Witherfall – “A Prelude To Sorrow” (Century Media)
Oh man, this is simply beautiful yet so tragic. If Witherfall’s 2017 debut “Nocturnes And Requiems” was dedicated to the passing of their drummer, Adam Paul Sagan (who never got to see its release), then this follow up features songs that are actually about him, perhaps in hope that as people continue to listen to them, then part of him is still living on. I’m not even sure how anyone can follow up on that, except to say that Witherfall have, true their promise, delivered an epic sophomore that will not soon be forgotten. Heavy and sorrowful in varying proportions across the 10 incredible tracks here, both the emotion and also anger at Sagan’s loss are clearly evident beyond the obvious album title and Kristian Wåhlin’s (Tiamat, Emperor, King Diamond) dark and sombre cover. Carried through by some incredible musical performances, Witherfall were formed in 2013 by Joseph Michael (lead/harmony vocals/keyboards) and Jake Dreyer (lead/rhythm and acoustic guitars), both of whom previously served in White Wizzard, although Witherfall falls very much into the classy modern metal of Nevermore and Iced Earth as reflected by the high level talent on show here. Indeed, “A Prelude To Sorrow” clearly doesn’t skimp on anything regarding quality, right down to enlisting bass virtuoso Anthony Crawford (Alan Holdsworth), session players Steve Bolognese (ex-Into Eternity), Gergo Borlai (Al Di Meola), Fili Bibiano and super producer Chris ‘Zeuss’ Harris (Rob Zombie, Queensrÿche). As such, with compositions worthy of the humongous talent on show here, this album is nothing short of a top level release! With absolutely massive melodies both emotional and stirring, while equally sorrowful and aggressive, Joseph Michael’s (who’s filled in for the late Warrel Dane on the last Sanctuary tour) superb vocals soar straight into one’s soul while Jake Dreyer’s guitar work accompanies him in excellence throughout, making this a truly moving experience that no one should pass on. From ‘Moment Of Silence’ with its thundering drum work, power riffing and neo classical soloing ignited into high speed by Michael’s soaring vocals, the contrasting funeral sombreness of melancholic harmonies in the chorus brings the full range of emotions of loss so prominently that it’s indeed hard to ignore. Even more heavy and dark is the aptly named ‘Shadows’ where rapid tempo changes between virtuoso aggression and chundering riffs with plenty of cymbal work are dramatically contrasted by the heavenly chorus laced beautifully by some outlying keyboards before an ambient passage heralds some truly heartbreaking guitar work from Dreyer and Bibiano, ultimately bringing it all to blissful climax. Then there’s the 11 minute epic of ‘Vintage’, truly moving as reflected by the gentle acoustics yet also fiery in its courageousness as it tells of how Michael and Dreyer consoled Sagan and how he faced his untimely end with dignity and honour. From soulful passages building heaviness into frantic pieces, the virtuoso talent of the entire band shines in what is essentially a mini concerto capturing all the anguish yet also the inspiration in coming to terms with one’s ending through comforting lyrics like ‘…travel on my friend…your story forever told..’. Pretty hard not to shed a tear throughout it all, Michael and Dreyer have created nothing short of a masterpiece here, bringing into the fore the burning memory of Sagan in ensuring he will indeed be remembered. Now that’s true friendship.