2018’s “A Prelude to Sorrow” not only thrust California’s Witherfall into the ranks of contemporary greatness, it also gave them the terrifying task of following up one of the most monolithic albums of its era. I won’t lie: a part of me feared that bandleaders Jake Dreyer (ex-Iced Earth, ex-Demons and Wizards) and Joseph Michael (Sanctuary) might not have it in them to replicate such greatness. I’m relieved to report that not only were my fears unfounded, the guys didn’t even bother to replicate the “A Prelude to Sorrow” sound. Instead, they broadened it.
The first thing a Witherfall devotee will notice is that “Curse of Autumn” is unashamedly retro compared to that last gargantuan record of theirs. Thankfully, “Curse of Autumn” is devoid of that 80s pastiche that’s cursed us with the return of the mullet (and there’s nothing wrong with cock rock cosplay, but srsly that’s quite enough, thanks). Instead, Jake, Joseph, and crew have the good sense to pay homage to the heroes of yesteryear without actually trying to clone them; think of the glaze over “Curse of Autumn” as how Iron Kingdom might handle seven-string guitars. The shoutouts to 80s metal icons like Judas Priest and King Diamond are powerful and plentiful, with cuts like “As I Lie Awake” damn near approaching power metal territory. Even fans of 80s shred will find much to appreciate in Jake’s ridiculously fluid retro noodling on the Yngwie Malmsteen inspired “The Unyielding Grip of Each Passing Day,” while “Another Face” sees front-man Joseph channeling the guy whose shoes he’s lately filled in Sanctuary. These cuts could easily have been called “Return to the Mirror Black” were it not for the obvious Witherfall stamp etched upon them. Because despite all these tips of the trucker hat to the heroes of yore, “Curse of Autumn” is a decidedly Witherfall record, and were it not for its occasional retro tendencies or the trench-deep guitars on “A Prelude to Sorrow,” the listener would be hard-pressed to find a discernible distinction between the two records.
“Curse of Autumn” also sees Joseph Michael’s frightfully schizophrenic voices continue to propel him to the “Most WTF Vocalist in Metal” throne. Strutting both the versatility of Daniel Gildenlow and the rage of Warrel Dane, Joseph even dips his toes in the death growl pool on “The Other Side of Fear,” an absolute whirlwind of ferocity and malevolence. And in case you actually have any skin left after enduring that maelstrom, Witherfall bites back with “…And They All Blew Away,” the album’s centerpiece and more than a fine follow-up to “A Prelude to Sorrow’s” own crowning jewel, the Adam Sagan tribute “Vintage.” This song not sixteen minutes long because Jake and Joseph wanted to write a sixteen minute song; it’s sixteen minutes long because the song demands it, and I’ll be shocked to find a single prog nerd who actually feels like the full track length has elapsed when they take this trip. A veritable journey spanning every level of skill these guys have, “…And They All Blew Away” is the type of epic that so involves the listener that not once does it feel like it drags. I’ll chug an entire barrel of Jake and Joseph’s favorite cabernet in one sitting if that title is more than just an idle claim about what Witherfall are doing to their audience. That nod to Agalloch is just the icing on one tasty fucking cake.
So what’s the verdict on Witherfall 3.0? I find the defendants guilty of creating another incredible album, and of making damn sure that they maintain their sonic identity even as they stray from – or maybe even outgrow – their foundations. If you’re not already following this band, start yesterday, because it’s clear that they’re going places.
Released by: Century Media Records
Release Date: March 6th, 2021
Genre: Heavy Metal
- Joseph Michael / vocals, keyboards
- Jake Dreyer / guitars
- Anthony Crawford / bass
- Marco Minneman / drums
“Curse of Autumn” track-listing:
- Deliver Us Into The Arms of Eternal Silence
- The Last Scar
- As I Lie Awake
- Another Face
- Curse of Autumn
- The Unyielding Grip of Each Passing Day
- The Other Side of Fear
- The River
- …And They All Blew Away
- Long Time
- …And They All Blew Away (edit)
So much more than just a cheap throwback, “Curse of Autumn” offers a decidedly modern take on 80's rock nostalgia that doesn't once sacrifice Witherfall's immanent gravity or furor.