How do you start your first piece for a blog that you have been reading for a while?
Do you wait for something offered to you for the people in charge, my new overlords? Do you go with a current favourite, an album that is dancing its way around the charts? Do you go with a look at one of your favourite albums over the last few years, something that has been a lost classic? Do you have a look at the latest craze to hit the dance floors on both sides of the Atlantic, maybe a review of “Shut Up + Dance”?
In my case I have decided to take a look at a band who I have been following for a long time, one which I feel needs to have the spotlight shined on them.
I am talking about a strange beast, a semi-improv ambient, amplifier worship noise group from deepest, darkest Tyneside called Waheela.
Formed in 2009 this fierce five piece consists of Adam Potts on vocals, Chris Colding & Mike Potts on guitars, Andrew Gladstone-Heighton on bass and the man called Porter on drums. They have been stretching the idea of what constitutes as music ever since their first shows, focusing on ideas that were hinted at on a two-track nameless demo I received from the band.
The first time I saw Waheela. was at a pub in Newcastle called the Northumberland Arms.
They played one song which lasted about 25 minutes and it was an intense and brutal experience. Their set started on one theme that is acts as the main focus, a reference point for them to follow, then they just started to follow the mood of the crowd and it was a thought-provoking evening.
The guitarists had their backs turned on the crowd, focusing on their amplifiers as if they were mining the noise out of them, with Porter facing forward, focusing on his drumming as if his life depends on it. Adam on the other hand, he was in some sort of mesmerised state and lost in the music, wearing clothes he could break out of by flexing his muscles and screaming like a banshee in the night to announce the death of a loved one.
In this article, I will be looking at the past releases of Waheela, giving them a fresh review as it has been a while since I have looked at some of the records.
To start with, Waheela released live recordings of their jamming sessions, some of them would be the basis for their live sets. After releasing a nameless first live jam called ‘Waheela live at Barkollo 171011’, Waheela released WHLA0001 Lost Murray which was just under twenty-four minutes long, where it would batter the average listener into a pulp of forgotten flesh. It was recorded (as have all Waheela releases) with MP Wood at The Soundroom in Bensham, Gateshead which is regarded as the home of all noise acts in the Newcastle/Gateshead area (Side note – MP Wood is a prolific artist in his own right, his sets can cause pain and joy in equal measure).
Starting with reverb, the odd clash of cymbals as Porter starts to warm up his muscles in preparation for what is to come, Waheela then slowly build up the volume over a prolonged period as they aim to invoke the amplifier spirit of Boris and acts of that ilk.
The music would pitch and fall back to add texture and shade, also because it would take a giant of a man to keep up the brutality of the opening section of the song. But the song would loop around three separate passages, each punctuated with the primal screams of Adam Potts and each sounding unique and with its own individual purpose. This track, as well as all of the Waheela demos and some key tracks from other releases are available to listen to on the Waheela Soundcloud page here.
WHLA0002 Inherently Unstable starts with water dripping, a deep rumbling and strange samples, it has a sinister feeling that is all very present to this very day. When the guitars start, they have a distant feeling to them as if they are being played in another room. The bass slow warms up the audience on this recording with Porter gently hitting the cymbals once again, easing the listener into position as they get primed to unleash another wave of noise.
Once the noise boils over the brim, you are treated to a focused, coherent piece than “Lost Murray.” It does not have as many diversions into different sections, there is a constant theme for the most part of the song and it also have a brutal ending that is bathed in glorious guitar sounds as the bass keeps everything together and everyone else flies in various directions. They were starting to show signs of improvement at that early stage, taking what they had learnt from their first release and moving forward to another level.
After a remix of “Lost Murray” called “Found Murray (Transylvanian Sex Pest Mix)” by DJ Smear Test, the next track to be released was called WHLA0003 Plainview. The cover was of a random brick wall, it has no real distinguishable features, apart from some washed out chalked words and you could find yourself looking at it for hours and not finding out what they were on about.
Whilst it might seem pretentious, I really like the cover for this release.
It means nothing and it also means everything at the same time, the thing you are looking for is in plain view. Or, it could mean nothing and just be an image that they had found and thought would fit with this release.
Covers are, after all, open to interpretation, much like the music itself. The music is a familiar beast at the point, the way the band deconstruct their sound to build up the sound with wave upon wave from noise is truly special. They love to manipulate the listener, to push you, pull you and toss you around like a rag doll in the wash.
At this point, I was convinced that Waheela had reached their pinnacle for their sound. Then Waheela released WHLA0004 Amber and I was once again proven wrong. They updated their incredible sound with their most ambitious statement to date at that point. It started with an aggressive wave of feedback, one that continues to envelope the listener and band in a passionate fury which seems to go on forever.
Waheela also seemed to have reached a new gear on Amber as they were able to keep their foot to the peddle for a longer period, before the inevitable slow down in sound that is the muddy waters of drone, if only for their bodies to get a collective breather.
This is still one of my favourite recordings from Waheela, from the cover of a slice of amber, to the production of MP Wood, to the glorious track itself. It is rare to return to some noise pieces, sometimes the first experience is the best – Amber defies that logic and continues to deliver the goods with each repeat.
At this point, Waheela had released four fantastic demos which had all seen the band stretch their music muscles, improving with each release and never settling on one specific section of noise/drone rock. They were about to release one of the lost gems of noise rock and no-one knew it.
They were about to release HX Pop on cassette on Cruel Nature Records (link to the Cruel Nature Records Bandcamp page here). Released on August, 11th 2014, this was their first recording which was split into three separate and distinctive tracks, all with a different nature and style. Starting with the sonic attack that is “TEAMS”, the subtle and hypnotic “Hoffman” (their tribute to the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman’ which was a gentle pool of reflection and akin to the style of Earth, finally finishing with the monster that is called “What Makes It Red”.
They excelled themselves on HX Pop, releasing a trio of new songs (plus a live recording from the Octernal Festival in Leeds, 2013) that went beyond their demo sessions.
It was the same band, but they had committed to something else and stepped out of their own comfort zone by nailing down three distinct sections of their sound, naming them and releasing them to the world. For me, this release is their Wish You Were Here, their Led Zeppelin IV, their White Album, their Altar, it is the album from Waheela that I hold in high regard. I adore every last note, every beat, every pulse of sound that comes from this recording. On a side note, the first time I heard this album was on a flight to Corfu, Greece, it is the best cure to flight nerves outside of strong French lager.
Then, they released No Funeral on November 22 2014. Waheela did their live shows around this time, promoted the album and it was the first time that something different happened for the band. It was the first release to not improve or better on their last release.
To be fair on the band, it would have been a tall over to do at that point.
HX Pop is a towering release and No Funeral is a return to their comfort zone, within a given sense of the word ‘comfort’ – we are after all looking at the back catalogue of a noise/drone band. But this is not saying that the music is not to their usual high levels, to their peaks of sonic sounds and muddy waters of sludge.
It just felt like they had made this point before, so where was the evolution on this one?
The ability to move onto the next sound, the next sonic boom if you will has always been Waheela’s biggest strength. So, to see them in a holding pattern was not an easy thing to witness, even if it still sounded like it could fill even the biggest pit of despair with such wondrous sound it would make demons weep.
Then, silence fell on the Waheela empire.
They would play shows, playing up and down this septic green isle called Great Britain, but there was no new music forthcoming. The silence was broken on June, 11th 2016 when they released Treading on Weird Lines (you can purchase this from the Waheela Bandcamp page here). With multiple covers, the band once again descend deep within their arsenal of noise and created another spectacular piece of art, one which challenges you as a listener on every level.
Starting with Glass Wrestler, a wave of haunting harmonics is let loose on the listener as everything else slowly rises from the dust being created by the rumbles of the amplifiers.
The rest of the band come in slowly, the noise raising slowly like the mist evaporating on a summer’s morning, the feedback rises and Waheela are firing on all cylinders.
Following this is Bail on Sky, the longest of the three track on this record. It is the standard length of one Waheela demo, coming in at twenty-seven minutes and thirty seconds. It is a long time for one track, an endurance test on any listener. But this is not an average band, they do not create casual tracks for your listening pleasure – they create music to lose your sense of self, to forget about the world outside as you are trapped in a hypnotic realm of sounds that is impossible to leave once you have understood the beast.
Ending this record is Nada, a mere nine-minutes in length which is childs play to these men. They end this release in nine minutes of noise driven sludge, a slow and thought-provoking piece that ends with a slow fade and the noise still ringing in your ears.
So what does the future hold for Waheela?
After looking at the past releases of Waheela, it is time to see what their future entails. This is something of a mystery to me at the moment, nothing is forthcoming on their various social media channels and that probably means trouble to be honest. Apart from a few gigs and an announcement about their annual Great Northern Amplifier Worship festival (GNAW), it has been very quiet on the Waheela front.
I can only hope that M.P. Wood is terrorising them in the studio, keeping them pointed towards their amplifiers till their ears bleed. I am sure whatever they are doing, it will be loud, it will be bass driven and it will be unique.
I have always believed in and adored Waheela, they are offering a dark mirror to the world that is unlike anything else happening out there.
I know it sounds pretentious, but I can only say what I feel is true, the world needs bands like Waheela to keep everything interesting. I mean, would you want a world with every acts sounding the same and pumping out identical songs? It would be hell and you know it, acts like Waheela are here to prevent that and long may they continue.