Power metal has been stuck in a rut for the last ten years or so. We’ve seen a good number of bands push the boundaries and try to establish new trends but nothing has caught on. The most hopeful gleam of anything new in power metal is actually the recent throw-back trend with bands like Sumerlands and Eternal Champion. It seems like the half-assed, cookie-cutter bands are enough to keep power metal’s fanbase satisifed just the right amount as to keep the genre barely hanging on. Black metal, death metal, doom metal, sludge metal, and even thrash metal maintain their relevancy even outside of metal circles with accessible bands that also push boundaries like Deafheaven, Ulcerate, Pallbearer, and Vektor and I sit idly by watching my first beloved genre surpassed by its cousins and watch it suffer a slow death. I know. I’m dramatic. Witherfall’s new album, though, gives me a sliver of hope.
One of the biggest loses metal ever suffered was the death of Chuck Schuldiner. His final project, Control Denied, released a single album of progressive power metal goodness that remains brilliant even after two decades. Control Denied is the closest comparison I can make to Witherfall. Certainly there is a similar darkness and heaviness in the music as well as a similarity in the front men, Control’s Tim Aymar and Witherfall’s Joseph Michael. There’s also plenty of guitar acrobatics and killer, technical riffs. However, Witherfall also utilizes a Savatagian sense of drama and pacing. Think metal meets late 70’s Pink Floyd. Where as Chuck would give you a brilliant life lesson in a compact ABA form, Witherfall takes a less structured approach and allows their imagination to run wild.
The first track is King Diamond meets Symphony X. Michael does an amazing job of mixing the delicate with the haunting and there’s so much creative, engaging guitar work from shredding to chugs to some actually detailed, not just filler, clean stuff all on just the opening track. Usually, power metal bands are afraid of simply letting the mood and atmosphere run the song even going as far to replace any semblance of subtlety with obnoxious maximalism. Let this first song be a masterclass in letting the ambiance over take you, power metal bands! From there, the record unfolds and only gets better. Even if you aren’t a power metal underdog fanboy, you’ll find something on here you’ll like. There’s a little doom, a little thrash, a little prog, even a hint of death and black metal like on “Sacrifice” and it’s always changing things up as soon as you get comfortable. They weave influences in out of their writing seemlessly, sometimes with clear strokes showing a deep knowledge of their predecessors and sometimes with more subtlety. These are musicians who aren’t just experienced but musicians who also still love and believe in this genre and know how to bake that love deep into their music just like your fat mom did.
That’s not to say they are just copying the greats. Witherfall’s singular greatness can be heard in their true vulnerability, a trend we’ve seen in other metal subgenres lately that I hope catches on in power metal. “The Great Awakening” is unlike anything I’ve heard on a power metal album with its soothing embrace and tender anticipation. The record is full of truly beautiful moments like the smooth, rivery basslines or the classical guitar solo on “What We Are Dying For” or the opening section of “End of Time.” The interludes don’t make you want to skip them! They actually add to the song they introduce! Like I mentioned before, Witherfall isn’t afraid to be quiet and when they are it makes the loud moments all the more meaningful.
But wait there’s more! If there was ever a band who would save power metal, shouldn’t such a band, like Strider or Jon Snow, have lineage to the throne? Well, I’m glad you asked. Witherfall’s brilliant lead guitarist, Jake Dreyer, currently plays in Iced Earth and has a history with White Wizard. Drummer Adam Sagan, who passed away in 2016, has played with the likes of Circle II Circle, Into Eternity, and Echoterra. BUT WAIT! The vocalist, one of the most talented and moving voices I’ve heard in recent years, Joseph Michael, is the cousin of FUCKING DIO. If that’s not an Arthurian heritage saga, then I don’t know what is.
In short: this record is amazing. It’s not afraid to go to new places and understands the old places better than anyone I know. You’ll find traces of Control Denied, Savatage, Iced Earth, Nevermore, Blind Guardian, Yngwie and Symphony X, Jag Panzer, King Diamond, and any other great power metal band. To sweeten the deal, they confidently show off their own unique voice too. This album made my week with it’s pure reverence for the old school coupled with its nudge forward into the new. This is the real deal. Album of the year material. Go buy it. Now.