Melodic metal masters Witherfall return! After a whirlwind year of triumph and tragedy, California-based Witherfall are poised to storm the hallowed halls of heavy metal with new album, A Prelude to Sorrow. Since the self-release of debut album, Nocturnes and Requiems, in 2017, Witherfall have signed a worldwide deal with Century Media, had their album re-released globally, and played their first-ever show aboard the much-vaunted 70000 Tons of Metal Cruise. But the ascent up and through the ranks was (and still is) bittersweet. The untimely and unfortunate passing of drummer Adam Paul Sagan in 2016 has continued to impact Witherfall profoundly. Whereas Nocturnes and Requiems was a touching dedication to Sagan, A Prelude to Sorrow continues the group’s tribute to and celebration of their fallen brother. To wit, the album title, A Prelude to Sorrow, is derived from Sagan’s initials and the music was inspired and informed by the emotional turmoil primary songwriters Jake Dreyer (guitars) and Joseph Michael (vocals, keyboards) went through. As the album title indicates, A Prelude to Sorrow isn’t big rainbows, cartoon pumpkins, and neon knights.
“Jake and I had already started writing this album when Adam was pretty sick,” says singer and lyricist Joseph Michael. “We knew what was going to happen. A big chunk of this record is about Adam’s death. How fragile life it is. How little time we actually have. Not just people who die from cancer, but all of us. It’s a bit of an old cliché about how many summers we have left. So, the mood on A Prelude to Sorrow is pretty dark and somber.”
“A Prelude to Sorrow just appeared to fall right in place,” adds guitarist Jake Dreyer. “The idea of having an acronym for Adam’s full name seemed to be somewhat poetic considering he named Nocturnes and Requiems. Sort of a reoccurring theme. There was really no way of denying that this record was not going to end up being about Adam.”
Formed in 2013, Witherfall’s start was slow but auspicious. Dreyer and Michael had spent time together in heavy metallers White Wizzard—appearing on The Devils Cut album—so the pair already had a working relationship. They knew one another personally and artistically. They understood their strengths. And what they wanted out of a new heavy metal project. The lineup widened with the addition of Sagan, who was playing drums in Dreyer’s eponymous solo project, and bass virtuoso Anthony Crawford (Alan Holdsworth). Together, the group headed to The Bunker in Phoenix, Arizona to track Nocturnes and Requiems. The result not only impressed heavy metal fans, but also shattered DIY expectations. Big, powerful production? Check. The reputation and experience of a super producer—namely, Chris ‘Zeuss’ Harris (Rob Zombie, Queensrÿche)—to mix and master? Check. And a famous cover artist—none other than Kristian Wåhlin (Tiamat, Emperor, King Diamond)—to do custom work? Also check. Without a label behind them, Witherfall had done it all.
“Just making A Prelude to Sorrow was a true testament to how much sacrifice and commitment goes into Witherfall,” says Dreyer. “We spent months in the studio getting everything right, working almost 20-hour days to get the ideas in our head delivered and executed properly.”
“We don’t skimp on anything regarding quality,” Michael continues. “Even if it means we’re going to be living in the gutter. We definitely put everything we have into Witherfall.”
Written over a two-year span, A Prelude to Sorrow is Witherfall’s next magnum opus. Described as a continuation of Nocturnes and Requiems—with the opposite ends of Pantera and Queen thrown in for good measure—the group spared, as always, no expense. Dreyer and Michael spent ages writing and arranging. While early on it was apparent the duo had a unique writing chemistry, on A Prelude to Sorrow their strengths were magnified. When one starts a riff, the other finishes it. When a vocal melody hits home, the other supports it. And when a full song comes together, there’s no better moment for the twosome. Songs like “Moment of Silence,” “Ode to Despair,” and “Vintage” aren’t just the products of Witherfall’s long songwriting nights and infinite wells of creativity, they’re the engines of a new wave of heavy metal.
“The songwriting is always me and Jake,” says Michael. “We were on the same team. We don’t let anyone else into the sessions. That’s how we started in the beginning and that’s how it is now, with the new record. That’s what made us go to these crazy lengths to get the first record out. As far as the writing sessions themselves, we’re all over the place. Our schedules are so varied, but we usually wake up around 2 p.m., grab coffee and whatnot, and start writing around 5 p.m. We take a break around midnight, start drinking wine, and close out the sessions between 5 or 7 a.m.”
“A Prelude to Sorrow was definitely a different writing experience over Nocturnes and Requiems,” Dreyer acknowledges. “Nocturnes was written very quickly. A Prelude to Sorrow was spread out over two years. Joseph and I never settle for anything that we do not like. Our chemistry worked like this: we had an idea and an arrangement for a song that ended up becoming ‘Communion of the Wicked.’ We spent many months on the song but then one extremely late night session we just both looked at each other and knew it was not working in its current form. We started from scratch and out came the composition that is on the record.”
A Prelude to Sorrow was recorded over a 13-week period with engineer JJ Crews at Boogie Tracks Recording Studio in Panama City, Florida. The outfit—rounded out by Crawford, session drummers Steve Bolognese (ex-Into Eternity) and Gergo Borlai (Al Di Meola), and session guitarist Fili Bibiano—took their time to ensure that the follow up to Nocturnes and Requiems wasn’t just perfect but significantly a level above. The production is deeper, wider, and warmer. The mix and master jobs by returning hotshot Chris ‘Zeuss’ Harris affords Witherfall clarity, detail, and balance as they roll deftly through their heavily dramatic metal. Overall, the recording, mixing, and mastering took 100 days to complete. Songs like “Shadows,” “We Are Nothing” and “Maridians Visitation” prove that Witherfall pull no punches, possess all-in attitude, and are ready for heavy metal’s highest honor, to sit atop the heap with crown and throne.
“Zeuss is a true professional that we trust shares the vision with how we need Witherfall records to sound, and be delivered,” Dreyer says. “Zeuss understands the passion and commitment we have to each element of a song.”
“There was nothing fun about recording this record,” admits Michael. “It was an exercise in manic and fanatical discipline paired with a drastic sense of duty to get these compositions into audible form. We had Filmmaker Don Adams with us to capture the madness. He kept an unflinching eye on us as we descended into madness. We are lucky we made it to the other side of this thing.”
As with Nocturnes and Requiems so too A Prelude to Sorrow—even cover artist Kristian Wåhlin is reprising his role. Just on a greater scale. There are still many hills yet for Witherfall to climb, audiences to win over, classic songs to write, and albums to release. And Witherfall will get there. Their very DNA is coded for success. For now, however, the guitarist-vocalist dyad are focused on bringing A Prelude to Sorrow to the masses, even if it means one song at a time, one video at a time, or one show at a time. And if Nocturnes and Requiems was bestowed many an accolade—Metal Injection said the songwriting exhibited “masterclass” qualities, while Rock Hard unfurled a score of 8.5/10—then A Prelude to Sorrow will surely award Witherfall many more as they expound their version of melodic metal and broaden their reach. A new wave of heavy metal is upon us and Witherfall are leading the charge!