Conceptual art and music can often make for a delicate balancing act; Not only does the sonic delivery have to transcend the subject matter, but the whole forming of the idea have to be executed with subtly and intelligence. Let’s face it, take your eye off the ball and you are more likely to end up with midgets dancing round a miniature Stonehenge than an Operation Mind Crime or Leviathan.
Boldly stepping onto the tightrope is Leeds based instrumental trio Wiht. Riding high on the back of the critical acclaim gained for their 2009 self titled debut EP they have turned their full length bow into the thematically influenced imagining of ‘The Subjugation of The North of England’ by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, and the troubled history of Doomsday-era Yorkshire.
Sounds like a lofty and potential suicidal trip hazard right? Well add in that it is an instrumental clocking in around 40 minutes and comprising of two tracks and frankly you’d think they would have to be utterly insane…
Ambitious? You bet, but these guys have not only been to the final of Battle for Damnation Festival in 2010 but have stood toe to toe live with names like Khuda and Brant Bjork and the Bros.
The first half of the album, also titled ‘The Harrowing Of The North’ contains 8 movements which follow the raids from their beginnings in 1069 when the King massacred Yorkshire’s people and destroyed the land ensuring it held no economic or cultural worth and remained subservient under his rule to his remorseful deathbed nearly 20 years later.
The music that frames this concept works through a range of tempos and emotive passages to capture the despair. The first is mournful and lilting, slowly building and majestic in its delivery. It makes you picture some riders on wind swept, bleak wet hill sides – I’ll resist the temptation to crack a joke about it being grim up north for fear of accusations of being a soft shandy drinking southerner, no matter how true either of those assertions may be….
Wiht manage to straddle several genres with ease – the expansive ebb and flow of low end fuzzed out psychedelia tempered by huge, driving walls of stoner doom. Intricate, swirling guitar mixes with urgent percussion and crashing, heavy evocative aggression.
The second track, dedicated to the out spoken chronicler ‘Orderic Vitalis’ who despite being loyal to his King was outraged at his cruelty and condemned him in his writings, is no less a brooding, dark affair. At times it is more frenetic and has more freedom not being weighted by the depth of history or time and expresses itself with clarity and more emotion. It manages to finish the album with a more succinct sense of purpose.
‘The Harrowing Of The North’, in essence, is not meant to be a casual listen but it is certainly mesmerising. The concept itself could easily be missed just by listening to it without vocals to tell the story, but how would you even begin to write and express such weighty subject matter without sounding cheesy or trite? What it actually is sonically is a work out by some incredibly talented musicians challenging and stretching themselves to create something that is powerful and at times hypnotic.
At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you buy into the concept or not to listen to it. You could imagine it to be the score to a Lord Of The Rings type epic or you could just disconnect it from the concept and ask yourself ‘do you like the music’? Instrumental psychedelic stoner doom is unlikely to change the world but these guys have made a great piece of music and deserve credit for it. Whether it invokes the subjugation of the north for you is a matter for debate, what it proves is that inspiration comes in many forms and if it works who are we to criticise? What is fact is Wiht are well worth a spin.
Label: Self Released
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden