The first thing that jumps out with regard to Nocturnes and Requiems is the album cover artwork. Regardless of what you take away in terms of its overall theme, the likelihood is pretty strong that you recognize the technique. Kristian Wåhlin (Necrolord, to you grave-dwellers) has lended his widely monochromatic style to an astonishing number of bands over the last twenty five years, many of which have a firm relevance to what California’s Witherfall brings to the table.
The overall trajectory is rooted in a form of progressive metal that becomes aggressively melodic enough at times to feel as if Swanö had a role – the crux of “What We Are Dying For,” for example, particularly in the way that it breaks from the gate. Perhaps not quite up to the Necrolord “blue cover” wickedness of Dissection, but a couple shades lighter than the Gothenburg sound instituted by At the Gates. Strikes such as these, which happen throughout the record, add a perfect measure of weight to compliment the absolute whirlwind of prettiness laid down by guitarist Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth) on precisely every tune. Nocturnes and Requiems is the sort of record that gives aspiring players heart palpitations, because the amount of riffs, leads (my GOD, these leads) and sudden splinters into different styles throughout these 48 minutes is remarkable, which is sure to give the record serious legs. Returning to the aforementioned “What We Are Dying For,” the aggression gives way to a slow and sinister measure around 1:40 that quickly becomes lifted by a brilliant guitar lick at 2:15 that moves seamlessly into a stunning flamenco guitar stretch around 4:15. Every song – save for the two brief interludes – cuts, slides and backflips in such a way, and no passage ever feels awkward, which is testament to the overall skill behind Nocturnes and Requiems’ architecture.
What’s particularly pleasing to me on a personal note is the fact that the overall vision here bears a satisfying resemblance to another artist who’s had cover artwork expressed by Necrolord: King Diamond. The issue I’ve had with the piles and piles of KD imitators in the past, present and probable future deals with the truth that most try too hard to xerox, which is a fairly useless endeavor when it comes to an overall sound as unique as what King produces. Witherfall’s approach, on the other hand, while still managing to pay direct homage in a very dark and sort of eerie manner as they do on a tune like “The Great Awakening,” bears more of a relation in comprehensive scope. There’s as much LaRocque as there is Malmsteen and Michael Romeo in Dreyer’s guitar work, and vocalist Joseph Michael delivers a full spectrum of moods and can really nail the high notes, but it’s how these kinships tie in with the record’s overall sense of tornadic THEATRICS that really drives the Diamond parallels home. Witherfall’s clear progressive edge, particularly in Anthony Crawford’s bass play and the manner in which drummer Adam Sagan hits the skins, serves to further differentiate the band, however, giving songs like the fantastic “End of Time” more of a Diamond colliding with Wuthering Heights sort of feel.
There’s really only one bit of tragedy worth mentioning here, and that deals with the terribly unfortunate fact that drummer Adam Sagan never saw the record’s completion; he lost his battle with lymphoma during the final stages of production last December. Fittingly, the band is dedicating Nocturnes and Requiems to Adam’s life, his efforts, and his memory, and a record as fine as this stands as a perfect way to memorialize a talented individual’s journey.
If you count yourself a fan of dark, aggressively melodic progressive metal with exceedingly intricate yet fluid song structures, Nocturnes and Requiems should roar to the top of your ‘To Investigate Further’ pile. Witherfall has delivered a bonafide jewel from right out of the blue – don’t miss it.