WRITHING – Of Earth & Flesh (2022)REVIEW

Death metal created “for the sake of it” being so commonplace today speaks to the virtues of technology more than anything else as the great boon of accessibility that’d occurred in the late 90’s/early 2000’s is now producing ideas at such a fevered rate that generations are reaching turnover rates in perceived “relevance” at a doubled, quickly devaluing tempo. What does this mean for the aficionado today? Those who seek meaning and approach the minutiae of art with serious regard likely reach regular crests of frustration with records that get everything “right” in terms of aesthetics, performance, and the higher standards of the craft yet leave purpose and/or personality behind. In this way we begin to see counter culture fully dissolved into “culture” in the most depressing sense. A high professional standard is possible and practically achieved well before it can be considered, sourced from the bloody soul of the actors, without barriers to generating “products” and this finds so many modern artists leaving what should be the first thought (purpose, narrative, concept, meaning, etc.) as drapery for the machine in motion. This is an impasse I’ve reached with Melbourne, Victoria-based death metal crew Writhing thus far, who’ve certainly generated a fine product to a high standard between their two public releases thus far and done everything “right” in showcase of their musical ideas. In terms of enjoying this solid debut LP, ‘Of Earth & Flesh‘, yes, it checks all the boxes and presents an exacting standard within a short period of development but I am left wanting for a reason to simply mill past its keen sound with a quick “thumbs up“.

Writhing got their gig together a few years ago circa 2019 between Melbourne-area guitarist Joel Gregory (Rituals) and vocalist Pat James, eventually adding a rhythm section as their sound immediately caught on with the insatiable internet hunger hole’s churning for the sort of straight up death metal they’d provide. Their debut two song demo ‘Eternalised in Rot‘ (2020) was admittedly well-considered and polished between its immersive Mark Cooper conjured cover art and pro-finish provided by Resonance Sound, so it was no surprise that it’d quickly been snatched up for CD, cassette and 7″ treatment. As far as I understand, the original duo’s goal to start was to temper dissonant and atmospheric death metal guitar wrenching into traditional United States death metal structures, at least without hitting upon ‘caverncore’ trawling. It was a good idea to start, well-crafted pieces with a bounding sort of pace that’d largely gained the notice of folks chasing anything ‘old school’ related down the pipeline. When I’d given short review of it, the main conclusion was: “I see the potential here even if the point of view and taste level are more interesting than the riffs themselves yet.” and while I will generally repeat that remark in conclusion here, it is safe to say these folks have improved, put in some serious work in the years between and ended up with a notable, if not relatively standard debut full-length today.

Of Earth & Flesh‘ blazes past at a sub half-hour run, touching upon ‘new old school’ buzzing activity, nods to brutal death, and some dissonant rushes to keep the path greased for the first handful of songs. It makes a grand first impression as Writhing aims to maximize the tight economy of actionable riffs and rhythm in balance of ancient and modernized forms. As the ear scans its opening diorama it cannot help but be intrigued by the undulations between what is “old”, “new” and timeless. As is the case with much of what is new and notable in this new decade of death metal these folks haven’t specialized in one generation or sub-sect of death metal but’ve generally kept their balance between classic nodes of death metal brutality and a few more modern guitar techniques, which are often much more sophisticated in action than they might read in statement. I don’t know that I’d still point to Ulcerate for the dissonant edge these folks provide, but rather to the abstraction of mid-2010’s guitar music in general which they’ve woven into the cold-blooded forms east coast United States death metal legacy acts had perfected between 1994-1999.

Writhing generally don’t work up as much of a sweat as the opening moments of ‘Of Earth & Flesh‘ fire off with opener “Monolithic Extinction” holding off on the truly brutal launch of their tendencies ’til “That Which Becomes Death” reaches for a few blast n’ chugged hits at auto-rifled pace. This most thoughtful, tightly arranged ride through the first three or so songs is where the quartet make their case for combining the staunch hammering of groups like Cannibal Corpse with dissonant-ringing atmospherics and/or chord progressions. Their work may very well be less typical in stature early on, but I’d found this record all the more entertaining and most impressive as a physical act when they begin to lean into a more brutal bark (“Concealed Within the Soil”) with notable curvature given to their biggest grooves, “Uncreation” more-or-less being the apex of their brutal death inspired kicking (with a twist) for my own taste. It all works quite well as casual listening, again I have to emphasize that these folks have risen to an intense standard as we consider every element of this release: Album art rules, logo is cool, production is appropriately intense and stylized, aggression and abstraction blend beautifully… but that is just the thing, the standards are high enough at this point in general that their point of view is just, well, standard. It is less a complaint and more a consideration for the long-term enjoyment of the more discerning listener.

Much as I’d gotten out of a few memorable pieces along the way the experience which ‘Of Earth & Flesh‘ can be reduced to standard alchemical treatment of late 90’s death metal attributes, updated just a bit with somewhat modern guitar techniques. While that won’t fulfill most folks’ wildest stylized fantasies in sonic excess it will entertain in a very basal way, slapping out brutal hits and chunking after elastic runs of well and solid riffcraft. In this sense they’ve created a pastiche of palettes, someone else’s language of weirding atmospherics balancing the personality rich standard-bearers of old and in the process Writhing‘ve ended up with a solid set of ~3-4 minute mosh worthy songs that speak a certain set of naturally combinable languages which only occasionally stand apart from the herd. This only really began to chip away at my interest when they’d begun introducing Morbid Angel-isms such as the ‘Formulas…‘-esque leads on late album cuts “Passages of Misery” and “Portal to Unhallowed Realms”, which read more as referential dressing than it did an essential gear in their machine. That’d certainly not qualify as a musical ‘crime’, ha, but it does wheel the experience into a more formative realm, a point of great potential not yet realized.

That’d be the major takeaway here, that the potential for what these guys can do when the “big” ideas start to flow and the inspiration is palpable is more exciting to consider than what they’ve done. Writhing have debuted with a pretty standard, well-composed and easily enjoyed release which doesn’t demand much of the listener. Damning as that might sound it isn’t backhanded, ‘Of Earth & Flesh‘ persists at a high standard and their surprising stab at brutality satisfies well enough on repeat listens though it doesn’t make an indomitable statement with its work, nor does it generate a big enough realm of its own that I’d become fully immersed. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
ARTIST:WRITHING
TITLE:Of Earth & Flesh
LABEL(S):Everlasting Spew Records
RELEASE DATE:September 23rd, 2022

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