(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Withered.)
Make no mistake, despite the almost six-year gap between albums, and a significant line-up shift in the intervening years — with Primitive Man’s Ethan McCarthy and renowned uber-bassist Colin Marston stepping in to replace the departed Mike Longoria and Dylan Kilgore – Atlantean (shut up, that’s the right word) filth-mongers Withered are back with a vengeance… even though I’ll admit Grief Relic didn’t quite “click” with me the first time around.
A lot of that is down to opener “Leathery Rind”, whose clamouring, dissonant Death Metal overtones – more Gorguts than Gorgoroth – initially threw me for a bit of a loop.
There’s something to be said for being in the right “headspace” to listen to an album for the first time, and I’ll admit that “Leathery Rind” definitely knocked me out of alignment for a while.
But it’d be foolish to expect a band to come back after a six-year absence (and a new line-up) and not have a few new tricks up their sleeve. And I’m happy to report that, once I’d finally settled and recombobulated myself (remembering that Ulcerate have always been a key point of comparison for the band), I discovered just how much sick pleasure there is to be found within the dank, dark depths of Grief Relic.
Following the grinding, grating cacophony of “Leathery Rind” the listener is subjected to the relentless scorched-earth assault of “A Realm of Suffering”, part seething blast-fest, part groaning sludge-doom slog, part atonal apocalypse, and it’s almost something of a relief to encounter the band’s signature strain of slime-soaked, blackened necrosis in full bloom.
That being said, the pairing of these two tracks makes for a horrifically intense opening salvo. Mike Thompson’s bestial roar is still as potent and terrifying as ever, while drummer Beau Brandon remains a human dervish behind the kit, and the dense, Death Metal dynamic of the opener is then perfectly balanced by its successor’s pitch-black perversion.
Though the morbid, clanging chords of “Withdraw” initially indicate another track located on the disharmonic, Death Metal end of the scale, the unsettling tremolo melodies and suppurating bass work that dominate the mid-section of the song still hearken back towards the band’s most introverted and introspective moments, as does the suicidal, sludge-encrusted opening to “Feeble Grasp”, a song which shifts back and forth in suitably nauseating fashion between a sluggish, doom-laden crawl and a series of scathing blackened convulsions (with even some filthy, Entombed-esque hooks thrown in now and then) over the course of its decaying, distorted run-time.
More immediate and instantly catchy (in the way that, say, a venereal disease is catchy) “Husk” bumps up the energy with its punchy, Pavlovian rhythms and manic blastery, with Marston’s slick, intestinal bass lines coiling and undulating in and out of the cracks between every mammoth, rib-splitting riff, after which the bombastic chaos of “Downward” picks its moment to finish you off with a controlled-demolition of napalm-soaked riffs and scything sonic shrapnel.
The penultimate Black/Death march of “Distort, Engulf” is underpinned by some surprisingly fluid and melodic bass work, and makes full use of Thompson and McCarthy’s grim and guttural vocals, even as it never strays far from the filth and the fury of the gutter, leading, at last, into the album’s foul, festering finale, “To Glimpse Godliness”, a hideous amalgamation of rusted, blackened hooks, lurching rhythms, and diseased Death Metal deviance.
This is one hell of a nasty piece of work. There’s no denying that. It may skew a tad more Death Metal than its predecessor, Dualitas, but the end result is the same. Withered have returned.
May god have mercy on us all.
Grief Relic will be out on May 27 via Season of Mist (you can order it here). A full stream begins below.