(Andy Synn presents the 65th edition of THE SYNN REPORT, reviewing the discography of Withered — who have a new album on the way.)
Recommended for fans of: Ulcerate, Krallice, Lord Mantis
Ugly. Raw. Nihilistic. Harrowing. These words — and many more besides — can all be applied to the work of bile-spewing troubadours Withered, who have so far produced three particularly stellar (if also particularly underappreciated) albums blending the raving savagery of Black Metal, with the wrenching heaviness of Death Metal, and the slime-drenched grooves of Sludge, each one bathed in a scalding miasma of acid-rain atmospherics and bleak, bitter misanthropy.
If you’ve encountered the band before, and/or have read any other reviews of their work, then I’m sure you’ll have noticed just how much of a struggle it is to adequately categorise the Georgian quartet (recently reduced to a three-piece after the departure of guitarist/vocalist Dylan Kilgore – who’s been replaced by Primitive Man’s Ethan McCarthy – as well as both long-time bassist Mike Longoria and his interim replacement Zach Harlan, with bass duties on the upcoming album being handled by a certain Colin Marston).
It’s not that the basic elements of the band’s sound are wholly unique – I, and others, have picked out references to everyone from (early) Mastodon to Morbid Angel, from Dissection to Neurosis, from Deathspell Omega to Entombed, underpinning their particular brand of Blackened Death-Sludge (or, possibly, Ensludgened Death-Black). It’s just that the resultant cacophony, this grim and godless entity that calls itself Withered, rises above these comparisons to stand defiantly on its own two feet.
Some people call them Death Metal. Some people call them Black Metal. Some people call them Sludge Metal. But whatever we all decide to call them, I’m sure we can all agree that they’re awesome.
MEMENTO MORI – 2005
The Georgian’s first album spins up rapidly with the bone-rattling “It’s All Said”, which deftly melds grimy, Grave-esque riffage to moments of sluggish, sullen Doom, before the more blackened, Dissection-y “Within Your Grief” appears, bringing with it a particularly dark blend of surprisingly melodic menace and grandiose, grief-stricken riff work that straddles the line between gloriously anthemic and grimly antagonistic.
From these descriptions and comparisons it might sound like these two tracks would sound disjointed and disconnected, but in fact quite the opposite is true. The pairing of these songs only serves to demonstrate how good Withered are at melding their influences into one cohesive, and distinctive, sound of their own, even if/when they occasionally lean harder on one particular aspect or element than the others.
The 8:43 death-dirge, sludge-punk stylings of “Like Locusts”, offer up a plethora of saw-toothed riffs and splintered melody lines along the way, leading to a lumbering, doom-laden second half laced with some particularly brutish and venomous back-and-forth vocal interplay, and is followed by the two-minute battering ram of “Silent Grave”, and the creeping cataclysm of “Beyond Wrath”, which features some serious channeling of prime Morbid Angel in its groaning, lurching riffs and unexpected knack for eerie, infectious melody – although it’s also overlain with a suffocating crust of filthy, doom-soaked atmosphere just to top things off.
The album ends with “The Fear and Pain That Cripples Me” – which is a veritable Gatling-gun burst of unrepentantly harsh dissonance and misanthropy that buzzes like a rusty bone-saw grinding its way through the meat and marrow – and the mammoth “Among Sorrow”, the album’s almost nine-minute long finale, which melds lumbering Death Metal heft and scorching Black Metal ferocity to a subtly melodic, almost Mastodonic, swagger – particularly during the track’s groaning, grimly majestic outro.
FOLIE CIRCULAIRE – 2008
Folie Circulaire was, if memory serves, my proper introduction to the band and, although these days I feel like Dualitas is the better album, as such it still holds a special place in my heart, representing a large, and bold, step up/forwards from their debut, with a thicker, meatier production and a more ambitious (dare I utter the “p”-word?) approach to songwriting and composition.
It’s also several shades darker, which is apparent right from the moment that the creeping atmospheric intro “To Embrace…” transforms into the gritty, bone-snapping “…The Fated Breath”, which marries its buzz-saw Death Metal riffing to a Remission-esque cavalcade of distorted hooks and contorted dynamic shifts (fueled by some incredibly propulsive and unpredictable drum work), building to a seething, Black Metal flavoured mid-song eruption, which is in turn succeeded by a series of rolling, neurotic chords and grinding riffs that bring the song to its convulsive conclusion.
The nerve-jangling “Dichotomy of Exile” is up next, a melding of stomach-clenching bass lines, wild, chaos-infused drum work, and a spasming barrage of riffs that buzz and swarm like an angry hornet’s nest. This is all overlain with some truly bestial vocals (running the gamut from throat-ripping screams to diaphragm-twisting growls), yet concludes with a poignant display of unexpectedly sombre, stripped-back guitar work.
“Gnosis Unveils…” is just under seven minutes of proggy, undulating bass-lines, dismal, dissonant riffing, and blast-furnace vocals that moves from moodily melodic to morbidly misanthropic, and back again, before transitioning into its unsettling atmospheric companion-piece “…The Forsaken Truth”.
This is followed by the gnarled assault of “Purification of Ignorance”, which incorporates a surprising dose of melody into its blackened, Neurosis-tinged blend of sound and fury, and the feverish “Drawn Black Drapes…”, whose electrified tremolo riffs and ever-mutating chord patterns are underpinned by some nimble, fretboard-ranging bass work and creative, unconventional drumming.
Its counterpart, “…Reveal the Essence of Suffering”, starts off as a full-force piece of ugly, scalding Black Metal – screaming, scarified vocals and all – backed by a sequence of impressively thick and clanking bass lines, but slowly transforms into a sludge-caked, deathly stomp, leading into a quiet, enigmatic bass-led interlude and a rampaging (but subtly melodic) conclusion.
“Clamor Beneath” is the album’s finale, at least in terms of original material (the actual last track is a grimly groovesome cover of Necrophobic’s “Into Armageddon”, FYI), whose massive, soul-crushing riffs and rabid, flesh-piercing hooks – all delivered with a pissed-off, necro-punk energy reminiscent of Entombed in full battle mode – serves to tie the whole thing off in a nice barbed-wire bow.
DUALITAS – 2010
The band’s third album is undeniably their best, and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees with me. Ok, not really, but I hope that gives you some measure of how strongly I feel about this issue.
Darker, deadlier, and more devastating than ever before, “Extinguished With the Weary” kicks thing off with its torrential downpour of flesh-stripping, acid-drenched guitars and molten metal growls, hacking and slashing with predatory intent as it coils and lurches from one brutally dense riff to the next. At the same time the song really demonstrates just how underrated the rhythm section of Mike Longoria and Beau Brandon are, with the nimble, stalking fretwork of the former and the fascinating multi-limbed percussion of the latter offering more than just the expected straightforward low-end intensity.
The whole thing climaxes with a surprisingly melodic, prog-tinged outro section, which leads into the bleak and moody introduction of “Reside in the Void”, which transitions in short order into a lurching, staggering morass of grimy, blackened SweDeath riffage and blood-gargling vocals, leading directly into the scathing intensity of “Seek the Shrouded”, which hits the ground running and simply refuses to break its stride, delivering a shock-and-awe assault of writhing, hook-infested riffs and frostburnt tremolo melodies reminiscent of Dissection at their sharpest.
The rather lazily titled “Interlude” brings a dose of groaning (yet, in places, almost melodic) atmospheric dissonance that provides a momentary respite from the ferocious nature of the album, before the pitch-black grooves of “From Shadows” pick-up the pace once more with a sense of morbid, nihilistic swagger and venomous style (as well as some subtly progressive, and downright impressive, bass/guitar interplay scattered here and there throughout the track).
“The Progenitor’s Grasp” starts out with an almost solemn melodic intro, but this is soon washed away by the torrential blastery that follows, the drums punching and pounding away with reckless abandon while the guitars rain down scalding distortion upon the listener in a truly merciless manner, before the whole song drops into a tar-thick, sludgy groove of bowel-loosening proportions, followed by an eerily desolate passage of pseudo-ambient reflection, building to a lightning-fast crescendo.
Though the album concludes with the swelling atmospheric dissonance of “Outro” (Seriously though, bands, stop doing this. I’m sure you can think of a better name than “Intro” or “Outro”. It can’t be that hard.), the true climax to Dualitas comes in the form of “Aethereal Breath”, 8:20 of brooding, crushing, ground-shaking riffs, dour, majestic melodies, and heaving, tidal dynamic shifts, which blasts and batters and brutalizes the listener like tormented Death Metal maestros Ulcerate in the middle of some sort of progressive, creative, exorcism.