Even before Warrel Dane‘s death, it seemed highly unlikely that we’d ever see a Nevermore reunion. Now, following the iconic singer’s sudden passing, it would appear to be completely off the table. The silver lining to this tragic turn of events is that they leave the door open for a new band to step into the space Dane and his collaborators occupied for the better part of the last three decades. Though they are relative newcomers to the game, California’s Witherfall would appear to be the front-runners amid the somewhat-thrashy progressive metal power vacuum, left in the distinctive vocalist’s wake. 2018 marks their second album in as many years and, while they’re not quite there yet, A Prelude to Sorrow is yet another convincing addition to their rapidly flourishing catalogue.
There’s no way around it: Witherfall sound a lot like Nevermore. A lot. The comparison springs primarily from frontman Joseph Michael (ex-White Wizzard)who has since also taken up residence with Dane’s original act Sanctuary, as the departed vocalist’s replacement. He doesn’t quite have the range or theatricality of Dane’s delivery, but his tone is spot on, and the rest of the band are more than willing to follow his lead. Specifically, the album harks back to meandering mid-period offerings like Dead Heart, in a Dead World (2000) and Dreaming Neon Black (1999), or even 1995’s self-titled Nevermore, more readily than it does their later progressive opuses—albeit with the edges noticeably shaved off.
A Prelude to Sorrow leans away from the heavier, thrashier aspects of its templates’ sound far more often than it leans into them. Yet its heavier moments also regularly make for its most memorable and impactful. Each song on the album is characterized by a singular heavy refrain that they often spend the bulk of their extended run-time leading up to. Sections like the opening and closing three-minutes of sprawling opener “We Are Nothing” are far more heavier than anything from last year’s Nocturnes and Requiems, and the record is all the better for it. Unfortunately, while contrast is often one of the most potent tools a progressive act can have in their arsenal, these heavier sections are almost invariably offset by long, uneventful, softer sections that do little more than delay gratification.
The issue is compounded by the fact that none of the album’s “progressive” elements are particularly interesting. “Maridians Visitation” is an odd interlude that recalls Pink Floyd‘s “Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Communion of the Wicked” begins with a riff that recalls Traced in Air-era Cynic. Alas, it is short-lived and only reappears briefly before the number’s close. A lot of A Prelude to Sorrow’s songs follow a similar template—teasing an interesting riff or idea, only for it to disappear before an onslaught of progressive metal staples (acoustic sections, falsetto vocals, parts that go on for way too long, etc.) only to be brought back briefly for one final, regressive climax. Nothing really interesting is done with the more interesting riffs and other sections upon their return either, with their impact being borne more out of a combination of relief and familiarity than the songs displaying any real sense of evolution. “Moment of Silence” is one of the few tracks on the record devoid of any downtime, and emerges as its most triumphant and complete (not to mention most Nevermore-ian) offering because of it. It and “We Are Nothing” start the album off with a bang, but the band are both unable and seemingly unwilling to keep their momentum going throughout the whole record.
A Prelude to Sorrow’s flaws are minor. However, they tend to reveal themselves more with each listen—detracting from its initial impact. The band are at their best when guitarists Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth) and Fili Bibiano are allowed to flex their muscles a little, and many of the progressive sections feel like afterthoughts, rather than necessities. Witherfall would perhaps do well to use their progressive elements as highlights and embellishments on future outings, instead of featuring them as the centerpiece. of their sound. Even so, for all its shortcomings, the album remains a remarkable effort that far outclasses many other offerings from its neck of the woods—especially considering its only their sophomore effort—and it gives all the indications that the band could evolve into true genre titans over the course of subsequent releases.