With searing desperation of their “What am I without you?” lyric still echoing around in my skull, I landed in Wither‘s Rot And I EP with curiosity. Releases inspired by story or concept are fascinating to me, and the debut release from the Melbourne band seemed promised to be so. Comprised of David De La Hoz, Luke Weber, Jamie Marinos, Liam Fowler, and Jeremy Hughes, Wither took an in-house approach to the making of the EP. Jamie Marinos took the reins of engineering, mixing, mastering, and production, having previously worked with Alpha Wolf, Arkive, Pridelands, and Thornhill in the same capacity.
Initially forming as a fun side project from other bands and music work, Wither first presented their music to listeners in the form of “Nothing To No One”. The debut single showcased the fullness of sound Wither is capable of, bringing intense savagery (of lyrics and guitar work) in the heated first look. The band’s second single “Marionette” was when we were introduced to the upcoming EP, and the character of ‘Rot’; an alter ego or an entity that seemingly seeks to consume the existence of the EP’s main character, ‘Tom’. With “Marionette”, the savagery continued, really hinting at how dark Wither were going with their sound. I should have heeded “Marionette” as a warning, because Rot And I contains some of the most dark and gruesome imagery I’ve had the opportunity to immerse in. So let’s get gruesome with Wither.
“There is a girl.”
Beginning with the unsettling sound effects of “Freak”, we soon collide with this story with hammering intensity. In this first track of the EP we’re introduced to the existence of Rot, as well as the presence of ‘a girl’ who is the remedy or antidote to Rot: “Somehow, she gets in and numbs the pain. She makes it all go away.”
However it’s near impossible to feel deserving of some kind of angelic woman when you feel pathetic and broken, and David’s vocals show just how far he has embraced the role of a man who is fighting a war within himself. Hitting raw peaks of desperation in “Freak”, the choruses are more of an open landscape, but are a resignation to the sad state of things more than anything resembling peace. There’s barely a pause for breath throughout “Freak” and as it ends, there’s a reeling sense of being sideswiped; it hits and hits hard.
With my focus primarily on the story and therefore the lyrics for this reason, it took several listens for me to direct my focus toward instrumentation. Thick and rounded heavy beats set a daunting scene and the guitarists craft a multiple-angled story of unsettledness, overwhelm, and anxiety. While David continues to scream, we sonically hit a lower pacing and a grander feeling at the choruses. It’s the verses of “Freak” where somewhat bouncy riffs are a pleasure to lean into, as is the djenty bridge. There’s a LOT going on here and I’m not entirely sure how to do it justice with words.
Amping up more and more and peaking at a demand for attention, “Freak”‘s fluid chorus paints surrender to how undeserving Tom is of his lover. It is also a surrender this fetid entity attached to his spine. With all facets combined, our introduction to Rot And I captures a sad state of affairs already.
“I don’t fucking need you, Rot”
“Cast Out” is already massive of sound from the first beat and growl, and whether it’s because of already adjusting myself to be more aware of what’s going on instrumentally, there’s a distinct downward motion. This coupled with panicked fury from David creates a really palpable sense of clawing to hold onto something while being pulled out of control. This atmosphere of trying to grip onto safety persisted throughout “Cast Out” and it felt cinematic of sorts; really easy to lose myself in, and get that thriller movie breathholding tension, especially with addition of more orchestral sounds toward the end of the song. As well as this is an ongoing riff through the verses that’s really damn enjoyable.
As with “Freak” there’s SO much going on and while you’re soaking up the vocals there’s a solo-style guitar breakout, while at the same time relentless driving riffs are painting the constant inner battle that Tom is enduring. I’m feeling like these are songs that will be able to offer newness even after many listens, and wondering if that will impact the ‘instant likeability factor’ or not.
Story-wise, “Cast Out” is a more intimate look at the bond and the relationship between Rot and Tom (the title Rot And I alone hints at the link between the two). While it’s not strictly ‘affection’, Tom both recognises that Rot has the potential to ruin his relationship with ‘a girl’ (who we now know as Annabelle) and needs to go, and also wants to protect Rot from being discovered. It’s an affectionate “fuck off” from Tom, shoving away this dark part of him, that at one time formed a mechanism of protection, but is now threatening to destroy the good that he has in his life. As “Cast Out” progresses, fear of Annabelle leaving hits the forefront, and Tom’s fear of what Rot might do in response to rejection amplifies the stress of the situation.
Enter “Marionette” where a distorted and screamed “What do you mean you’re leaving?” sets the scene for what madness is about to ensue at the hand of Rot/Tom. “Marionette” as a single hit hard on its own, and now within the context of Rot And I, it seems even more unsettling.
We’ve already felt/heard the weak grip that Tom has on this dark entity, and how the presence of Annabelle was all that was keeping it at bay. With Annabelle’s departure and refusal to answer Tom’s calls, he is understandably freaking out, feeling Rot progressively take over him. The repeated “What am I without you?” line manages to take on more than just a feeling of inadequacy; seeming to represent how unarmed and vulnerable Tom is without Annabelle. I’m fond of progressively developing/changing lyrics through a song, and I enjoyed witnessing Tom’s shift from disbelief, to pleading, to Rot creeping in, to fear of Annabelle being hurt, to warning her, and ultimately to wanting her dead (as Rot). It adds a more believable flavour to the characters expressed in the song.
It’s another instance of a lot going on from the Wither crew, but all of it really skillfully combining to make a fully-formed scene. Fleeting ripples of sound that run across in the background add to the sense of paranoia. Onward rolling riffs form a crushing inevitability, coupled with David’s anxiety and fear drenched vocals, and more searing guitar at times rises above a blanket of fear.
The Rot ‘takeover’ is unmistakeable after a climbing build-up, where a possessed scream that virtually bares fangs couples with djent stuttering. While the chorus forms a steady sonic safe haven, sharp riffs crying out really make for an ‘Oh shit’ doom-laden sense of being pushed somewhere you really don’t want to be.
At the fourth track “White Noise”, Rot is in control and ready to unleash murderous revenge. In this virtual note to Annabelle, Rot despises her for the grip she had over him, as well as acknowledges that her mental impact upon Tom allowed for Rot to take over.
With gritted teeth aggression and distortion of sound, there’s clarity only at Annabelle’s ultimate death. The villainous Rot isn’t necessarily instantly soothed or appeased by what he’s done (“Well, that was fun”), but just shows his crazed and heartless perspective most proudly. Angular and menacing, “White Noise” slithers and sears, vibing like an uninterruptable program that has one intention in mind. There’s only a momentary space where Wither’s wall-of-sound heaviness drops into something more thoughtful: When Rot recognises some sameness with his victim. The ‘program’ kicks back in with Rot again doing “what I came to do” without remorse or doubt.
“What are you if you kill the only thing you love?”
Smooth and synth-centric at first, “Alone In The Snow” expands into a weighty resolution to this story. We’re transported several months later, where Tom is no longer plagued by Rot, and in the silence is left to face himself and the question of responsibility about what is in the trunk of his car. The majestic and all-surrounding track is heavy with finality.
Spiraling in questions about his identity considering that ‘he’ was capable of it, David’s voice moving from anguish to distaste reflects the horror. In Rot’s silence, Tom continues his life with memories/mental images of Annabelle’s death “etched into the side of my brain”, with blame purely toward himself. Tom is bleeding out in pain through the track, seeking for himself the same ending as Annabelle.
Tom’s inner torture is deftly expressed by interwoven layers and rhythmic complexity, leading to a focal point of suicidal clarity with digital staccato. Solid beats and a slower pacing echoes the plunging depths of honesty that Tom is having to face. Missing gaps of time and actions aside, it becomes apparent that there’s no happy ending here.
The ‘after taste’ of this EP is stinging: After the barrage of instrumental layers and unsettling dialogue, the absence is felt. It’s dark, it’s heavy, it’s raw, and it’s savage. Even with its darkness, Rot And I is a feast of enjoyable elements that seem to need to be attentively savoured more than wolfed down. Though my ear for guitar is not a technically focused one, I can appreciate the landscape that has been created by a strong multi-coloured approach, where the entire band combine to make some very full and impactful sonic moments. It isn’t a case of just chucking in a breakdown or a guitar solo here or there, it’s well orchestrated metalcore that shows thought about the creation as a whole. There’s never a dull moment by way of sound through this EP which is chock full with mood-inducing riffs and intermittent accents that add to the entire story of Rot And I.
While I’m not sure which of Wither’s band members are responsible for writing the story of Rot And I, it comes across as well-thought out over the five tracks and the character of Tom is realistic in having multiple driving thoughts behind his experience. Over thinkers will resonate with Tom’s constant wondering throughout the EP as he looks at all angles of what’s happening within him and outside him. Plagued by Rot, yet also very familiar and comfortable with the workings of him, it’s a tragic tale you could picture played out in full horror style as a Netflix original.
David De La Hoz shines on this EP; going vocally full pelt into both the character of Tom as well as Rot and really bringing them to life in his spectrum of expression. Hair-raising screams, sharply enunciated whispers, and distorted edges of insanity all blended to craft a really unsettling villainous fog around Rot. And Tom’s perpetual insecurity, fear, and anxiousness were able to spark both concern and empathy, having me wanting for some kind of happy ending for someone that clearly cares for others and can’t catch a break. David’s contribution gave Rot And I emotional hooks that would call me back to the EP again, much like characters in a book that you develop a fondness for.
Ridiculously strong instrumentally, with a concept that has been thoroughly and meaningfully explored. Big fan of the approach using many layers of sound together to create the atmosphere of the story. Great length for subject matter so intense, which might be otherwise 'too much' in a full length.
Though I understand the conversational approach is very relevant for the EP's concept, I'd like to see some more flowing/poetic lyrical moments to break up the thought-stream approach. The tracks may take many listens before they are uniquely memorable.