In the early to late 90’s, Norway was mostly known for black metal bands, many of them consisted of members that had more in common with juvenile delinquents and hard-edged criminals than musicians. Murder, arson and threats were a few of the criminally activities that those bands liked to participate in. But the fact is, black metal was a big musical export for Norway, much bigger than actual AOR bands such as Return and Stage Dolls were. Today, Jorn and glamsters Wig Wam are probably the most talked about Norwegian melodic rock bands even though none of them managed to reach out to a broader audience. Wig Wam even split up a few years ago. But Norway also have a pretty big prog scene, a scene that has been around for years, but it is in recent years that bands like Pagan’s Mind and Circus Maximus have broken out for real. In the back waters of those bands, a new Norwegian progressive metal band have decided to come out and play – enter: Withem. Both Circus Maximus and Pagan’s Mind are bands that Withem has been compared to, so I guess that you should open your eyes to this lot if your into those bands. The band was formed back in 2011 by guitarist Øyvind Voldmo Larsen and keyboard player Ketil Ronold. The guys found drummer Frank Nordeng Røe and was soon joined by lead singer Ole Aleksander Wagenius and the four of them recorded the debut album “The Point Of You” which was released in 2013 on which they were assisted by Andreas Blomqvist (Seventh Wonder) who helped them recording the bass parts. Shortly after, the guys found a permanent bass player in Miguel Pereira – he’s with the band to this day. One of the highlights of the band’s career was playing ProgPower USA (the whole gig is out on YouTube, if you’re interested) but the band has also toured with the likes of Circus Maximus, Seventh Wonder and Pagan’s Mind, so the band seem to have gained some experience throughout the years. And now the guys are ready to release their second album , their first for their new label Frontiers. Now I’m not too versed within the prog circle – but I do love my Opeth, Dream Theater, Bigelf, Shadow Gallery and Symphony X – so I don’t really have a whole lot to compare this to. Most prog bands are bands I have heard a little here and there by, but truth be told, I think this genre is a but overmuch and I have a hard time finding much that sticks. As I haven’t heard Withem’s debut album I can’t compare this to that one either.
The opening intro, aptly called “Intro”, sounds like funeral music and I’m getting a Pink Floyd vibe of it, very effective and for once I hear an intro that actually means something. The first “real” song “Exit” bodes very well. I hear a clear Dream Theater influence mixed with some Pagan’s Mind and on top of that a latter-day Helloween influence can be heard – a great mix. “In The Hands Of A God” is more progressive pop-rock with a metal vibe over it. It’s very melodic and the melody is solid – another really good one. Dream Theater comes back in “The Pain I Collected”, but unfortunately the song lacks structure and sounds messy. I like that the song is explosive at times but I miss a strong melody and without it the song is forgettable. The ballad “Riven” on the other hand, is amazing, it goes in a progressive uptempo pace with a brilliant pop vibe on top. The melody is really catchy and sticks on the spot. “C’est La Vie” is one of those “good but not great” tunes. It’s pretty dark and heavy and I’m thinking of a mix of Pagan’s Mind and Circus Maximus with a bit of Symphony X thrown in when I hear it. “The Eye In The Sky” is more of a straight forward pop-rock song with a little twist of prog here and there. It’s very melodic, but still there’s something missing that I can’t put my finger on – an ok song, no more, no less. “Arrhythmia” comes with an in-your-face and uptempo way. It holds a lot of attitude and an almost punky attitude which makes the song feel shorter than it is, but musically, this is a melodic rocker with prog elements – very good. “In My Will” is also on the shorter side, only three and a half minute long and has a really catchy chorus and a killer melody. It reminds me a lot of Circus Maximus, melody wise and it is really, really good. I almost get a hit feel of it. “Unaffected Love” moves in the same areas musicals do, not a very far cry from the sound Dream Theater have on their latest album The Astonishing. The more mid-tempo and softer parts of the song are the ones I like the best, but overall it’s a solid tune. The album finishes like it started, with “Outro”, which is pretty much the same tune as the intro and the outro works in the same way the intro did, it brings atmosphere and it also brings closure.
As far as the songs go, most of them are really good, but still I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing, I just can’t get a grip on the songs. Maybe it has to do with the lack of identity because yes, they do have an identity issue here. Circus Maximus and Pagan’s Mind really do come to mind big time too often and Dream Theater are around pretty much all the time as well. But I don’t hear the sound of Withem one bit. Sure, singer Wagenius isn’t a clone of either Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Nils K Rue (Pagan’s Mind or James LaBrie, but his voice isn’t personal enough to put an identity stamp on the music. Also, he’s a bit weak in his high register which makes him sound strained, it is in his lower register he’s at his best and there he’s very good. It’s a good album, no doubt about that and for big time prog rock / metal fans, I can’t see why you shouldn’t buy this, but for me it doesn’t cut it all the way. Uneven with a big potential.
3. In the Hands Of A God
4. The Pain I Collected
6. C’est la Vie
7. The Eye In The Sky
9. In My Will
10. Unaffected Love