A death seat is a powerful obelisk. It carries with it grim imagery — the idea that, at any moment, where you sit could spell the end of existence. Whether you choose a literal or metaphysical interpretation, the visage of death will be staring you in the face. However, James Toth’s death seat — the ups and downs of being on the road, the weariness of blue collar work, a battle with a major label — has amounted to a new book of scripture with the heavenly Michael Gira guiding him to the light.
Death Seat sees Toth returning to the dark folk that formed Wooden Wand’s reputation. Back behind the warmth of his nom de plume, Toth digs deep into his soul to reveal those recesses he’d rather forget. Yet Death Seat is the sound of Toth riding out the shit storm, hands grasping the dashboard as the devil puts the pedal to the metal before eating it at Dead Man’s Curve.
The moral choices, everyday mistakes, Biblical epitaphs, and life epiphanies that have littered past Wooden Wand albums play the part of the lead foot. The first step of absolving one of sin is to repent: “Bobby” plays out Toth’s sins before he hits full speed. He rattles off a note of self-caution sung into the rear view mirror as he stares down his mortality at the edge of a cliff. He chastises the titular character for his meekness while giving praise for “not being as bad as you seem.”
If Toth is going to set fire to his past, he could not do it to a better soundtrack than “The Mountain.” The song delves into his talent for abstract storytelling, returning to the calculated repetition of Harem of the Sundrum & The Witness Figg to blend psychedelic musings with wise-man observation in a nod to Dylan. The homage continues with“Until Wrong Looks Right” and the title track. Last rites as stream-of-consciousness ballads disguised as country love letters: one last attempt to put away the past and begin life anew.
We were once told that the end of Wooden Wand had come, but Death Seat is the lost eulogy to a bygone era. Gira has coaxed Toth to toss flowers on his own grave, ready for his own Christ-like resurrection. Death Seat leaves nothing unsaid, and through this purge, Wooden Wand is absolved from past sins, ready to face a new life with a new resolve. The fiery mess of mangled metal and flesh looks much better from atop the cliff than from the wreckage.