Withem – The Unforgiving Road (Frontiers Records)Sunday, 12th June 2016
Primarily known for scooping up the best melodic/AOR-oriented bands in the rock and metal world, Frontiers Records occasionally signs the standout newcomer or two in other genres. Considering the multitude of progressive metal bands in Norway alone (Pagan’s Mind, Leprous, and Circus Maximus three well-covered on this site), it shouldn’t be a shock that the label would want to add Withem to the fold. The Oslo quartet gained its start in 2011 – releasing their debut album The Point of You on Sensory Records two years later and hitting the illustrious ProgPower USA festival in 2014 before jumping ship on the follow up The Unforgiving Road.
9 songs in the main (the “Intro” more of a psychedelic vocal/keyboard montage definitely throwback inspired, the “Outro” almost Kansas-esque) that see an expansion of thoughts and ideas fleshed out on all horizons. Meaning when choosing to get technically aggressive and fancy in time signature juggling as in the first few segments of “Exit” or the rhythmically bombastic “Arrhythmia”, Withem become propulsive and energetic in wrenching out all the progressive tricks – but can also throw in stronger melodic aspects in terms of serene keyboard/bass work for “Riven” that recalls classic Dream Theater meets Toto arranging. Guitarist Oyvind V Larsen has shredding capabilities, but for the most part succeeds because of tasteful, complimentary breaks when given spotlight opportunities – most evident in the commercial effort “In the Hands of a God” or uplifting “The Eye in the Sky” (love his tapping and sweeps for this one).
If one wanted to hang a hat on Withem making a stronger ascension into premiere progressive metal tier adulation and popularity, look no further than the multi-faceted, emotionally charged singing from Ole Aleksander Wagenius. Powerful, majestic, charismatic, theatrical even – the chops all line up in a row and keep listener interest no matter what musical accompaniment or tempo the band throws at him. You want things contrasting in verse and chorus where he goes from lower to upper register in a nanosecond? Check into “The Pain I Collected”. How about a sensitive side during a second half cut like “In My Will”? Got that covered too. Thankfully the band also keep the arrangements rather tidy in a genre where ten-minute plus epic stretches are the norm, as we get adequate 4-6 minute songs to keep the front to back momentum moving along.
Withem fill that melody-hook first, then progressive metal niche better than most, as such The Unforgiving Road will go down adequately with Circus Maximus and Evergrey followers equally.