REVIEW: WITHERFALL – “Curse Of Autumn”
Witherfall’s genre-bending new record does not necessarily defy classification, but to pin it down to a specific metal subgenre does the record an injustice. A necessary evil, subgenre categorization allows for a convenient way to navigate the vast waters of modern heavy metal. Gone are the good old days when bands of a different ilk like Black Sabbath and Cheap Trick were both considered “heavy metal.” Instead, the metalhead of 2021 is lost in a labyrinth of genres, subgenres, and microgenres. At its best this taxonomy allows the listener to easily discover a band using genre taglines as a guide. At its worst it can either stifle creativity in a band who wants to reach a target demographic or prevent a listener from hearing a band that they might otherwise love because say they added a Death Metal riff to a New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal song. All this to say that ‘Curse of Autumn’s’ roots are firmly planted in a variety of landscapes converging into a wholly habitable sphere that is more than the sum of its parts and it thrives as a result.
Following the buildup of the folk inflected preamble “Deliver Us Into The Arms of Eternal Silence,” whose mouthful of a name belies its brief runtime, the neoclassical fury of “The Last Scar” decimates everything in its path. Balancing uber technicality with bouts of aggression and traditional songcraft, the song shines a spotlight on the hyper-shred of industry veteran guitarist Jake Dreyer and the aggressive yet melodic vocalizations of singer/keyboardist Joseph Michael.
The twisted bass groove of the almost funky intro to “As I Lie Awake,” gives the limelight to bassist Anthony Crawford before the song launches into the classic metal chug of the verse and pre chorus. Building momentum, the song diverges into an infectious singalong chorus with multi-tracked vocals taking flight and soaring above the din.
“Another Face” trades the downbeat arpeggios of the verses with the monolithic downstroke pummel of the choruses. Michael’s expressive and versatile vocals underscoring why he was the only viable replacement for the late, great Warrel Dane in Sanctuary.
Elsewhere, the acoustic warmth and stirring sentimentality of the unexpected, but not completely out of place “The River” is a ray of sunshine in a dark place. With its epic guitar solo and end-of-tune glass shattering vocals, it is decidedly more Europe than “European Power Metal,” and it stands out in its simplicity with a directness that serves as an enjoyable mid-record palette cleanser.
The record closer, a cover of Boston’s “Long Time” taps into the same vibe as “The River,” with mixed results. The acoustic setting successfully highlights the sadness of the lyrics, something lost in the bombastic delivery of the original; however, it feels like a superfluous coda to a solid collection of original tunes.
The rootsy folk that opens the interlude “Curse of Autumn,” finds Michael in renaissance balladeer mode. Featuring some of the prettiest vocal melodies and harmonies on the record, the understated hymn is juxtaposed by its companion piece, the peculiarly titled and outstanding instrumental “The Unyielding Grip of Each Passing Day.” On a tune that manages to be both tasteful and shred-tastic, Dreyer’s flights of fancy surf the taut, weaving rhythms of Crawford and progressive drummer extraordinaire Marco Minnemann.
“..And They All Blew Away,” the last original tune on the record ends things on an epic and suitably dark note. The song begins with atmospheric minor key arpeggios overlaid with Michael’s weathered, low-register croon. Acoustic lead guitars and textured synths ease into the angular riffs of an expansive instrumental prelude before returning to the initial vocal motif. With a 15-minute runtime, there’s bound to be a few detours, and Witherfall oblige with an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. Syncopated riffs, mathy time signatures, bludgeoning aggression, and searing leads collide on an extensive mid-song riff-fest. Fortunately, the instrumental prowess of the musicians, and Michael’s ability to interject passion and tunefulness prevent the song from being crushed beneath its own weight. The song resolves to a more traditional song structure tempering an angry pre-chorus with a glimmer of hope via the optimistic earworm chorus.
Dense, dark, and progressive, Witherfall’s new record ‘Curse of Autumn’ is frequently aggressive, sometimes tuneful, and always masterfully executed.