Originally written by Doug Moore.
Well goddamn, if this isn’t satisfying. One of the reasons I enjoy writing reviews is because I love to watch bands progress; it doesn’t happen often, but once in a while you write up a debut or demo from a relatively obscure young act only to have them come back a few years down the line and drop a proverbial bombshell on you. Withered have just joined the ranks of those deeply appreciated acts. To say that this band has matured since their Lifeforce debut Memento Mori would not do them justice. The band that recorded that album had only a vague idea of what they were attempting, whereas Folie Circulaire is the work of seasoned musicians who are dead-locked on a sound and know exactly how to pursue it, and holy crap do I enjoy it. If you follow the more extreme end of the metal spectrum, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll dig the hell out of at least a song or two on this album.
Though I don’t speak a lick of French, the mighty oracle of Babel Fish tells me that “folie circulaire” means circular madness. It’s a puzzling choice for title of this album, because there’s not much circular about Withered’s performance. Granted, it does use mostly the same base elements as its predecessor—thick, sludgy production, various and sundry chunks of Swedish death metal, gobs of American doom/sludge, a very Nordic frosting of melodic black metal, and just a dash of hardcore punk vitriol—and it’s recognizably the same band as before. But where Memento Mori awkwardly pastiched from various metal contexts into a Frankenstein’s monster of disparate riffs, Folie Circulaire dumps all those parts into ol’ Doc Fronkensteen’s centrifuge and whips them all together into one seamless, lumbering whole.
Indeed, seamless is the word of the day here, and Withered have mastered the art of making songs that amount to strings of riffs feel completely organic and natural. After a brief intro (NOT the completely random noise variety, thank fuck), the album begins in earnest with “The Fated Breath.” By turns slinging thunderous Stockholm grooves, withering (har har) blastbeaten passages, and heaving, apocalyptic doom slowdowns, the track drags you through a maze of riffs that constantly build on each other’s desperate melodies until finally sliding teeth-first into one last gratuitous guitar drubbing—and that’s to say nothing of the first of Barney Greenway’s two guest appearances, who as usual sounds like a bear with a hernia. This band’s sense of timing and dynamic has improved from decent to astounding; it’s like listening to an entire 12-minute Wolves in the Throne Room opus condensed down to four minutes. In fact, one of the best things about Folie Circulaire is Withered’s decision to abandon their former ponderous longwindedness in favor of terser, more blackened stylings. “Dichotomy of Exile” and “Gnosis Unveiled” open with neato melodic motifs that eventually build into cathartic black metal fury, while “Purification of Innocence” dispenses with the buildup and delves straight into flensing tremolo-picking that could be straight out of a Dissection song. These guys are obviously very accomplished musicians with absolutely no interest in showing off—the focus here is purely on crafting gut-wrenching epic melody and then burying it under a thick shell of distortion and vitriol. It almost reminds me of early Edge of Sanity or Eucharist; the catchiness is there, but Withered’ll be damned if you’re gonna get it out of them without a fight. Even the friggin’ production is amazing: massive and kinetic, but simultaneously warm and inviting, with none of the muddiness that troubled Memento Mori.
If you ask me (and you’ve read all this, so you might as well have), bands like Withered are the future of heavy metal. These guys have essentially thrown the rulebook out the window and culled their favorite parts from their record collections, ultimately producing something far more interdisciplinary and engrossing than 99% of metal’s endless genre-study acts. Folie Circulaire had me riveted from its opening strains to the last moments of its closing Necrophobic cover (of “Into Armageddon;” an improvement on the original, methinks), and you’ll better believe I’ll be returning to this one. Fuckin’ awesome.