Posts Tagged ‘ progressive Power Metal ’

Album of the Week 35-2019: Them – Manor Of The Se7en Gables


On the surface, Them seems like another one of those King Diamond and Mercyful Fate-inspired bands that seemed to pop up everywhere especially around Northern Europe about a decade ago. They even have the aesthetic down better than, say, Attic and Portrait. In fact, Them began existence as a King Diamond tribute band, but it’s almost ironic how little Them actually sounds like the Danish horror metal master. The inspiration is undeniably there – of course a concept album driven by a B-grade horror story is inspired by him – but Them took those influences and turned them into their own thing.

Upon first listen, you can almost hear what was going on in the heads of singer Troy Norr and guitarist Markus Ullrich. They heard King Diamond and thought: you know what this needs? Vocals that are consistently on pitch and more thrashy riffing.  Norr doesn’t even sound that much like King Diamond unless he’s speaking or using his falsetto. A closer comparison would be Winters Bane’s ‘Heart Of A Killer’. While not quite as technical, ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ does feature a similarly theatrical heavy metal sound. Also, Norr sounds fairly similar to Tim Owens on that record, with maybe some ‘Nosferatu’-era James Rivera thrown in.

More importantly, the music on ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ is simply really good. In all honesty, I could do wihtout the narrative disrupting the music, but fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often. What remains is some excellent, mildly technical contemporary heavy metal full of engaging borderline thrash riffs and climactic progessions. Ullrich and Markus Johansson have arranged their guitar parts effectively around each other’s strengths and Them is one of the few metal bands with a keyboard player (Richie Seibel) who doesn’t constantly push himself to the forefront, opting to enhance the horror atmosphere of the music instead.

Although ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ is full of great uptempo tracks like the relatively thrashy ‘Refuge In The Manor’, the particularly aggressive ‘Seven Gables To Ash’ and the climactic ‘The Secret Stairs’, what really makes it superior to debut album ‘Sweet Hollow’ is the quality of its slower material. The mid-tempo tracks on that record weren’t bad by any means, but not nearly as memorable as the bombastic ‘As The Sage Burns’ or the melancholic ‘Witchfinder’. ‘Punishment By Fire’ rounds out the album nicely by tying all the stylistic elements together, resulting in an excellent slightly progressive metal track.

Them is at constant risk of being misunderstood. The band is no cheap King Diamond clone and I actually prefer both ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ and ‘Sweet Hollow’ to anything King Diamond ever did. The conceptual approach gives the band direction, but in all honesty, this material would have impressed regardless, including the interludes. Any fan of eighties heavy metal who complains that no one makes anything like that anymore should certainly give ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ a spin. It might be a more contemporary take on the classic stuff, but that only adds to the relevance of Them.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Secret Stairs’, ‘Witchfinder’, ‘Refuge In The Manor’

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Album of the Week 34-2019: Helloween – 7 Sinners


After the departure of guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch, Helloween was adrift for a while. ‘Rabbit Don’t Come Easy’ was a confused mess and ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy’ an overlong double album that tried too hard. ‘Gambling With The Devil’ was a welcome return to form for the Germans. The album’s highlights – the brilliant ‘Paint A New World’ in particular – are still among the band’s best material, but the album did have its consistency issues. ‘7 Sinners’ fixes these with a collection of powerful, melodic power metal anthems that will refuse to leave your head any time soon.

In the years preceding ‘7 Sinners’, Helloween had gone from a leader in the power metal field to a band forcing themselves into formula they had devised themselves two decades prior. ‘7 Sinners’, on the other hand, sounds like the band wasn’t trying to be anything. The album is filled to the brim with generally well-written songs that are often catchy, sometimes a bit silly and usually quite bombastic. Unlike ‘Gambling With The Devil’, ‘7 Sinners’ doesn’t really feature any skipworthy songs, though ‘The Smile Of The Sun’ isn’t exactly one of the stronger ballads the band has to offer.

Bassist Markus Grosskopf stated that ‘Where The Sinners Go’ and ‘Are You Metal?’ were the first two songs written for the album and they are the opening tracks of the record, as kind of a mission statement. The former is a midtempo stomper with an above average amount of aggression, while the latter proves that on a good day, Helloween knows perfectly well how to inject a little silliness into the music without sacrificing any of the melodic and catchy qualities they possess. The anthemic flute solo showcase ‘Raise The Noise’ and the excellent semi-epic ‘If A Mountain Could Talk’ are other prime examples of that craft.

Despite those moments, ‘7 Sinners’ is one of the darker Helloween albums in overall tone. And it’s there where the album truly shines. ‘World Of Fantasy’ is a tale of escapism wrapped in a fantastic power metal tune of which the melodies are full of hopeful melancholy, while the odd theatricality of the proggy ‘My Sacrifice’ accounts for one of the album’s most pleasant surprises. ‘Who Is Mr. Madman?’ reprises the main melody of ‘Perfect Gentleman’ in what is furthermore a delightfully defiant power metal tune with an incredible chorus. ‘Long Live The King’ and the amazingly epic diptych of ‘Not Yet Today’ and ‘Far In The Future’ display a degree of dark aggression I thought was lost after ‘The Dark Ride’.

Helloween sometimes loses direction and needs someone to put them back on track every once in a while. Whoever it was this time – the writing credits would suggest their expressive singer Andi Deris – it really worked. ‘7 Sinners’ is the most consistent Helloween album since ‘Better Than Raw’ and certainly the crowning achievement of the line-up with guitarist Sascha Gerstner and drummer Dani Löble. The only minor complaint is that Charlie Bauerfeind’s ultra-bombastic production sometimes makes Helloween sound more like former Helloween-worshippers Blind Guardian than themselves, but it just works for this material. For what it’s worth, I prefer this to the original two ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys’ albums.

Also, bonus points for bringing back the little pumpkin illustrations depicting each song. Especially because Marcos Moura’s comic style is much more fun to look at than the dull computer art of the pumpkins in ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy’. His style also feels like a tribute to the cool illustrations Frederick Moulaert did for the classic Helloween stuff.

Recommended tracks: ‘World Of Fantasy’, ‘My Sacrifice’, ‘Far In The Future’, ‘Who Is Mr. Madman?’

Saber Tiger lyricist about ‘Obscure Diversity’


One thing that makes Saber Tiger stand out is the fact that their English lyrics are better than those of most Japanese bands. Starting with their 2011 release ‘Decisive’, the band has been extensively collaborating with lyricist Fubito Endo, who also wrote of all the lyrics for their new album ‘Obscure Diversity’.

Back in 2007, I came across a blog post from (founding guitarist) Akihito Kinoshita”, Endo explains. “Saber Tiger was at a low point in their career at the time. They had no record deal, no management, not even a singer. I had been a fan of Saber Tiger since junior high, when they hadn’t even released their major label debut yet. So when I saw on AK’s blog that he needed a lyricist, I decided to contact him. I was already a professional musician and producer at the time, so I hoped I could help him out.

I watch a lot of American and British movies and tv series. When I hear some cool words or phrases, I always write them down in my Saber Tiger memos. I have a long list of these phrases. When I receive demo tracks from the guys, I always check the memo and see if I can get a vision of what I want to talk about.

The basic concept of ‘Obscure Diversity’

For the previous trilogy of ‘Decisive’, ‘Messiah Complex’ and ‘Bystander Effect’, my lyrics were mostly about war, conflict, crime, life and death. I think I have written enough about these concepts, so I decided to write from a more personal perspective for this particular album. I never went to a war zone and I never pulled the trigger. I’ve never even seen someone die in front of me except for the natural deaths of my relatives. So these stories were all fictional for me. The basic concept of ‘Obscure Diversity’ was to write more about personal tragedies in our lives.

Daguerreotype Of Phineas Gage

This was the final song written for this album. ‘The Crowbar Case’ already existed and Takenori (Shimoyama, singer) came up with the idea to kick off the album with a kind of gothic choir. The vocal recording is actually a demo. We originally planned to hire professional opera singers to emulate the parts on the demo, but my demo recording went so well that we decided to keep the recording for the final product.

The title refers to one of the two silver prints that were left of Phineas Gage after his eye and part of his brain were taken out as part of a tragic accident. An iron rod pierced through his head. The fragmented Latin words don’t mean anything by themselves, but they are supposed to depict a fragmental image of what his life and death are all about.

The Crowbar Case

The story of Phineas Gage was really interesting for me. Before his accident, he was known as a very decent, hard-working man and a trustworthy boss. Then he had a tragic accident that made him lose part of his brain. Miraculously, he managed to survive, but when he recovered, he came back with a completely different personality. He was told to have become extremely violent and selfish. When I read this story, I began to think: which part of him made him the person he was? And who was the real Phineas Gage in the first place?

The Worst Enemy

“’The Worst Enemy’ was the very first song we wrote for this album. These lyrics set the basic concept for the whole album. Jealousy is our worst enemy. But if you’re human, you can’t live without it. No matter how decent you are, everybody suffers from jealousy. If you are faced with it, maybe you can control it or at least learn how to deal with it. But if you try to deny it, you will eventually be controlled by it.

Stain

Sometimes, people do things that never really go away. Even if you try to hide it or even erase them, these things will always leave a stain inside you. It is possible that everybody else forgets about it, but since you are the one who did it, you are never going to forget. You simply have to deal with it and learn to live with it. That is the basic concept of ‘Stain’.”

Beat Of The War Drums

When we went to Germany to mix ‘Decisive’ with Tommy Newton, Akihito had a stroke. He nearly died there. He had to be brought back to Japan on a stretcher in first class with a doctor present. Though he was super lucky to have survived, he has been suffering from pretty severe depression ever since. I wrote the lyrics to ‘Beat Of The War Drums’ to kind of cheer him up.

If people work too hard, it will eventually break their physical condition, after which it will break their minds. That’s when the war drums start beating in your head. That is the state of mind of hard-working people. I can relate to the feeling myself. When I was producing the vocals for ‘Paragraph IV’, I didn’t sleep anywhere near enough for two or three weeks. After that, I was sick for two months.

Distant Signals

“’Distant Signals’ is very different from the usual Saber Tiger style. It was a challenge to write these lyrics, because the music is so complicated, but I enjoyed it very much. This particular demo was the first song hibiki (bassist) wrote for Saber Tiger. It sounded so spacey! I felt like I was flying through space, from planet to planet. Therefore, the lyrics were inspired by the idea of quantum mechanics: we always take a shower in an immense amount of possibilities. Your actions will define the truth of the next moment.

For the previous albums, I always wrote about perfect despair. If you look deep into the abyss of despair, you will eventually find one small fragment of hope. I never wrote purely positive lyrics, but I wanted to write something really positive for this hibiki song, because I felt this positive energy from him. So I think the concept of believing in yourself and trusting your own actions really fits the song.

The Shade Of Holy Light

This is the very first ballad Machine (guitarist Yasuharu Tanaka) wrote for Saber Tiger. This is another story of a decent guy in an unfortunate situation. The guy in this song worked too hard covering for his colleagues and working overtime. One night, he works late and when he drives back home in the dark, during heavy rainfall, over the speed limit, he runs over somebody. He ends up in jail, where he reminisces his life. Nobody forced him to be nice; he decided by himself to help somebody out. That resulted in him killing someone. The idea is that the strongest light always creates the darkest shadows. Even if you are a good man. This happens all the time in our lives. The world is an unfair place.

Permanent Rage

Saber Tiger has had a long career and because they are such kind guys, they have often been hunted by predators. A lot of people show up to them, act all nice and end up ripping them off. They have lost a lot of money over the years simply because they are not businessmen, because they trust these people. They always tend to show up again though, because they think they will still be an easy prey. When that happens, you have to face them and say: I know what you are trying to do. Say that again and look me in the eye.

I have always loved the phrase ‘M.O.’. I’m a big fan of American legal dramas and often hear this phrase ‘same M.O.’ used by detectives or lawyers. I have always wanted to use it. When I heard the demo, there was a part where it just fit perfectly. That was the first idea for the song.

Seize Your Moment

Literally, ‘Seize Your Moment’ is very positive. This is your chance, your opportunity, so you have to grab it. Everything has two sides though. If somebody shows up and says: you have no problem, I will take care of everything for you, they might be trying to set you up.  If somebody really cares about you, they don’t always say nice things. Sometimes they say something that is difficult for you to hear. Seize Your Moment is about seeing both sides of everything.

Divide To Deny

Simply put, this one is about people who fear people with a different point of view. The reason why people attack others is fear. They fear something they don’t understand, so they try to attack it. But it’s impossible to understand everything. It’s only natural if there are things that you don’t understand. Being different is not a crime. You don’t have to understand it, but there is no need to attack anyone. You can just leave the people you don’t understand alone.

This idea is also reflected in the title ‘Obscure Diversity’. Diversity is kind of a trendy word these days. Everyone is talking about it, but a lot of people are simply talking about diversity because they are afraid to get attacked for being politically incorrect. The other extreme is trying to hide your actual incorrectness behind a screen or an anonymous handle. Living with something you don’t necessarily understand is true diversity.

Paradigm And Parody

As professional creators, we always suffer to create something original. On the other hand, it’s impossible to create something new, as most possibilities have already been done by someone at some point. All that we can do is change the combination or the color. That’s how you can leave your signature. We dedicate our whole life to these kinds of small changes, but some people have no problem being a copycat.

I don’t say that everything I create is completely original. Of course I have been influenced by my favorite artists and artists that I admire. But when I see people who just copy and paste, I always think: how can you sleep at night doing this as your profession?

My favorite lines from these lyrics are: you know there are ten thousand ways to be right / you know it’s so easy, a matter of pride / and what you want to be known for when you die. I don’t believe in life after death, so after I die, I only live in someone else’s memory. I don’t want to be remembered as someone who just stole or copied from other artists. At least I tried to create something to make people happy.

The Forever Throne

“’The Forever Throne’ was inspired by a real life incident. A few years ago, Tetsuya Komuro, a very famous Japanese music producer, was caught trying to sell the rights to songs he didn’t own. He was never prosecuted for fraud, because his label owner paid a lot of money to prevent that. However, he was already all over the news, so he had to talk about it. He said that the reason he did it was to make his wife happy until the day his fraud was discovered. He knew he was going to lose everything he created, but he took the risk to make his wife feel like a queen.

When I heard this story, the image of an empty throne came to mind. Spending a crazy amount of money on something meaningless. I feel in this story, Komuro kind of was the emperor in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. It is impossible to own everything. Not even a millionaire can buy the sky or the sun. And happiness is not defined by how much you own. I really believe that everyone who experiences great happiness also has to face big sadness. At the end of the day, it’s all in balance.

Album of the Week 21-2019: Arch/Matheos – Winter Ethereal


With Arch/Matheos being active, there are essentially two Fates Warnings, the one actually called Fates Warning being fronted by Ray Alder. Neither are very prolific; they have a combined grand total of four albums this decade. However, all four are excellent, so that should not be a reason to complain. Jim Matheos found a niche for himself that works, but at the same time provides him with enough opportunities to experiment without straying too far from his core sound. ‘Winter Ethereal’ fits that niche. It’s slightly more streamlined than ‘Sympathetic Resonance’, but similar enough to appeal to the same audience.

Not unlike on their debut album, or even the two-track ‘Twist Of Fate’ EP released under John Arch’s name, ‘Winter Ethereal’ sounds like twenty-first century Fates Warning tailored to Arch’s vocals. For those of you who have never heard them, imagine an esotheric Bruce Dickinson and you’d be close. Unlike their debut, however, Arch and Matheos rotate the cast of backing musicians on the record with several Fates Warning alumni (Frank Aresti, Mark Zonder, Bobby Jarzombek, Joey Vera, Joe DiBiase) and a couple of respected names in the field of progressive rock and metal (Sean Malone, Steve DiGiorgio, Thomas Lang, Matt Lynch).

Maybe it is the close connection that all these musicians have to the history of Arch and Matheos, but ‘Winter Ethereal’ eludes the musical posturing and lack of cohesion that most of these super line-ups have. The men whose names are on the cover are in control here, that much is never in doubt. And despite a couple of fantastic guitar solos on ‘Vermillion Moons’ and ‘Solitary Man’, Matheos is more concerned with getting the riffs and the atmosphere right. He certainly does here. Despite the heaviness and complexity, ‘Winter Ethereal’ always remains a pleasant listen, which has been Matheos’ trademark for all of his recent material.

Easily the most metallic track on here is ‘Wrath Of The Universe’. It’s wild and Matheos enhances the rhythmic violence of Jarzombek and DiGiorgio by often layering two contrasting guitar parts; one aggressive, one creating breathing room. Clever writing. The brilliantly atmospheric ‘Pitch Black Process’ is a more contemporary progressive rock track, though with distinct heavy riffing, somewehere along the lines of a more metallic Porcupine Tree. Closer ‘Kindred Spirits’ is the only 10+ minute song this time around and it is a strong, dynamic track that highlights all that Arch/Matheos has to offer in a surprisingly fluent fashion. The other large epic is the powerful opening track ‘Vermillion Moons’, which “only” clocks nine minutes.

Though ‘Winter Ethereal’ is not perfect – ‘Never In Your Hands’ is a little plain and the ballad ‘Tethered’ is good, but drags a little at several points in the song – it is simply a no-brainer for anyone who loved the debut and even the last two Fates Warning albums. The album is dynamic, powerful and intricate, but never too complex. Such listenable progressive metal is hard enough to come by these days, but Arch and Matheos certainly give a few young bands – as well as a few burnt-out old ones – a lesson or two in prog songwriting here. Highly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Wrath Of The Universe’, ‘Pitch Black Process’, ‘Kindred Spirits’, ‘Vermillion Moons’

Album of the Week 15-2019: Catharsis – Imago


Although seen as a genre predominantly from northwestern Europe, some of this century’s most interesting power metal releases are actually from elsewhere and don’t always make it over to the west. Some bands try to make the transition by translating their songs to English, but ‘Imago’, the third full-length of Moscow-based Catharsis, is a rare example of the opposite. It was originally released in 2002 with lyrics entirely in English, just like their first two albums. The next year, a Russian version was released, which despite being musically identical somehow sounds superior. Certainly a must for fans of neoclasscially tinged power metal.

Oleg Zhilyakov’s vocals are an important part of what makes this release so good. That can be said about any Catharsis album, because Zhilyakov has incomparable range, power and drama in his voice, but judging from his performance here, he feels slightly more comfortable singing in his native tongue. Fortunately, the language fits his passionate, semi-operatic delivery perfectly. While Zhilyakov is amazing, a great singer does not necessarily make a great band. Catharsis’ compositions are excellent though. They’re generally uptempo, but not as upbeat as most similarly styled German or Swedish bands. There is always a darkness brooding underneath Catharsis’ songs and the occasional progressive leanings bring Symphony X to mind.

What stands out immediately about ‘Imago’ is how theatrical the songs sound with relatively minimal embellishments. Sure, Julia Red’s keyboards add some layers that the guitars cannot, but even she is not trying to emulate a full orchestra. Catharsis’ music immediately transports you to the darkest chapter of a fairytale. The guitar riffs are melodic and powerful, but not too heavy and the climactic choruses often feature Zhilyakov sounding like he is begging for his life to be spared, which is goosebumps-inducing more than once. Catharsis has a power that many bands in the genre strive for, but only few manage to achieve.

Stylistically, most of the songs on ‘Imago’ are similar, but there are little clever compositional touches that make them stand out. ‘Voin Sveta’ has a more aggressive midtempo grind, the fiery ‘Izbranny Nebom’ has what is probably the most awesome riff on the album, ‘Vzorvi Moi Sny’ has a mind-blowingly exciting build up towards its chorus and ‘Tantsui V Ogne’ has a surprisingly danceable rhythm. Both ‘Zvezdopad’ and ‘Izbranny Nebom’ have a couple of unconventional twists in their amazing choruses as well. There are tracks that deviate from the norm though, most notably the multi-faceted doomy crawler ‘Rassvetny Zver’ and the surprisingly good ballad ‘Dalshe – Tishina…’.

‘Imago’ is not a perfect album – instrumental track ‘Tarantul’ has a lot of interesting ideas, but sounds like it should have been a full band composition rather than a piano instrumental – but it is the perfect album for anyone who wants a slightly different take on their power metal without moving away from the genre’s essence too far. Catharsis is full of great musicians, they know how to set a perfect mood or atmosphere for their music and – I can’t stress this enough – Oleg Zhilyakov is one of the best power metal singers in the world.

Recommended tracks: ‘Izbranny Nebom’, ‘Rassvetny Zver’, ‘Zvorvi Moi Sny’, ‘Zvezdopad’

Album of the Week 50-2018: Control Denied – The Fragile Art Of Existence


Last week marked the seventeenth anniversary of Chuck Schuldiner’s passing. Metal fans everwhere celebrated his genius by playing old Death records, but personally, I think the sole Control Denied album may have been his crowning achievement. ‘The Fragile Art Of Existence’ used to be my all time favorite album for a long time and to this day, I still am in awe by the melodic elegance and the complex, yet accessible nature of the record. Despite the shadow of the disease that would eventually kill Schuldiner inadvertently looming over the album, the album impresses with excellent songwriting and ditto performances.

The cast of musicians on ‘The Fragile Art Of Existence’ looks like an all-star cast of Death musicians with a clean singer. Tim Aymar’s powerful, theatrical voice that is equal parts Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford is what gives the album its own face, because the music isn’t that much different from the final Death album ‘The Sound Of Perseverance’. That should not be too surprising, given that some of the songs on that record evolved from Control Denied demos. As a whole, Control Denied comes across slightly more streamlined, though the songs still feature all the abrupt changes and glorious melodies that Schuldiner was known for.

It is hard to imagine most of these songs as Death songs though. The guitar riffs and arrangements in tracks like ‘What If…?’ and the incredible ‘Believe’ seem to be set up specifically with the idea of leaving as much room as possible for Aymar’s vocals, making their structure feel somewhat more open than Death’s dense compositions. Of course, those moments of density are still there, as not giving the virtuoso rhythm section of Richard Christy and bass wizard Steve DiGiorgio any room would feel like a waste of talent. What makes these guys good, however, is that they also know when to hold back.

My collection does not feature many other albums with such a consistently high level of songwriting and performance throughout. Only ‘Cut Down’ is merely good. ‘Breaking The Broken’ might be the best transitional track for Death fans, as it retains the aggression along with intelligent songwriting. ‘Consumed’ is a brave opening track, as it changes tempo and mood several times throughout its seven minutes and introduces Aymar remarkably effectively. ‘Believe’ is relatively simple, but brutally effective and the closing title track has to be heard to be believed. It manages to combine traditional heavy metal riffing with an almost ethereal middle section and ending that almost two decades later still gives me goosebumps.

Of course, with a line-up like Control Denied had on this album, it is nearly impossible to go wrong in terms of performances. Shannon Hamm is easily the most Schuldiner-like guitarist Chuck ever worked with and they’re both on fire here. The performances could have easily held the songs hostage though. It is a testament to the brilliance of Chuck Schuldiner that the music holds together so well. He was truly a unique talent and as good as every Death album from ‘Human’ onward is, ‘The Fragile Art Of Existence’ may actually be the most unique album he created.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Fragile Art Of Existence’, ‘Breaking The Broken’, ‘Believe’

Album of the Week 43-2018: Witherfall – A Prelude To Sorrow


Fans of dark progressive power metal are having a good few weeks. A week after the final recordings of Warrel Dane came out, Witherfall releases its incredible sophomore album ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’. Despite being aware of the other activities of guitarist Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth) and singer Joseph Michael (filling in for the aforementioned Dane in Sanctuary), this powerful combination of elements from various metal subgenres took me completely by surprise. With equal parts old school epic heavy metal melodicism and contemporary progressive touches, ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ is a dynamic album that stays engaging all the way through.

Upon first listen, ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ struck me as a more progressive take on the approach Winters Bane took on ‘Heart Of A Killer’, but that assessment may be influenced by Michael’s voice, which bears a strong resemblance to Tim Owens’ on that record. However, Witherfall is even darker and more adventurous from a songwriting perspective. Most of the songs are quite long, two of them even exceed the eleven minute mark, but they are over before one can realize how long they actually are. The immersive atmosphere certainly helps there, but atmosphere alone only takes you so far.

Musically, Witherfall’s sound is based upon a complex, but not needlessly virtuosic riff and rhythm department, upon which Michael builds some impressive multi-layered vocal mayhem. Keyboards are sometimes added to the mix as a subtle enhancement, but ultimately, Witherfall is really about riffs, rhythms, voices and occasional blazing lead guitar work. None of the elements ever become overbearing, because despite all their progressive leanings, the band knows that the songs and the melodies should prevail, however challenging they may be to execute. The songs generally feature a lot of twists and turns, but not so much that you lose track as a listener.

Naming highlights is not possible without mentioning the massive bookends ‘We Are Nothing’ and ‘Vintage’. The former is a masterpiece that almost feels like a three-part suite due to the acoustic middle section splitting up an otherwise monstrous, almost doom metal-like track, while the latter is a particularly epic power ballad in tribute to the band’s deceased drummer Adam Sagan. The powerful ‘Moment Of Silence’ has an oppressively dark atmosphere and ‘Shadows’ constantly moves from aggressive to mournful and back remarkably effectively. ‘Ode To Despair’ proves that metal bands can do power ballads without immediately sacrificing their power.

Anyone who listens to the likes of Nevermore, Morgana Lefay, ‘In Search Of Truth’-era Evergrey and Sanctuary’s ‘Into The Mirror Black’ should certainly give ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ a spin. Though the music is highly atmospheric and Michael’s vocal delivery is fairly theatrical, the compositions and performances are so powerful that even those who are generally discouraged by such terms might enjoy this. Although I was aware of the individual skills of the musicians involved, ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ overwhelmed me upon first listen and has enough interesting details to keep surprising me every time I put it on again. That may end up happening a lot.

Recommended tracks: ‘We Are Nothing’, ‘Moment Of Silence’, ‘Vintage’

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