Withered – Verloren Review

Metal subgenres can be a bit like high-school groups: comfortable if you fit easily into one, but a bit alienating if you’re a loner or difficult to pigeon-hole. Such has been the fate of Atlanta’s Withered. Over the course of four solid albums, their brand of blackened deathy sludgy doom has managed to endear itself to only a niche audience, and be mostly ignored by everyone else. Lest you were concerned, Withered has far too much street cred to be the geeky nerd, but they are the slightly weird loner no-one understands and therefore leaves alone to get on with whatever weird things they’re getting on with. Fifth collection, Verloren, finds Withered doubling down on their unique sound. Without question, this is the Witheredest Withered album yet. Is that a good thing?

The music Withered plays seems designed to repel all but the crankiest, most committed fans. It’s densely insular, providing no hooks or catchy melodies as easy entry points. It’s also unfathomably bleak, painting tortured landscapes populated with desperate yelps and howls, augmented by crushing guitar work that is splittingly claustrophobic. There is no light here, and little relief from the oppressive atmosphere. While there are parts that will be recognizable to fans of black and death, the music refuses to dwell in any particular landscape for too long. Withered, instead, have found a uniquely dark rabbit hole to go down, and they seem determined to visit this one all the way to its vile end.

 

Your enjoyment of Verloren will depend on how comfortably this dense, harsh mass sits in your stomach. I, and I reckon many readers, will find it simply too bitter and unpalatable. The combination of the bleakest parts of death, black and doom make for music that you have to be in a very specific mood to connect with. The blackness is further emphasized by the wretched, screeched vocals, designed to repulse the casual listener and tourist alike. “Casting in Wait,” “The Long Hurt” and “The Predation” offer little in the way of compelling melody or interesting song progression, with an emphasis instead on abrasion and a relentlessly bleak atmosphere. The unending horror, punctured only by disturbing howls, unfortunately becomes wearying after a while, making the journey through this collection a tough slog. I suspect this may have been Withered‘s intention. If so, Verloren is a resounding success, but the victory is Pyrrhic, given the sacrifices in melody that had to be made.

On the plus side, if you’re on board with Withered’s sound already, you’ll find this a treat. I find the band’s dedication to their niche sound admirable, even if I don’t particularly enjoy what I’m hearing. When the nasty bits are all combined, there is something fascinating about tracks like “By Tooth in Tongue” and closer “From Ashen Shores.” The band is able to find a disturbingly compelling sound by navigating the darkest parts of already-dark subgenres. Abrasive chords, dissonance, blackened sludge all find a home in this malevolent cocktail. It isn’t always pleasant, but it’s mesmerizing in its dedication to distilling real nastiness.

Everything about Verloren screams, “Stay away!” It reminds me, to some extent, of This Gift is a Curse’s A Throne of Ash in its absolute refusal to compromise or meet the listener half-way. You will accept Withered’s sound on their terms, or you can fuck right off.  This is the bitterest coffee, the darkest chocolate, the meanest metal you will find. While I was unable to connect with this tortured beast, this is not music made for mass consumption. I am absolutely certain there is a small niche of listeners out there who will embrace it. If you are one of them, I feel both happy and afraid for you at the same time.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: withered.bandcamp.com/album/verloren  |  facebook.com/witheredmetal
Releases Worldwide: June 25th, 2021

« »