Sometimes a band finds itself in a devastating position even when they have much to look forward to. WITHERFALL will be profiled all over the metal press this year for a remarkable debut album undermined by tragedy. Drummer Adam Sagan (also from CIRCLE II CIRCLE and INTO ETERNITY) passed away unexpectedly last December right as WITHERFALL was preparing their final touches to "Nocturnes And Requiems". His WHITE WIZZARD-collected mates Jake Dreyer and Joseph Michael finished the album in Sagan's memory, and it's a moving tribute.
Heartbreak is assuredly the dominant feeling while listening to "Nocturnes And Requiems" since what came through from Sagan, Michael, Dreyer and session bassist Anthony Crawford is already emotive work. These extensive prog metal pieces may or may not have gotten lost in the vast tundra of established contemporaries if not for the death Adam Sagan, which is perhaps even sadder.
The opening number "Portrait" begins sharply and stacks a slew of progressions atop one another before settling into its main groove, spiked by thrash bursts. Between the verse-chorus sets, WITHERFALL drops more progressions which fare even better. While maintaining an overall rumble, "Portrait"'s variations get both frolicky and moody, the choruses dropping down into synth-splashed metal waltzes. The 7:07 "What We Are Dying For" comes out of "Portrait" like a snarling tiger with speed its biggest asset and an agreeable harmony elevating the class level beyond mere thrasher. A prolonged dirge-prog interval provides WITHERFALL the opportunity to show off their deeper textures including goth and even subdued flamenco guitar from Jake Dreyer.
"Sacrifice" plunders nine minutes of pummeling power metal modes with random blast beats and Joseph Michael's caterwauling gaining the most attention before chop dishing becomes the main focus. A lavish bridge after the first two minutes sets a dreamy course bound to turn ugly once Adam Sagan's rumbling double hammer drops "Sacrifice" into an ornate death-black metal hellhole. You're not done yet, however, since WITHERFALL has more gratuitous tricks to play en route to a slightly unbalanced finale. Another ten-minute spree awaits you on "End Of Time", with dazzling guitar wizardry greeting you and more volleys between extremity and tranquility. When "End Of Time" hits full throttle, WITHERFALL is bloody impressive.
Joseph Michael's vocals may not always be appealing, but mostly he's impactful, particularly on the OPETH-inspired acoustic reverie of "The Great Awakening" and throughout "Nobody Sleeps Here". The morose instrumental "Finale" is not the end, caveat, with the final marathon, "Nobody Sleeps Here", yet to navigate.
"Nocturnes And Requiems" has a reasonable sense of balance between its forceful and softer measures. Length is either an issue or a perk depending on your taste for sprawling prog metal, but this is undeniably a tantalizing body of work. Whether or not WITHERFALL continues on or the story has all been told on this album with a sad dénouement, "Nocturnes And Requiems" is sure to gain a sizeable audience given its proficiency and audile theatrics.