I’ll just assume everyone knows Witherfall by now, because if you didn’t listen to last year’s album of the year, their debut Nocturnes and Requiems (2017), you done fucked up. That first album described something like a nightmare that turned darker, to show its true abyssal self, but A Prelude to Sorrow is a work of mourning. The death of former drummer Adam Sagan (ex- Into Eternity) is felt all throughout the production, and like the aftermath of loss, A Prelude to Sorrow takes many shapes. After the titular intro, We Are Nothing starts off heavy, aggressive, angry. It leads the album off into a more progressively built venture led in spades by Jake Dreyer’s (Iced Earth, ex- White Wizzard) furious lead guitars and the eerie, dark presence of vocalist Joseph Michael (Sanctuary, ex- White Wizzard). The structures are worked to perfection, with massive buildups that just as soon twist into something darker as turn into softer passages set to Dreyer’s acoustic guitars. And where the debut dealt in plenty of power metal, and there still are traces of it, the sound on here is decidedly closer to Nevermore style of dark progressive metal.
Sagan’s replacement Steve Bolognese (Death Dealer, ex- Into Eternity) handles the responsibility of it well. The embodiment of the rhythm section on the album is much a continuation of what was started on the first album, with a distinctly similar sound and while also feeling new and improved and unique to Bolognese’s style. Anthony Crawford delivers moody bass lines to go well alongside the dark tone, and led in riffs and the dark melodic play by Dreyer’s guitar which takes several steps up from the debut. There’s less guitar noodling, and a bigger sense of purpose to Dreyer’s antics, a sense of direction. It’s a more controlled effort and the whole benefits greatly from it. The musicianship blends melancholy amazingly with the frenetic guitar play, blazing solos undeniably powerful choruses and catchy vocal melodies. Michael gives color and life to the process, delivered in powerful layers and delving into his darker territories while also bringing back some of the almost King Diamond like highs from the first album, particularly in heavier than fuck mid album track Shadows.
When you really start to give the album the time it deserves, you begin to really feel the weight of emotion put into this work of art. Be it the relentless, moody weight of single Ode to Despair or the eerie acoustic flow of Maridian’s Visitation - set with some of Michael’s fine keyboard work that often take the atmosphere setting route - or even the madly twisting heaviness of We Are Nothing, the album continues to evolve with each listen. Perhaps the crowning moment is the second eleven minute song, on the far end of the album; Vintage. Here the musicianship take yet another twist; starting off as a ballad with a furiously melancholy chorus, turning into a slow cooking behemoth of Dreyer’s likely best melodic play on the album. The looming presence of the bass and rhythm section adds the final dimension, to complete the album and bring to the process a sense of finality; release. You’ll especially notice the hair rising moment around the five minute mark, where Michael’s vulnerable yet liberating falsetto gives way to a slow melodic guitar lead, and the masterful last few minutes.
I could probably go on, but the music and emotional weight of Witherfall is best experienced and not read of. This album is masterfully written and performed, with especially Dreyer and Michael both proving to be world class musicians, without showing off. While A Prelude to Sorrow didn’t hit me quite as hard at first glance as the debut did, there is no doubt that the immersive layers and the depths unreached will prove, with time, to surpass that first album. In less than two months time this near flawless masterpiece will be crowned ‘album of the year’ (yes, I’m calling it already). And it carries a name; Adam Paul Sagan.
Standout tracks: We Are Nothing, Communion Of The Wicked, Shadows, Vintage