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Martyrs Sacrificed for a Song - 90%

Twisted_Psychology, November 13th, 2017

2017 seems to have been a year for posthumous releases in metal. Several established bands like Pagan Altar and Bell Witch have put out albums in which a featured musician died after a recording was finished but before it could be released. It’s not the sort of trend that explicitly “starts” by any means but Witherfall’s debut album was where I sure took notice, as drummer Adam Sagan tragically passed on shortly a couple months before its release. I hate to associate the band with such a tag, since Nocturnes and Requiems is a strong debut by a group of musicians that clearly knew what they were doing.

Considering how Witherfall is masterminded by former White Wizzard vocalist Michael Joseph and current Iced Earth lead guitarist Jake Dreyer, the music on here is more complex and perhaps deeper than those associations would suggest. Comparisons can be immediately made to Nevermore or Control Denied as the crunchy guitar tone allows for a mix of shredding solos and elaborate riffs, the percussion is as lush and flexible as it is hard hitting, and the vocals always retain their melody whether they opt for mid-range bellows or layered falsettos.

These influences also reflect in the often elaborate songwriting. With a majority of the songs reaching over six or seven minute durations, a lot of ground is covered as songs like “Portrait” and “What We Are Dying For” go from chunky speed metal to Opeth-esque acoustic segments and back again without feeling at all haphazard. The exploration is made consistent and even enhanced by the album’s dark tone and conceptual narrative, though I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea what said narrative is about.

As with many power prog hybrids, the degree of catchiness in the songwriting (or minimal amount thereof) may be this album’s biggest concerns. There’s definitely purpose in the compositions and tracks become distinct with further listens, but tracks like “Sacrifice” can feel a bit long-winded due to the rather hook-free approach. Fortunately there are still plenty of memorable moments with “End of Time” leaving the deepest impression due to the gorgeous acoustic work in the beginning, commanding gallops, and climactic choruses. “The Great Awakening” is also worth noting thanks to some ominously melodic guitar work that could’ve come straight out of the first two Testament albums.

While Witherfall’s debut may take a bit too much absorption time to be seen as an immediate classic, it is a powerful album that’ll no doubt leave a strong impression on fans of prog and power metal. I’m glad that the band has chosen to carry on in the wake of their loss and I think they’ll become a major player once they get more experience under their belt. With the degrees of confidence and control that are already on display here, the sky’s the limit.

Highlights:
“Portrait”
“What We Are Dying For”
“The Great Awakening”
“End of Time”

Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com

great art wasted on ok music: power/prog - 55%

flexodus, May 27th, 2017

I can tell you outright whether you’ll like this album or not: just go ahead and pull up the song “End of Time” on Youtube and listen to the first 30 seconds or so. Hear the insane guitar attack as a million shredding notes descend upon you and dazzle the senses right out the gate! If you thought this guitar solo was “totally fucking cumtastic” then you may as well go ahead and buy this album, because you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. But if you require more from your listening experience than shred and only shred, do yourself a favor and keep reading…

Witherfall are a studio progressive power metal band from a vocalist and guitarist who used to play in White Wizzard together, backed up by a semi-prolific session drummer. On their own, each of the players here kick a lot of ass! Vocalist Joseph Michael has a great voice with a lot of range, confidence and a particularly Tim Owen-esque shriek. The now deceased Adam Sagan is a solid drummer who finds an appropriate balance between flash and restraint; it’s easy to see why he had so many bands under his belt. And the star of the show is Jake Dreyer, an immensely talented guitarist who whips up a nonstop barrage of groovy riffs, neoclassical shred solos, and acoustic interludes. The dude just oozes ability, and it was no surprise at all to me when I found out he’s been playing guitar since he was 8. Homeboy definitely could be a shred legend if he had been born early enough to share the stage with the Beckers, Friedmans and Gilberts of the world.

However, the cold hard truth of it is that, like so many prog bands before them, Witherfall really struggles in the songwriting department. There is a serious lack of killer hooks on Nocturnes and Requiems, whether in the form of a mighty riff or unforgettable chorus. Despite so many guitar theatrics present, the rhythm guitars are lacking interest, whether they play slow, fast or in between. This is a typical modern style of power/prog that’s missing any inspiration from classic 80s metal, so nowhere here will you find compelling riffage in the manner of classic Savatage, Rush or Crimson Glory. Sometimes the opener “Portait” and “Sacrifice” come close, featuring bouncy chugging grooves under the verse that wanders up and down the fretboard with mild success. But these are long fucking songs, and the majority of the riffage churns butter like forgotten Nevermore tracks. How much you like Jeff Loomis’ style of playing is gonna determine exactly how much mileage you get out of this. Pretty much every song here loses my attention at some (even multiple) points, because none of Dreyer's “chugalugaluggadugga weedledeedleweeee” riffs land, or even mesh particularly well with the more trad metal oriented vocals. Also worth noting is “What We Are Dying For”, which has that Z grade melodeath riff anyone could have farted out since 2001. Yikes.

So all this album can really do is coast by on the shoulders of the members’ technical ability. In that respect, the band is pretty decent. When Dreyer is playing a solo instead of churning groove riffs, this is fun music. Thankfully the majority of the music here is dedicated to him shredding, and there’s all sorts of awesome solos, including tasteful classical guitar passages played acoustically. The aforementioned “End of Time” is probably the best song here, managing not only to provide oodles and oodles of noodles but also a solid, catchy chorus (one of two, essentially). It also ends with a pleasing ambient section that recalls the intro to Sabbath’s “Die Young”. Interestingly enough, the following interlude “Finale” channels “E5150” as well. Maybe if more calming ambient passages were worked into the music, this album could have been a tad more memorable. The guitar tone here feels "soft" and not very engaging despite how much is going on at any given time, and it's a fucking miracle the record is barely 45 minutes instead of an "epic" 70+ snoozefest.

At the end of the day, this album is less than the sum of its parts, and I can’t help but feel it would be best if its members went their separate ways. The vocalist gives a massive performance on “Sacrifice” and has another decent chorus hook on the final song, and I think he would do well fronting a USPM-revival band. Jake Dreyer is now the lead guitarist for Iced Earth, and it actually makes me pretty damn excited for their new album considering IE has been severely lacking anything resembling ambitious lead guitars since 1995. But Witherfall just comes across like a King Diamond/Nevermore hybrid with most of the grace and intrigue sucked out. Don’t expect anything in the way of classic 80s power/prog a la Fates Warning. If you want modern groovy prog metal that can actually write a catchy tune, you should just be listening to Periphery instead. This album feels like it’s made for the clueless type of guy who hangs out at Guitar Center all day and leaves weird compliments on the social media pages of guitar gods that always have to do with boners and cumming.

Dark, Thoughtful, and Hauntingly Beautiful - 99%

CyberMessiah, February 10th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

Witherfall is a very interesting band, with a very specific and unified vision. Formed in the wake of White Wizzard’s most infamous break-up comes a new act featuring singer Joseph Michael and guitarist Jake Dreyer. Rounding out the rhythm section of the band is former Into Eternity drummer Adam Sagan, who unfortunately did not live to see the release of the debut album.

Witherfall’s debut album Nocturnes and Requiems is an absolute shred-fest. It’s highly technical and musically complex, while also being very tasteful in it’s composition. Jake’s guitar-work throughout the album has a very classical leaning. Clearly inspired by neoclassical artists such as Yingwie Malmsteen and Cacophony, while still maintaining modern sensibilities. Jake has clearly achieved a style of his own.

Joseph’s vocal prowess shines brightest on this album. Having an impressive resume of releases under his belt ranging from goth-industrial to power metal, Nocturnes and Requiems stands as his best work to date. Joseph’s range, both in the technical sense and stylistically is unreal. Sitting within a spectrum stretching from tender crooning, to sonic shrieks that only dogs can hear, Joseph proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he sits with greats such as King Diamond and Rob Halford in the top tier.

The rhythm and low-end sections of this record are impeccable as well. Anthony Crawford, a bassist who I admittedly was not familiar with prior to his studio work with the band, provided the bass work for Nocturnes and Requiems. Anthony’s tone and technical ability add just the right oomph to the album to really bring it all together in an extremely dark and heavy way. Perhaps most importantly, or at the very least, most notably and tragically is the inclusion of drummer Adam Sagan. Not only was Adams performance on this record among the best of his career, but also it is perhaps the most impressive drumming I have ever heard within the framework of heavy music. A perfect bookend to an impressive career. Unfortunately Adam was not able to see the release of this album before passing away from cancer. Luckily, we can take solace in the fact that he will be immortalized by his work on this record forever.

To find fault in the record is a stretch. This is as close to perfection as I have ever heard. If I had to find something to critique it would simply be that there are sections of some songs that go on a bit too long, such as the end of Portrait or the slower section of Sacrifice before it’s conclusion. But again, I’m really just nit picking here.

Nocturnes and Requiems is a dark and brooding record. However, it is also a thoughtful and beautiful one. Instantly changing from heavy, shred-tastic, and monstrous- to soft, elegant and acoustic. If you have even a passing interest in bands like Symphony X or King Diamond then this is an album you need to hear.

Highlights:
End of Time, Portrait, Nobody Sleeps Here Anymore