Monday 24 May 2021

Witherfall - Curse of Autumn (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 5 Mar 2021
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If the sound of Ossian, the time honoured Hungarian band I reviewed last week, is at the softer end of the power metal genre, drifting often into hard rock, then Witherfall are firmly at the other end of it. This is energetic, often frenetic stuff, the opening track proper, The Last Scar, fast enough to work for speed metal freaks like me, though always with the melodic power metal approach paramount. Much of this seems to be due to Jake Dreyer, who is surprisingly the only guitarist here, the band featuring two keyboardists rather than two guitarists.

Now, while Dreyer is on fire throughout this album, often reminding of shredders who use three notes where many would use, he sometimes withdraws considerably to give a wildly different effect because there's a lot of variety here. Not everything blisters like The Last Scar. As I Like Awake is much calmer but doesn't do anything particularly unusual, making it rather forgettable between the opener and a pair of particularly interesting tracks, Another Face and Tempest, where Dreyer does very different things indeed.

Another Face is all over the map as far as tempo goes, but stands out for being theatrical. The intro is as powerful as it is delicate, definitely the work of a tight, well-practiced band, but it's Joseph Michael who will soon steal this song. He's the lead singer, as well as being one of those two keyboardists, and he covers a lot of ground here. Initially, he takes a prog metal approach, bringing a lot of character to his delivery, whether it's totally clean or with a level of grit added to it, but, by the midsection, he's a long way into theatrics, soaring high, chanting lines and veering into raucous laughter, often all at the same time. There are points on this one where he reminds of King Diamond.

Not that we forget the instruments in Another Face, because there's a lot of dynamic play unfolding on that front as well, Tempest firmly shifts our focus back from vocals to music. I really like the intro to this one, because it quickly finds a groove of its own, Dreyer's guitar is much slower and subtler, and it even shifts from a crunchy modern sound to something I can only describe as acoustic and Spanish. The versatility of the band thus far always suggested that they'd shine on long songs and this is the first of two to test that theory, being over eight minutes long. It holds true here, because this one moves through a set of different phases, each of which adds something new and interesting to the song. It's an emphatic highlight.

While I've only highlighted Dreyer and Michael thus far, this band is quite obviously not lacking in the department of technical ability and each of the five members is easily up to the task of surviving in a band that does what this one does. New drummer Marco Minnemann deserves a callout for technical accomplishment too, but nobody lets the side down. That is absolutely not the problem here and I need to return for the next album and the next after that to see what talent of this level will conjure up.

The problem the album has is that it's an hour long and it's a long hour. Not all of these songs shine the way that the three I've already mentioned do. Now, I enjoyed everything here, but I found myself drifting away often and there are songs that I just don't remember at all, even after a couple of times through the album. I guess that means that, while this is occasionally brilliant, it's also inconsistent.

Tempest never once lost me in its eight and a half complex minutes, but ...and They All Blew Away isn't remotely as successful in its fifteen and a half, though it does have its moments. I'd suggest that it's eleven minutes too long, but I'm not a big fan of the four minute radio edit version either, which is included as an apparent bonus. The other bonus seems like an odd inclusion too: it's a emotional acoustic take on the Boston classic Long Time, shorn of its Foreplay, which would seem to be more up this band's alley. It's a good take but it's out of place on this album.

And so I find myself staying at the 7/10 level. There's 9/10 material here for sure and I might have been persuaded into an 8/10 had this ended after The River, but there's too much that levels out those peaks. So 7/10 it is.

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