Withered – “Downward” (Stereogum Premiere)

Good things come to those who wait, as Withered guitarist and vocalist Mike Thompson can tell you. The Atlanta-based blackened death metal act’s sole remanining member has kept the ball rolling for 13 years, slowly and steadily building a unique sound and a sizable cult following along the way. The bulk of Withered’s recorded activity transpired between 2005 and 2010 — a crucial period for metal that saw growth both in the creative breadth of the blast-happy underground and in interest from beyond the genre’s conventional territory. But while Withered’s three LPs contributed to these trends, the band never really capitalized on them — they fell silent after 2010’s Dualities, as members turned over and a fourth LP slowly gestated under Thompson’s patient watch.

Now, after six years, a new iteration of Withered is finally releasing Grief Relic. The lineup that appears on this album verges on supergroup status; Thompson’s got a co-frontman in fellow guitarist/vocalist Ethan McCarthy, also of Primitive Man, while prog-metal linchpin Colin Marston wails away on bass. (Longtime drummer Beau Brandon retains his spot behind the kit.) Ironically, these high-profile additions have not dramatically shifted Withered’s artistic direction; Grief Relic constitutes a compact and knotty 39-minute expansion upon the approach established by their late-aughts LPs. Withered have always trafficked heavily in thrumming walls of trem-picking, and they summon that imposing rhythmic stormfront throughout Grief Relic, as the gnashing intro to “Downward” ferociously demonstrates. But while Thompson and company’s riff-writing still balances melody and nastiness, the two approaches flow seamlessly into each other now — moments of consonance punctuate brutal drubbings, and melodies zig where your ear expects them to zag. It’s a smarter and more sophisticated version of Withered, staking out territory in a more expansive landscape. Listen.

Grief Relic will be out on 5/27 via Season Of Mist.