Witherscape Ravaged by the Estate Tax on The Inheritance

  • Sammy O'Hagar

I’ve never been huge into Opeth. I don’t have a tactile reason; in fact, the lack of a reason sums it up pretty well. The strongest feeling I’ve ever had for Opeth lies in between “Hey, that’s not bad” and “Eh, not right now.” Yes, I’ve tried My Arms, Your Hearse and Blackwater Park. I even gave Orchid a shot. The only Opeth album I’ve ever felt significantly positive about was the Mahogany prog of Heritage, the one that doesn’t sound like Opeth that the internet violently shit its pants over. There are certainly worse bands people can adore like a lifestyle, but that adoration exists in abstraction for me. If I were to pick one element of the band that irks me, though, it’d be probable 10cc member/Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt’s clean vocals. While he can most certainly carry a tune, his husky singing comes perilously close to Chad Kroeger territory. Witherscape—a band who’s quite indebted to Opeth—has the same problem. Whatever good the band have going on their debut The Inheritance is eventually undone by the drunken-Arizona-State-sophomore-who-somehow-is-into-prog singing. While it’s more than one element that hamstring the band, that element’s pretty toxic.

Witherscape wobble on the border between being brought down by their vocals and not doing enough that’s interesting to distract from them. But the push and pull is steady enough where there’s still a lot of good to be found on The Inheritance. Delightfully chintzy early-‘80s Rush keyboards pop up all over the place (schooling the hell out of Between the Buried and Me). There are subtle, goofy ornaments sprinkled throughout (like the occasional random snap) that don’t go over the top in a botched attempt to conjure Zappa. There are some decently heavy riffs and some rather inspired quiet moments. Parts of “Dead for a Day” and “Dying for the Sun” even approach breathtaking. But then the band pull themselves a little too hard into overwrought expression and go from gloriously dorky fun to cringeworthily earnest hunger dunger danging. By the time “The Wedlock Observation” bites Opeth most shamelessly, the record’s more than worn out its welcome. The seasick 6/8 rhythms of “Wedlock” perfectly capture the ultimately damning unevenness of The Inheritance: you can’t rock that intensely between good and “please stop” without getting  a little nauseous.

Granted, comparing Witherscape to Opeth is in the Top 5 Most Dickish Things I’ve Done for This Site, maybe even a notch above comparing the singing from that band with Chris Pennie to Marilyn Manson: drummer/keyboardist/vocalist Dan Swanö used to be in Bloodbath with Åkerfeldt. But the comparisons call themselves out as Opeth are a tricky band to pay homage to. Although, the fact that The Inheritance garners more of a reaction from me than Opeth probably says something about what it’s trying to do: while failing, they’re trying hard enough that I know something’s being attempted. There are some good moments throughout the album worth checking out if you’re so inclined. However, be prepared to get the sudden image of a guy in an ASU hat reeking of Axe and Dave & Busters men’s rooms whenever a vocal melody pops up. Which is often.

Witherscape’s The Inheritance is out now on Century. Stream the track “Astrid Falls” here and purchase the album here.

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