WITHERED “Hymns For the Lost”
By Dr. Abner Mality
“Introspective” is not a word one generally associates with an extreme metal band, yet in WITHERED’s case, it is entirely appropriate. Musically, the band is often brutal and abrasive but in terms of ideas and lyrics, they can be described as pensive and looking inward instead of being obsessed with blood, war, demons and booze. This odd dichotomy has been WITHERED’s stock in trade throughout their career and is nowhere more apparent than on their latest album “Verloren”.
These Atlanta stalwarts pop up on an irregular basis and always impress with their dense, heavy and emotionally powerful metal. “Verloren” is no exception but does seem to move the band forward in a number of ways, including the noise collage “Passing Through” and the gentler passages on “From Ashen Shores”. It helps make this new album more of a journey.
Mike Thompson is the man who has held WITHERED together since the start, so he was the logical go-to guy to get the lowdown on the band’s current products and status. We’ll turn things over to him...
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings and thanks for granting the interview! WITHERED certainly do not produce on an “assembly line” schedule but do albums only when the band is mentally “ready”. When did you know that it was time for a new album?
MIKE THOMPSON: We really prefer touring over all other aspects of this. The raw energy is unbeatable. So, we like to push our touring cycle for each album as long as possible. Usually about 1.5-2yrs of touring will satisfy us. It’s very hard to say “no” to tour offers. Also, we are very critical with writing so when we decide to write, it can take up to a year to be happy with everything. Then add a year for production and 6 months to schedule the release, it works out to 5+ yrs. We wish we were better but after 5 albums now, maybe we’ll never quicken our pace.
WC: “Verloren” is German for “lost”. Does the loss explored in the album relate only to individual experience or could it be applied to our society as a whole, which sure as hell seems to be totally off its moorings and ready to sink?
MT: WITHERED is almost exclusively introspective. Even “society” boils down to each of our personal experiences at the end of the day. You and I are both part of “society” but I’m certain our perspectives and experiences significantly differ. Yes, there are great changes upon the world it seems. But, looking through time, it’s a fairly regular occurrence. It only takes 1-2 generations past an era to lose touch with the lessons of mass struggle.
WC: WITHERED has always been a hard band to put a tag on, although the musical heaviness surely relates a lot to death metal. Do you have a descriptive term for what you do or does the listener need to come up with that himself?
MT: We’ve stayed with our “tortured blackened doom” and sometimes “tortured blackened death” concept as a simple way to indicate what we’re presenting. Sort of like a warning sign at the doorway for newcomers. But even we do not know what lies within the experience until we’re there. It’s interesting to talk to fans and hear their impressions and associations with our music. Sometimes, they add a colorization I had never considered and bring new light even to songs that are 15 years old. Again, though we’re all participating in something together, the individual experience is unique. It keeps everything quite intriguing to me.
WC: The first song’s title “By Tooth In Tongue” is kind of intriguing and cryptic. What’s the meaning of the song title here?
MT: This is yet another pondering of nature v. nurture for me. “Tongue” is being presented with a double meaning. The physical instrument we use to express perspective and our inherent language, our truths we bring into existence with us before societal conditioning oppresses/warps everything to encourage conformation. I see these truths as encoded in our DNA, in our blood. So, when our lips are sewn by the world to keep us participatory and suppressing our individual truths, the only way to send our tooth through our tongue so that the truths will uncontrollably flow forth, bypassing the lips and threads that bind them releasing our true selves upon the world whether it wants us or not.
WC: That song starts the album with a long epic that isn’t matched until the final song “From Ashen Shores”, which lasts virtually the same amount of time. Was this planned going in or did it just “happen” that way?
MT: Each song just “happens” on its own. But, once we had the collection of songs, we intentionally consider where each’s role is throughout the journey of the album. There’s a path that must be walked and a unique progression of goals/challenges/revelations that must occur in a certain order to fully appreciate the point made at the ending. These 2 songs just stood out as “book ends” of sorts. Sonically and conceptually.
WC: The vocals on “By Tooth In Tongue” are also different from almost anything else I’ve heard. I haven’t heard a death or sludge song use cleaner vocals this way...what was the inspiration?
MT: The music itself was the inspiration. Each part, when being written, has multiple potentials (like each of us) through conditioning, a dominant potential is encouraged. When I sat down with the particular parts in question, I started with my usual low growls, screams, yells, etc. but something was missing. The parts begged to be more morose and were missing a sense of longing & forlornness. After being frustrated with it for sometime, I started hearing melodic vocals. I knew in my gut, it was the only thing that would honor the part for what it should be. So it’s what we did. There are no hard limitations and we honor all potentials.
WC: “Passing Through” is an ambient/sound collage that’s also different for WITHERED. What were the sources for the samples here...did you create them yourself? Is this a direction you might experiment more with?
MT: We’ve always had a bit of a noise element throughout our albums. It started modestly with distorted bass solos, into ambient interludes, then more noise-oriented layers. I had made field recordings at small rural funeral of hymns being sung without musical accompaniment and they were so forlorn, the hair stood up on my body as it swirled around me. So, I recorded them. The energy this captured was so pungent, I knew I would want to use it as a milestone on the journey of an album some day. A turning point for the listener. So, I asked Ethan McCarthy to create an organic noise piece to amplify and convey this energy. Ethan is an accomplished and talented noise artist (Many Blessings), and ex member of WITHERED, and a dear friend/colleague. So it was really nice to get to work with him again.
WC: The band also delves into actual philosophy, an activity which seems rarer and rarer in the day of social media and instant gratification. What are some of the philosophers you most draw inspiration from?
MT: These days I’m mostly obsessed with Carl Jung. Especially once catching up on RED BOOK’s recent release. The shift of incorporating spiritual significance into psychology and the synchronicity a lot of it finds within recent quantum physics discoveries is revealing some incredibly poignant truths for our existence in this realm.
WC:. Is the actual concept of philosophical thought going extinct? Is there any way it can even exist in a world of “pundits” and “influencers”?
MT: Again, each of our individual experiences within our “collective society” can be so vastly different yet we somehow assume “everyone” is experiencing what we are. It’s quite a phenomenon. These “algorithms” which artificially created for the internet AND naturally expressed through our individual AND collective intent only show us what we we’re expecting to see. We are the creators of our experiences and convince ourselves the world is only how we see it. If you look for philosophical thought, there’s no lack of it in the world. Even within these “evil algorithms”.
WC: On the surface, “Verloren” (and most of WITHERED’S output) seems bleak and suffocating. But is there room for hope in your music?
MT: Oh, there’s always a silver lining of hope. I grew up a Disney kid full of wonder and fantastic optimism until our society showed me I was only seeing the part of the world I wanted. There is glory in all creation if you want there to be. Though ultimately, I see humanity has having the most glorious potentials in our existence. Potentials we’ll strive for with all our might and most likely will never achieve. And that’s ok.
WC: Now that Covid’s grip is lessening, is there any chance we’ll see WITHERED live soon?
MT: Definitely. It’s what we are here for. We have a few one off shows and festivals this summer and some touring plans are in the works. So keep an eye out for announcements…. Worldwide.
WC: What was the last release you purchased just because you wanted to experience it?
MT: Hmmm, I think it was YAUTJA’s “The Lurch”. They’re just a uniquely fantastic band. And having known them for several years now, they never disappoint. Also a delightful group of fellas.
WC: If you could have dinner with any 3 people from history, who would they be?
MT: This short list could change daily. Today, I’d say…. Abraham Lincoln, Carl Jung, and…… Gene Wilder. It kills me I can’t pick more. Oh shit, I really would like to have dinner with my father again but he’d kick my ass for skipping one of the first three in favor of him.
WC: In the history of WITHERED, has there been any kind of “Spinal Tap” moment where things went haywire that you could share with us?
MT: There have been countless moments in these 18 years. Many of which are best not to mention. Haha. Day to day, we are a very silly, joking bunch of guys. We love to laugh, even at ourselves. Despite how trying and hopeless life can be, it’s best not to take it (ie. yourself) very seriously. Being a dumbass is the best way to keep the ego at bay.
WC: Any last words or thoughts for the faithful?
MT: Thank you for making it this far into my thought process! And thank YOU for the considerate and provoking interview. We genuinely can’t wait to meet some new people in a strange town we’ve never heard of before. New days, new perspective. Cheers!