I wouldn’t normally plump for any progressive metal stuff for review usually due to being totally underwhelmed by the self indulgent nonsense it often produces, but what the hell I fancied a change and I’m not totally averse to the idea of having my spots changed I guess. Sensory Records are new to me but suffice to say the label likes its progressive music from all quadrants of the planet. Debuting here is Norway’s Withem and what strikes you first is the bizarrely disturbing cover art, with virtual fractal imagery of a snarling face, where the left eye has the same face twisted, then that left has the face and so on, really quite strange as I rotated the CD cover until my eyesight resolution failed me.
So onto the musical embellishments and kicking off with “Point Of View” I was mildly surprised by the rather unassuming approach initially offered but closer on more focused listening you quickly realise how complex and dextrous the playing actually is. Added to that is the vocal talent of Ole Aleksander Wagenius whose range is breathtaking with a tone and clarity that will hold you in total astonishment. The chorus of the title track has wonderful soaring vocals, really captivating. Into “Miracle” and we start to see the progressive musicianship really unfold with the guitar playing reminiscent to Dream Theater but keeping the songs punchy and direct. Equally the drums of Frank Nordeng Røe are gifted but without any signs of pretentiousness or grandiose portentousness for the sake of it.
Now I would never pretend to be a world expert on this style of music, as the guitar work for me in “Phrenesis” and in fact a lot of the album reminds me of Timo Tolkki’s fret dazzling spectacles, being exquisitely complex but indelibly memorable as well. The keyboards enrich the songs as expected but also compliment every phase of the song writing creating boundless charisma. “Born To Live” goes as the most accessible catchy tune of the album along with the opener, with a bouncy feel and real foot tapping, if you’re old and stiff, or headbanging addiction; I fit the latter, even though I’m old.
There is a touch of symphonic about “The Paramount Of Lies” with choral vocals and a virtual string section to start it off, almost like a film score before transmuting very suddenly to the main riff and much heavier substance. The riff is actually quite chugging for Withem but still riddled with adorning hooks and splendour as part of me was thinking this is like Devin Townsend material. A musical challenge is what I crave within the journalistic process and I got it with this phenomenal debut album that really is worth checking out.
(8.5/10 Martin Harris)