9/18/2009 - Review by: Etiam
As yet another band rising from the early-00s Georgian scene, Withered are both blessed and cursed. Blessed in that metal fans are beginning to associate Georgia with a particular style--just as New York or Florida are with death metal and California is with black metal--and may be more likely to seek out bands from that school. Cursed in that they have a high bar to clear and lots of competition if they hope to make any lasting impression on the national scene. The band's debut, 'Memento Mori', was generally well thought of by those who heard it back in 2005. Unfortunately, that didn't comprise too large a crowd, and with their second album, 'Folie Circulaire', Withered are still trying to put their name on the national map.
Given the caliber of the names that helped produce this album, musically and artistically, Withered's taking the right steps to get noticed. The album was mastered by Scott Hull of Pig Destroyer, who (naturally) put a dense and dirty finish on top of Phillip Cope's already gritty production; the layout was once again handled by Paul Romano (see Mastodon, Trivium, etc.). As for the music itself, Withered do still fall recognizably within Georgia's sludge metal scene, but share relatively little with thartful twinings of Baroness or latter-day Mastodon. Instead, their frenetic percussion and brawny rhythms share more with Mastodon's pre-'Remission' days, Kylesa's brashest moments, or even the grindcore tradition of Napalm Death. As it happens, Barney Greenway even appears as guest vocalist on two songs, and it comes as no surprise that Withered's members have past experience in "grindcore/crust" acts, as their press material notes.
That is not to say that Withered don't have depth: tracks such as 'Gnosis Unveils' unfurl with sequenced motives and overlapping parts almost like a soundscape epic (think Mouth of the Architect) before dropping into a splashy verse and Nasum-like high/low vocal alteration. The album even features a grooving cover of Necrophobic's 'Into Armageddon', which actually makes plenty of crossover sense. The song features an almost punky kind of d-beat, while Withered's own riffing patterns often draw from the slowly shifting tremolo melodies pioneered by 90s Swedish black metal. In fact, some songs--the first twenty seconds of 'Purification of Ignorance', for example--could easily pass as European black metal, such is the production, riffing attack, and percussive onslaught. This use of minor harmony is a highly effective counterpoint to the often major-based progressions favored by the Southern metal scene. In this sense, Withered may not appeal to all metalheads--indeed, perhaps this is one of the least accessible acts from the entire Georgian scene--but at the least they are distinctive and command respect.
Despite this scattered genre array--soundscape, black metal, grindcore, Southern, sludge--Withered's MO remains admirably focused and forceful throughout nearly all of 'Folie Circulaire'. All the aforementioned styles have been assimilated enough into Withered's songwriting that no passage, from clean instrumental interlude to pure splash-blast aggression, seems too disjointed or unrelated to its neighboring tracks. Rather more so than most of their peers, Withered exude a constant aura of severity and (at least ideological) sophistication. Though not so progressive as Mastodon, nor so introspectively obtuse as Baroness, Withered's music is dense enough to require more than a few listens before all its secrets are revealed. The album doesn't really feature a standout single, either, and leaves a much more positive impression as a full album than through any single track.
The closing Necrophobic cover does throw off the album's continuity and sense of finality, but is a reasonable and fitting addition, considering Withered's source of inspiration. Also, as appropriate as earthy production is for Withered's style, the album's lack of clarity and an occasionally mechanical drum feel is a detriment, especially to already very dense. A more snarly and audible bass would help Withered really achieve the 'obliteration of their listeners' that they reportedly seek. That being said, this album's production is unquestionably better than its predecessor's and is one of the largest improvements the band could have made. The general style of songwriting remains quite similar to the first album's, but is moderately more developed and suggests even greater growth to come. One would hope that, along the way, Withered will find in their picks and sticks a couple real knock-out numbers that will hook new listeners into giving the rest of their album its fair due. Altogether, from pre- through post-production, from lyrical concepts to its booklet rendering to the dramatic musical catharsis contained within, 'Folie Circulaire' is a fully professional album. If there's one thing Withered share with their Georgia peers, it's how they defy the "sophomore slump" in style.
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