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Live Report: Withered, Wake, and Belus @ Kung Fu Necktie

It was a Tuesday night in Philly. The day before brought April snow showers, and it was still depressingly cold and wet. The day before that, thousands flocked to the Decibel Metal and Beer Fest. The city’s metal denizens were probably still hungover, but a decent weekday crowd staggered into the Kung Fu Necktie for three bands who all love extreme metal but do vastly different things with it.

Belus is led by Woe guitarist Matt Mewton who also sings in the three-piece. The half-hour set showcased the Brooklyn band’s gloomy but harsh take on black metal atmosphere. Bassist Kesley Wolf took the lead vocals at times, but no matter who was screaming into the mic, Belus’s charm lies in drummer Jacques Johnson’s expressive percussion and Mewton’s taut, angular riffs.

Wake, on the other hand, relentlessly pummels the senses. They use grindcore as a reference point, but in their hands, it’s more or less implied. You also hear elements of crust in the short, sharp songs, nearly all over within a couple minutes, and powerviolence in the untamed ferocity. And they do not let up. Not for a second.

Josh Bueckert’s clamor drags the rest of the band along. This isn’t Modern Drummer magazine, but it’s fair to say he is uniquely talented. While others will attempt to double bass you into submission, Bueckert does his damage above the floor, arms thrown around with reckless abandon, alternating between snare and cymbals at supersonic speed. Also, you get the feeling that this is a cathartic release for Kyle Ball even without scanning a lyric jacket. He projects a raging intensity while white-knuckling his mic. Emotional grindcore isn’t a thing, but maybe it should be, and maybe it is now.

Withered on record seemed to have been trending slightly more toward death metal through the four full-length albums the band has recorded since their 2005 Memento Mori debut, though there’s nothing conventional about it. The transformation seemed almost complete on Grief Relic, the band’s last release from a couple of years back. Based on the show this evening, the Georgian foursome is neatly regressing into a sludgy mix of deceptively complex extremities indicative of their Georgian roots.

Mike Thompson’s continued howling held the band together and commanded the audience’s attention. He managed to be a frontman even though he shared vocal duties with Dan Caycedo and played guitar the whole time. He just knows what he’s doing, which is the highest compliment you can bestow. He got more maniacal and the songs got faster as the set progressed. If you couldn’t keep up, you could find the door.

I’m not sure what Withered will sound like on their next album. But rest assured it will be heavy enough to sink the Titanic.

— Brian O’Neill

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