Album Title: Nocturnes and Requiems
Label: Independent Release
Date of release: 10 February 2017
I’m going to start this review in a blunt manner: I am enjoying the hell out of this album. With that in mind, allow me to elaborate in a style more familiar to those who follow this site.
‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is the debut album from Witherfall, a band comprised of four extremely talented musicians in their own right, namely guitarist Jake Dreyer, vocalist Joseph Michael, bassist Anthony Crawford and drummer Adam Sagan. Dreyer will be a familiar name to many as an ex-member of White Wizzard and current lead axeman for Iced Earth. Michael is also ex-White Wizzard stock whilst Sagan plied his trade with the likes of Circle II Circle and a personal favourite of mine, Into Eternity.
‘Nocturnes and Requiems’ was apparently recorded in 2014 but has taken until 2017 to be released. Tragically, in the interim, drummer Sagan has passed away having bravely battled with a form of blood cancer. The release could be viewed then as something of a tribute to a fallen comrade and what a fitting tribute it is to a talented sticksman. But more than simply being a tribute, ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is an excellent heavy metal album in its own right, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its release.
If you have a weakness for superlative musicianship, you’ll lap this record up, particularly if that weakness focuses on the six-string instrument. If you are also a fan of progressive metal, then this record might just have you jumping for joy.
That said, there isn’t much within Witherfall’s approach that screams originality but somehow that doesn’t matter to me here. In fact, if anything, I’d argue that there is a heavy indebtedness to the likes of Symphony X, Nevermore and many others within the six full tracks and two shorter interludes that comprise ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’. Speaking personally, as a fan of both of the aforementioned, this is no a bad thing.
Whilst every member of the band has skills, it is inevitable that the stand-out member of Witherfall for most of us is going to be guitarist Jake Dreyer. It is no wonder that Iced Earth snaffled him up because the guy is utterly immense. In fact, dare I suggest that he might be just a little under-utilised with Iced Earth? It may seem like overenthusiastic hyperbole but there is a strong case for putting Dreyer into the same league as the likes of Jeff Loomis or Michael Romeo, albeit he has his own style.
Given the neoclassical bent to some of the material, the parallels to Romeo are clearer, as is firmly demonstrated by the lightning fast playing which introduces the rather epic ‘End Of Time’ which is actually split into three parts. The intensity and technicality of the opening solo, followed by the flamboyance of the ensuing riff is enough to make me grin from ear to ear. If that wasn’t enough, the acoustic work that is incorporated into the track is sublime, adding plenty of darker tones to the track, enhanced by the emotive delivery of Joseph Michael.
Naturally, for a song that spans the better part of ten minutes, there are plenty of different sections that I could mention, including several of the extended guitar solos or the brief classical guitar segments that are beautifully delivered. But as good as all these parts are, the icing on the cake is the chorus that introduces a strong melody and a sense of the grandiose that is catchy enough to pull me in for repeated listens and proves that Witherfall are more than just clever instrumentalists; they are accomplished songwriters too.
Indeed, the songwriting prowess can be heard littered throughout the record. The Nevermore-tinged aggression of opener ‘Portrait’ is a huge winner thanks to the powerful riffs, driving rhythms, dark tones and strangely addictive introspective chorus of sorts not to mention its overt classic prog metal sheen. It contains a little bit of just about everything I want in my metal these days if I’m honest.
Then there’s the equally compelling follow-up in the shape of ‘What We Are Dying For’. It begins in frenetic style with a melodeath-style riff before descending into modern Symphony X territory, all the while keeping the foot to the floor in terms of pace and tempo. Sagan’s drumming is a key factor to the success of this composition, along with clever changes of pace that bring the track more into line with the doom genre. The solo guitar work atop the repetitive rhythm guitar notes is superb as is the bass playing of Anthony Crawford. I love the diversity of the song which, in true clichéd style, genuinely takes the listener on a journey. The Spanish-influenced classical guitar playing has to be, above all else, my favourite part though – it has to be heard to be believed, such is its blend of technicality and rich warmth.
I’ve yet to really mention vocalist Joseph Michael but when discussing yet another epic track, ‘Sacrifice’, his name comes top of the list. With a range that allows the guy to sing softly with emotion, snarl with naked aggression, soar with melodious intent or burst his lungs with the kind of high-pitched wails that the likes of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens or Rob Halford would be proud of, Michael has it all. And he demonstrates this impressive repertoire on ‘Sacrifice’ which is as bold and ambitious as his vocals. If I’m being hyper-critical, this track lacks a killer hook or melody to ensnare the unwary listener. However, it makes up for this with the sheer variety, drama and myriad of tones and textures on offer, meaning that it still holds your attention throughout.
So there you have it. An album that I knew nothing about until a copy was thrust upon me has ended up making a huge impression upon me. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the remaining three members of Witherfall but I sincerely hope that ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is not a one-off because it is just too damn good and newly-converted fans (myself included), simply need more of this kind of music in our lives. To deny us this would be a huge travesty.
The Score of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day