The six year wait since the astonishing and punishing Dualitis has been a long one but Atlanta’s Withered reclaim their rightful spot on the death by way of black metal throne with fourth full length Grief Relic. But this time that description only tells a part of the story. With lineup changes seemingly the norm since right after their debut, the band has soldiered on and has somehow gotten stronger as time marched on. With new blood comes new ideas and new perspectives but the triumph in all of that is that Withered stay true to their roots and demolish everything in their path.
Admittedly, I’ve followed this band since the early days of playing small shows in small venues in and around Atlanta. I’ve witnessed them destroy a very small record store in Greenville, SC during the Folie Circulaire era. So for me to say the band exacts a pummeling no matter the size of venue or headcount in attendance is an understatement. In addition they are one of those bands that sound the same on recorded media as they do live. The fact that they’ve stayed true to their initial intent on debut Memento Mori, particularly in this day and age of short attention spans, is an anomaly. They’ve successfully taken death and black metal to new heights with their progressive take on both yet never shied away from the ugly, nasty side of either genre.
Lineup changes be damned as they now have Ethan McCarthy (Primitive Man) and Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice) amongst their ranks. You may be thinking ‘supergroup’ and technically you’d be right but the band’s sound hasn’t changed to fit either. Rather, it’s gotten better and intrinsically more dangerous, but is still unmistakably Withered. “Withdraw” has that helpless, drowning feel of Primitive Man but with all the dramatic time shifts and double kick percussion interwoven within, so it still sounds like one of the more earthy tracks from Dualitis. Much the same can be said for “Feeble Gasp” with the exception of the dissonant patterns that wouldn’t be out of place on a Krallice album. Opener “Leather Rind” is one of the more forward thinking tracks offered with Mike Thompson’s serpentine take on black metal riffs being at the forefront.
If anything, the band comes across more sophisticated than ever before. But also more emotional, at least in the lyrical delivery. Taken at face value it would seem they are grittier than ever before, focusing on real life struggles this time out. In the desparity driven album closer “To Glimpse Godliness” the band slugs through lines such as ‘the relief of despair overwhelms’ and its hard not to feel the weight of burden and sadness. But fear not if you’re looking for old school Withered as “Husk” has you covered with an impenetrable wall of charred death metal.
On Grief Relic, Withered return with an exceptional statement of progressive songwriting and fantastic downtrodden themes that combine for possibly their best work to date. Only time will tell if this one outshines and outlasts Dualitis but one thing is for sure, Withered are still the same feral beast they’ve always been. Hopefully we won’t have to wait 6 years for the next release. But if we do, this album will more than tide us over until then.