Witherfall are a relatively new American Metal band but with a fine pedigree. They were conceived by guitarist Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth etc), Vocalist Joseph Michael (Midnight Reign, Omery Rising, ex-White Wizzard, ex-Peppermint Creeps) and drummer Adam Sagan (ex-Circle II Circle, ex-Into Eternity). However, during the recording process of this impressive debut the band were dealt a crushing, tragic blow when Adam Sagan passed away after losing his determined battle with cancer. With his drum parts already recorded, the album was gradually completed and the band have decided to continue – they also include bassist Anthony Crawford and more recently another ex-Into Eternity drummer Steve Bolognese has been drafted in for live work.

The guitar-work, vocals and rhythms are all nicely complex, intricate and varied with a modern in-yer-face production. The album’s core of technical speed metal is in the fine tradition of American 80’s Metal bands such as Sanctuary, Liege Lord, Racer X or Crimson Glory (the latter comes through even further on the album’s more vocally flamboyant and scene-setting moments). Some of the heavier guitar-lines are particularly rapid and along with the choppy arrangements and Metal vocals, the band more than once put me in mind of a modern incarnation of Apocrypha. Control Denied spring to mind too on the heavier tracks, taking Chuck Schuldiner style guitar innovations and blending them with Steve DiGiorgio type bass-lines (like in ‘Sacrifice’ for example).

But this is just one side of the band and they aren’t afraid to throw in things that just feel right to them – there’s the extended flamenco guitar lead-break in ‘What We Are Dying For’ for instance, reminiscent of Tore Osteby in Ark and Conception, or there’s the way the band somehow manage to seamlessly blend the eccentricity of King Diamond with prime Nevermore darkness in the mellow ‘The Great Awakening’ into the epic ‘End Of Time’, incorporating a dash of the aforementioned Crimson Glory thrown in for good measure. This track also highlights another plus point for the band – when you are dealing in the more technical side of Metal as Witherfall are, there can be a tendency to push the music forward and forget to write a memorable vocal hook, but the band have that covered in ‘End Of Time’ as well as ‘Nobody Sleeps Here’, where some of the repeated, catchy vocal lines give the whole track a cohesion and draw it all together.

This is one of those albums you just keep going back to – the first few listens only seem to brush the surface. There’s so much going on with each member’s contribution that even though the whole thing works excellently as a whole, you can also concentrate on just one instrument/vocal and be equally enthralled. This is a fabulous tribute to Adam Sagan, some of his best work captured forever (the drums effortlessly switch tempos from modern Thrash to European Dark Metal and into Progressive Metal with absolute ease), enhanced by his friends and band-mates, giving some of the album’s more melancholy moments a further poignancy. I’m sure he would have been very proud of this album as the rest of the band have every right to be – this is one interesting, powerful, complex and engrossing release.

(8/10 Andy Barker)