that brings to mind Colour Haze’s falsetto non-verbal vocalizing, and where “Master of Nuggets” really distinguishes itself is in the extended jam that follows the next verse/chorus cycle. Schierhorn’s bass takes the fore for a moment and Hofmann answers back with a solo – Kluck holding the rhythm the whole time until shortly before eight minutes in the chorus begins again and Wight use it to transition into another meaty riff, an assortment of grunts topping until a stop brings back a couple measures of winding guitars and the age-old question, “What’s wrong with being sexy?” – the This is Spinal Tap reference delivered totally deadpan – launches the warm “wanna love ya”-type rocker “You!”
Once upon a time hosted in its demo form on this very site (streaming here), “You!” is a masterpiece of ‘70s riff worship, like Cactus played at half-speed through full-stacks, and the lusty lyrics make a perfect match. William Arthur Brown, Jr. offers backing vocals in the chorus, which slows down from the verse and has Hofmann holding long wah notes in dirty rock paean to forgotten gods. He layers a solo over the rhythm following the chorus, then they bring back the chorus again and only after four and a half minutes in do they shift gears again, to a kind of start-stop stoner riff that Hofmann tops with blues harp even as he solos and Schierhorn answers with low end fills no less righteous. To his credit, Kluck lets the other two take care of the flourish, rather than getting in on it himself and derailing the song, but his moment is still to come. Until then, Schierhorn underscores winding guitar lines on the 1:59 instrumental “Big Dose,” and the 3:49 “On a Friday” delivers the most straightforward riff rock of the album. Hofmann follows his own guitar vocally as he did on “Master of Nuggets,” but it’s lower register on “On a Friday” and he does more with the technique. Still, the song has much in common with the other verses and choruses that make up Through the Woods into Deep Water, but the difference is that unlike the others, that’s all there is to it. There’s a guitar solo, but no extended jamming. Blümler adds some percussion and in the ending the vocals turn to screams – Hofmann and Schierhorn in a call and response while Kluck does well building the tension – but on the whole it’s Wight’s most stripped down take, void of the kind of psychedelia that made its way into even “I Spit on Your Grave” or “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights.” It works, and while “Big Dose” probably could have provided transition on its own between “You!” and the 8:18 closing title-track, putting “On a Friday” where it is provides a final structural statement before the slower, more opening jam of the “Through the Woods into Deep Water” takes hold.
A simple cymbal wash from Kluck is all the intro the closer needs, and in no time, the guitars, bass and drums are establishing the song’s languid pacing and airy feel. There is a build at work, and in the second half, Hofmann works in a sleepy guitar solo, but the draw of the title cut is its patience, its natural feel and its psychedelic ritualizing, playing off elements that have been there throughout the entirety of Through the Woods into Deep Water but not yet brought so forward. As he’s done the whole album, Schierhorn provides excellent rolls of bass, and as wash of the wah and reverb-soaked guitar solo comes on, it’s more the bass I’m sticking with, but that’s me and I’m a sucker for well recorded low end. In any case, they finish “Through the Woods into Deep Water” no less ethereal than they started it, Hofmann’s guitar going solo for a moment to introduce the final movement and Schierhorn and Kluck joining in momentarily before a swirl brings the album to its conclusion. For the time it’s been since Wight Weedy Wight was released – roughly a year and a half – Wight have taken on remarkable growth, and as much as Through the Woods into Deep Water holds onto much of the atmospheric appeal of the first album, there’s a burgeoning maturity at work as well that’s unmistakable. The band has done a not insignificant amount of road time since then and released a split LP with Stone Axe (Tony Reed also mastered this recording), so it’s not like they’ve been sitting on their hands, but the focus they show in these songs and the confidence with which they execute even their ambient moments bleeds through the whole listening experience, and shows even more that as much as Wight have begun to payoff what they seemed to hint at with their first record, they have the potential to go even farther with this one. I don’t feel like I’m taking anything away from Through the Woods into Deep Water when I say that it makes me look forward to whatever Wight does next, but it’s worth emphasizing that their sophomore outing is cohesive and encompassing in a way that a lot of stoner rock strives to be but has neither the dynamics nor the strut to attain. Its songs are memorable and catchy but open and atmospheric, and its balance of styles is broad but even. And however clear-headed they may or may not have been during its construction, Wight have made a declaration of who they are musically that’s crystalline in its intent and now all that remains is to let the waters run deeper. Recommended.Bilocation Records, Darmsdadt, Fat and Holy Records, Germany, Through the Woods into Deep Water, Wight, Wight Darmsdadt, Wight Germany band, Wight Through the Woods into Deep Water