Dan Swanö, one of the most renowned men in metal, has returned. His Witherscape project, in which he is partnered with virtually unknown guitarist Ragnar Widerberg, are back with their sophomore release, The Northern Sanctuary.
Following in the footsteps of their impressive debut album and EP, the music is driven by complex laden riffs and atmospheric melodies mixed with guttural vocals.
Taking a page out of King Diamond’s playbook, the release is not only a concept album, but also a direct sequel to their first two releases. A complex horror themed plot propels the story forward, but one doesn’t have to immerse themselves in the fiction to appreciate the incredible songwriting.
The concept lyrically is written by Novembers Doom’s Paul Kuhr, who also contributed to their earlier material. Swanö handles the vocals, keyboards and drums while Widerberg is on guitars and bass. The fact that only two people are responsible for the depth and layers of the performances is impressive.
Witherscape are the perfect combination of Swanö’s now defunct death metal outfit Edge Of Sanity blended with his progressive rock act, Nightingale. The material is intricately blended and woven into a complex puzzle. Not one song is straightforward in a specific style. Swanö consistently trades between his melodic clean voice and his guttural destructive roar.
The opening one-two punch of “Wake Of Infinity” and “In The Eyes Of Idols” sets the tone and mood instantly. The two tracks take different paths, but both are atmospheric and impressive. The former is a melodic death metal masterpiece that finds the verses being brutalized while the chorus features a progressively gorgeous layered melody as fine as Swanö has written. The latter is an anthemic rock oriented track, which showcases another impressive chorus.
The progressively heavy “Rapture Ballet,” the instantly catchy “Divinity” and the doom obsessed “God Of Ruin” are all standouts that demand to be revisited. The title track is almost fourteen minutes in length and has as many twists and turns as a roller coaster. Widerberg’s guitar work is on point and at its best here. The Northern Sanctuary is nine songs and is over before you know it, leaving the listener wanting more.
As imaginative and polished as The Inheritance was, The Northern Sanctuary builds on their impressive debut. The songwriting and performances have been elevated to another level, as the two members seem more confident and comfortable writing and playing together. Swanö continues to electrify and add to an already astonishing catalog.
(released July 22nd, 2016 on Century Media Records)