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Witherfall biography 2020

By Chris Dick

WITHERFALL are unstoppable! The dark melodic heavy metal juggernaut from Los Angeles are blazing new trails and weaving new tales on spectacular new album, Curse of Autumn. Although two years separate WITHERFALL's third opus from their celebrated A Prelude to Sorrow album, it feels like a long time. Even with the Vintage EP bridging the gap, the wait has been cruel. Well, WITHERFALL legions the tease of what's to come is out there. Fronted by a riveting, high-budget Zev Deans (Ghost, Behemoth) video for "As I Lie Awake," a visualizer video for "The Last Scar," and the premiere of the utterly wild "Another Face," the Curse of Autumn finds vocalist/keyboardist Joseph Michael (Sanctuary), guitarist Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth), bassist Anthony Crawford (Chon), and drummer Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats) with a genuine metal classic in their collective midst.


"We wanted to out-do ourselves on Curse of Autumn," guitarist/songwriter Jake Dreyer says. "That's really it. We brought on Jon Schaffer to produce. He wanted a heavy, dynamic sound for Curse of Autumn. The guitar tracks alone are way more insane than anything we've ever really done. We also had Jim Morris come in. He's a legend in the engineering field. He's such a pro that it made everything smooth for us. Then, we had Tom Morris do the mastering. Having Kristian do the cover again completed the cycle. We're creating our own little world with Kristian. The visual aspect works so well with the music we're creating."


"We want everything we do in WITHERFALL to be its own piece of art," adds singer/songwriter Joseph Michael. "The paintings are commissioned by us and therefore serve a symbolic purpose. Our merchandise also has equal importance to us. We're not a slap-on-a-logo type band. We want to put stuff out into the world that we would want. For instance, we put out sheet music, we've released our own wine, called Tempest Red Blend, and we spend a lot of time on the packaging of our albums. I mean, look at Ghost. They do merch very well. They have an art to what they do—a verifiable aesthetic. Look at Ghost's 'Dance Macabre' video. You can tell it's Ghost right away, but it's also cool to watch over and over. The song becomes something else with the video. That's exactly what we were looking for when we did the video for 'As I Lie Awake.'"


The level up, so to speak, is evident from the moment the Curse of Autumn comes into view. Whether it's with WITHERFALL's first-rate video output and superlative production crew or Kristian Wåhlin's (King Diamond, Dissection) enchanting cover piece and accomplished studio musicians (featuring drummer Marco Minnemann and percussionist James "Timbali" Cornwell), WITHERFALL have pushed the edges of every boundary on Curse of Autumn. Where it matters most is in the songwriting, however. Michael and Dreyer spent the better part of the last two years writing, refining and perfecting their distinguished and musically-adept dark melodic heavy metal. Tracks like the thunderous "The Last Scar," the dramatic "Another Face," the somber "The River," and the group's Miltonian epic "…And They All Blew Away" are pedestaled to the highest standards. But it might be the heartfelt cover of Boston's "Long Time" that seals the greatness that is the Curse of Autumn.


"Songwriting in WITHERFALL never begins or ends," says Dreyer. "OK, we did start writing right after A Prelude to Sorrow, but there's one song, 'The Other Side of Fear,' was written—at least the chorus—during the Nocturnes and Requiems days. So, songwriting in WITHERFALL is pretty fluid. We don't have a calendar to mark songwriting begin or end dates. That's not how it works."
"We don't know which direction the writing is going to go or end up until we're right in the middle of it," Michael concurs. "That's when the ideas start flying. I mean, 'The Other Side of Fear' was supposed to open A Prelude to Sorrow, but that was an album that evolved into being about Adam, and that song wasn't really about him. It didn't fit."


Nocturnes and Requiems was WITHERFALL's take on Stephen King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and A Prelude to Sorrow was an orchestrated requiem to former drummer Adam Sagan (R.I.P.), but Curse of Autumn is a pivot into very personal territory. Throughout the lyrical vista, Michael pours over with red-faced rage and somber acknowledgment the trials and tribulations he and Dreyer have been through trying to launch and be successful with their labor of love. Songs like "The Last Scar" and anger-ballad "…And They All Blew Away" venomously detail the people and obstacles he'd like to push into the inner walls of the fiercest storms. Indeed, Wåhlin's red-hued cover art complements both sides of Michael's wrath.


"A lot of the songs are about pure anger," Michael offers. "The straight rejection of naysayers. There are people in life that do not like you. They don't like the fact that they have to deal with you. They don't like the way your hair smells. They hate you for no reason. The song, 'The Last Scar,' is about meeting people like that and casting them aside. When you meet them, the only reaction you can have is to hate them back. '…And They All Blew Away' is like a [Anton] LaVeyan wish fulfillment fantasy. You wish you held the power of the wind to cast everyone who's been against you in your life into oblivion. We do have the standard WITHERFALL topics, too. 'The Other Side of Fear' is about anxiety, where there's no escape from it. 'Tempest' is about that also, but it's a different reflection of anxiety. That's the calm part. Calm in the face of coming to terms with the end of your life, even if it's all in your head."


"After we finished writing, we think of colors," says Dreyer. "It's important, to me, when writing that the album cover has to reflect the music. We wanted red this time around—some version of red. If you listen to 'The Last Scar,' it's a super-aggressive song. That song is pure red. But then it transformed from red to burnt sienna. So, just as the color for the cover developed from different shades of red, so too did the music. It's not all anger and frustration."
For Curse of Autumn, WITHERFALL hired the best of the best. Jon Schaffer (Demons & Wizards, Iced Earth) was brought on to helm the production duties, while Jim Morris (Savatage, Death) was sourced to engineer and mix at Independence Hall and Morrisound Recordings, respectively. The duo then enlisted Bradley Cook (Slash, Foo Fighters, Chris Cornell) to track the drums at Doghouse Studios. To master, WITHERFALL appointed Tom Morris (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) to master at Morrisound Recording. The diadem of talent, as conducted by Michael and Dreyer, spent almost 30 days collectively on the sonic marvel that is Curse of Autumn.

"We have full control over the production," Michael reveals. "We have all the say on where we want to go to record WITHERFALL. We have all the say on who we want to work with while doing WITHERFALL productions. We're not tied to anything but our own limitations as far as the production is concerned. The label supports and wants us to have full control over everything."

"Jon is a fan," says Dreyer. "I remember he was listening to some of the mixes for A Prelude to Sorrow—we were on tour in Europe—and really dug a few of the tracks. He said to me, 'I'd really like to be a part of your team someday.' Not long after, Jon said to me, 'OK, dude, you have to let me produce the next WITHERFALL!' So, I talked to Joseph, and we felt, 'Let's give it a shot!' Jon gave us a set of honest ears. He was on the outside looking in, which is exactly what we needed this time around. We had our battles as all professionals do, but they were the right battles."
From the expressive songwriting and the group's ability to transform popular song into the album's narrative to the outstanding class of contributors and overall artistic vision, WITHERFALL are destined for the highest (heavy metal) highs on Curse of Autumn. Perhaps hyperbolic now but a hindsight view on the accomplishment contained herein will posit WITHERFALL among the impressive ranks of Opeth, Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, and Megadeth. As for the next chapter in the group's impressive story, it's being written as we speak.



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!