WITHERING SCORN – Prophets Of Demise

Although technically still a new band at the time of this 2023 release, Withering Scorn features some very familiar faces. Metal fans will recognise guitarist Glen Drover from his time as one of MegaDave’s hired hands in one of the lesser versions of Megadeth, as well as being a man who has released metal-oriented instrumental records. Bassist Joe DiBiase spent most of his musical life as a member of Fates Warning, and vocalist Henning Basse has previously been a member of Metalium and Firewind. Rounding out the line-up is Glen’s brother Shawn, a man who has also served time with Megadeth, as well as being a member of Eidolon (also with Glen) and Act of Defiance. It isn’t exactly what most people would call an “all star” line-up, but in terms of hard working, seasoned musicians, Withering Scorn has something of a pedigree.

As the hastily rendered skeleton artwork suggests, Withering Scorn aren’t exactly shy of wearing a huge, old school heart on their collective sleeve, and ‘Prophets of Demise’ is a debut that delivers some massive metal riffs. Following a very melodic intro where droning keys are overlaid with clean ringing guitars – sort of like a distant cousin of a grand intro from Testament – Glen chimes in with a full compliment of jagged rhythm guitar riffs that draw equal influence from classic thrash and European power metal. As those riffs gain traction on the title cut, a dirty bass and extra guitars lend a very sharp sound an extra heft and Shawn’s drums – although badly mixed and far too reliant on an abrasive snare – gives the early part of this track a suitable amount of oomph. Unfortunately, Basse then begins to sing. His style is very much of the German power metal school – all volume and wailing, as if providing the musical equivalent of some kind of historical epic. Much like Chas West’s work with Craig Goldy in Ressurection Kings, the presence and volume is impressive; the tone and lack of melody, not so much. It makes all of the lyrics (whatever he’s wailing about, it’s sometimes hard to tell) sound fairly ridiculous. It’s the sort of thing that people who hate metal think that all metal sounds like. Luckily, Glen’s on hand with a couple of absolutely blistering solos where he straddles a mood that’s somewhere between 80s thrash indulgence and classic metal. With lead work full of emotive sweeps and strong callbacks to the likes of Alex Skolnick and Glenn Tipton, it’s impossible to find fault with his input here, no matter what else might be flawed.

Opting for something a little slower and much heavier, ‘The Vision’ latches on to a mid tempo chug from the off, with Shawn’s drums sounding like a huge, clattering juggernaut and the main guitar riff delivering in terms of sheer weight. The blend of thrash-centric heaviness and power metal bombast works brilliantly, showing how flawlessly Withering Scorn can tackle classic metal riffs, before another equally huge, squealing solo takes listeners back to the late 80s when these kind of metal titans reigned. …And there’s Henning again, booming like a sweaty demon, intent on making this Testament-ish piece of brilliance descend into more of an Iced Earth landscape of horrible malcontent. So, so divisive. He kills an otherwise brilliant track, and the same can be said for one of the album’s stand out tracks ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, where the band make no attempt at hiding the fact that the bulk of the tune has been hugely influenced by a couple of ‘Painkiller’ era Judas Priest classics. During a speed driven chorus, Shawn Drover plays his arse off, absolutely hammering the bass pedals, and Glen sounds as if he’s in his absolute element when shredding a bunch of semi-muted chords at full pelt. It’s the kind of old style power metal that could strip paint from walls. What’s most interesting here is how Henning shifts between his usual deep bombast into a full scale Halford-ish squeal on the chorus (again, making no secret of the key influence). Such a squeal could be damaging to the superb music, but it’s actually far preferable to his more typical roar. As such, it really captures something that’s only hinted at on other tracks. It’s not enough to completely save face – he’s still the weak link in a potentially great metal band – but it shows how Withering Scorn can be so much better than the first two tracks suggest.

Offering another of the album’s musical highlights, ‘Dark Reflection’ opens with a riff that could be Slayer circa ‘South of Heaven’, before the jagged sounds get overlaid with massive twin leads worthy of Helloween. It’s one of those moments that’ll make you realise that Withering Scorn are a sum of their influences rather than bastions of original talent, but it’s very well played. Even further into the track when Glen explores a muddy, bottom end groove and something with a touch of hardcore, the band’s metallic power is very much flawless. Adopting a darker tone, it’s also one of the few times when Basse’s vocal doesn’t teeter on the edge of ridiculous, and returning to the Slayer-isms to close, it becomes a very well rounded three minute workout. ‘Dethroned’ has almost as many great musical moments when the Drovers launch themselves into a power metal groove that falls somewhere between the ‘Painkiller’ and ‘Jugulator’ era of Priest and the anger of Paul Di’Anno’s Killers. It’s a shame, then, given the band are working so hard and pretty much nailing an old fashioned balls to the wall metal sound, that the vocals are so silly. Basse roars and wails like a man ripping the piss from the genre’s greats, and in doing so, he constantly draws attention away from some fine musicianship. It’s a massive relief when Glen gets a moment to hammer thtough a multi-layered lead guitar break – it’s a pity such a cool sound couldn’t have found a home elsewhere.

In closing, Withering Scorn opt for exploring a seven minute epic. Allowing a little more room to flex some metallic muscle, ‘Screams’ delights in sharing a clean toned, repetitive riff to open, and as filtered vocals and a groove laden rhythm section drive the opening verse, it’s almost impossible not to be reminded of the second rate Queensryche schtick of Fates Warning. The music is slightly theatrical and very spacious; it’s nice to hear Henning latch onto an actual melody too. Even once heavier moods grab a hold, the whole band sounds very assured, and although the tempo remains slow, there’s a lot for the power metal fan to enjoy. A lengthy instrumental makes good on the clean, gothic guitar sounds from the intro, and a bright sounding piano provides an excellent feature, but those still paying close attention might be just as impressed by DiBiase’s bass sound. He carves out a brilliant grumble beneath the cinematic elements, and when Glen reappears with a sludgy guitar, Withering Scorn unleash one of their heaviest riffs. Like ’Dark Reflection’, It shows how great this musical union can be…

There’s many a good album hidden behind cheap and terrible artwork but, unfortunately, despite some well constructed riffs, this isn’t one of them. Henning’s old fashioned bombast can be hard to take in long doses, and more often than not, he kills what should have been a great metal release. Glen Drover’s input is constantly and consistently immense, but ‘Prophets of Demise’ ultimately ends up sounding like a second division metal romp, proving how damaging a misjudged vocal can be. Despite a lot of gusto and good intentions, this Withering Scorn debut is only half the record it should have been.

June/July 2023