Dan Swanö fans are a hungry and faithful fan base. Whatever he or his associated acts put out, the fans eat it up. Hell, even when he produces an album, people talk. That’s a testament to not only his talent and perseverance in the music world, but it also speaks to his credibility and dependability as a musician, producer, and purveyor of all things metal. Especially in this day and age of the “do-it-yourself” attitude in the music community, Swanö has been following this trend long before our current digital age really started to define us a music community.
With his resume as impressive and awe-inspiring as almost any underground artist, it should come as no surprise that he always has something on the go (and if you don’t know this legend, do yourself a favour and look up his work!). Enter Witherscape. With the debut album “The Inheritence” and “The New Tomorrow” EP already under their belt, the band has taken on the task of providing us a new full-length album in the form of “The Northern Sanctuary” in this already obtuse and crowded climate of career-defining albums in the excellent metal year of 2016. Along for the ride once again with Swanö (vocals/keyboards/drums) is fellow talented Swede Ragnar Widerberg on guitar and bass. While many would suggest that this is merely another project with Swanö as the main man at the helm, we’re treated to a great partnership where Widerberg is able to shine and flourish as an equal partner in the creative process.
“Wake Of Infinity” kicks off the album with an eerie, crisp and haunting piano segment, which quickly goes full-throttle into a death metal romp with dominating and forceful trademark Swanö death growls. Highly energetic riffing and keyboard theatrics mix perfectly with the song dynamic. The songs switches into a slower pace at the halfway point, letting the music expand and breathe properly and perfectly. “Rapture Ballet” features a proggy and expansive edge with great interplay between all instruments, highlighted by the exciting keyboard runs and excellent drumming. “The Examiner” features beautiful harmonies to start which gets harsher and more deliberate in it’s thumping delivery near the end, while “Marionette” takes things down a notch with doom-laden atmosphere accented with harsh vocals throughout, giving this song a push over the prominent somberness. It also gives the listener a bit of a breather after the last four songs.
For fans of the long and well-paced song structures, the title track will not disappoint, and it’s an epic song in every sense. It’s an amazing good vs. evil, back and forth monster and general headbanging joyride. The song brings out all of the key elements of any grand lengthy masterpiece (both past and modern), and leaves in you in awe that the time flies right by you and makes you wonder how much more they could’ve added to an already weighty and incredibly talented track. Breaking down all the elements of this song would almost be a disservice as it needs to be properly listened to and felt to experience it fully, but I can testify that it’s an epic song for the modern era, metal or otherwise!
To help balance out the album, but not out of place are “In The Eyes Of Idols”, “Divinity” and “God Of Ruin”, which take us on a more playful ride than the other songs. These three tracks are more accessible than the rest of the album, and that’s not a deterrent, but it shows the sheer depth of the band’s sound to help balance out this weighty and talented tome.
It will probably be mentioned in many people’s opinions after listening to this album over and over, but Witherscape’s sound can be best described as taking the classic and memorable moments of Nightingale and Edge of Sanity and mashing them together into a cohesive and powerful unit. Ambitious yes, but it works so well. Also of major note is that Ragnar Widerberg is a perfect companion to Swanö’s already well established musical talent, with his crisp and bright guitar and bass capability gelling perfectly with Swanö’s drum and keyboard work.
This album is accessible in the fact that most of the songs (save for monstrous 13-minute title track) are of a traditional song structure, without really going much past the five-minute mark. There’s a lot of catchy riffs and head-bobbing, but it’s not to say it’s in a pop vein. Taking little snippets of the past (perhaps in an AOR vein) and thrusting it into a current musical landscape is what the boys have perfected on this album.
The beautiful part about this duo, and specifically this album, is that Swanö and Widerberg offer metal that can satisfy most headbangers. There’s a little bit of everything here, from progressive and death, to atmospheric and accessible. And with that knowledge just given to you, it’s important to dig deep and fully enjoy yet another scintillating 2016 album that will no doubt cement this band’s presence on the metal scene, and stand as a major favourite in many metal fans year-end lists.
01. Wake Of Infinity
02. In The Eyes Of Idols
03. Rapture Ballet
04. The Examiner
07. God Of Ruin
08. The Northern Sanctuary
09. Vila I Frid
Playing time: 46:53
Release date: 22 July, 2016
Label: Century Media
Website: Official Witherscape Website