Power metal needs a savior. Unfortunately, in recent years, power metal has become a notoriously bland genre. New bands who fail to experiment, veteran bands who are content to release the same album every 2 years, and lots of loud, overproduced albums have plagued the genre for years. If something doesn’t change, the genre will fade away into obscurity.
Witherfall may be the savior power metal has been looking for. The quartet (although currently a trio, due to the tragic death of drummer, Adam Sagan) plays technical and thrilling progressive power metal that is matched in quality only by a handful of veterans in the business. These guys do not sound like a new band and there’s good reason for that. All the members, except the bassist, have long resumes with power metal heavyweights like Iced Earth, White Wizard, Circle II Circle and Into Eternity. Even considering their extensive experience, their debut album, Nocturnes and Requiems, still passes expectations.
Somehow, this single album seems to encompass the entire breadth and history of power metal. You will find the genre’s flashier aspects: catchy choruses like on “End of Time”, killer, the piercing vocals of “Sacrifice”, and neoclassical shredding on almost every track. Dig deeper, though, and you’ll also find many surprises and moments of contrast, something seriously lacking in today’s power metal scene. There’re many moments where guitarist Jake Dreyer adds extended classical guitar solos that aren’t just typical, lazy arpeggios. This guy must have some serious classical training. Most of the songs have well thought out outros that transition perfectly into the next song. The album ebbs and flows like the classic Queensrÿche and Savatage prog-epics, allowing the drama keep the listener engaged. For every pounding, melodic riff there’s ambiance and downtime to allow it to sink in and to anticipate more excitement. This is a power metal band that knows how to be ornate as well as how to be subtle. 47 minutes never went by so quickly.
Power metal falls apart with bad vocals. Luckily, one of the strongest aspects of the album is Joseph Michael’s vocal performance. His vocal style is comparable to Tim Owens, James Rivera, or Tim Aymar, with grit on the bottom and a seemingly infinite high extension, but he is no clone. Echoing the theme of restraint this album has, Michael knows when shows off the beauty of his voice, when to simply deliver the lyrics, and when to shut up. There’s plenty of instrumental interludes making the moments where he goes for a high note or adds some theatrics all the more meaningful. Most notably, Michael adds a true sense of sincerity to this album with his voice. The mellow and more emotional vocal moments like on “The Great Awakening” and the following intro into “End of Time” add somberness and darkness back into a genre that has gotten tacky and implausibly positive.
There are many comparisons to make between Witherfall and the American power metal legends mentioned thus far. Ever since Helloween hit it big with their Keeper albums, the rougher, more riff and progressive rock-based American power metal has been overshadowed by the European sound. If American power metal came back to save the genre as a whole, this would be the band to do it. In King Arthur and Tolkien’s Middle Earth, two frequent sources of power metal inspiration, the saviors of the world are always the offspring of a former great king. Power metal should have a similar hero, then. What better band to do it than one fronted by the cousin of one of the greatest American metal singers of all time? YES: JOSEPH MICHAEL IS FUCKING DIO’S COUSIN.
Witherfall snuck their album in earlier in the year so it’s missing a lot of the attention other albums are getting but don’t let that fool you. This band is going places. They might just be the savior we’ve been looking for.