Dan Swanö is a legend. He is also one of the most underrated talents in all of music. From his days as frontman with Edge of Sanity to his on going collaborations with his brother Dag in Nightingale to producing the first albums by Opeth and Katatonia, Dan has really done it all. He is a true multi-instrumentalist who can play every instrument on an album (see his solo album “Moontower”) and can sing in both harsh vocals and an incredible clean style. I didn’t even mention Bloodbath, Infestdead, Pan Thy Monium, Unicorn, or Odyssey. If you don’t know Dan’s work, please look him up!!
It wasn’t long after Nightingale’s “White Darkness” album that Dan seemingly retired from making music and became a full time producer/mixer/engineer. He is one of the best in the industry. When I heard he formed a new band with unknown guitarist Ragnar Widerberg called Witherscape, I was beyond excited. Witherscape’s first album “The Inheritance” was brilliant! Dan followed it with a new Nightingale album “Retribution” and then a Witherscape EP called “The New Tomorrow” wasn’t far behind.
Dan had found a true musical collaborator in Ragnar and the two make an awesome team. They are back with the second Witherscape full length “The Northern Sanctuary.” The album is a continuation of the concept from the first album with all of the lyrics and concept contributed by Novembers Doom vocalist Paul Kuhr. The It’s 50 years later and Man in White from the story has purchased the house where the terrible things from the first album occurred. Let’s just say, things don’t get any better from there!
Musically, Witherscape balance the extreme metal that Edge of Sanity were known for with the prog rock that Nightingale are known for, without sounding too much like either band. With Dan involved, it would be impossible not to sound a bit like his other projects at least to a degree. Ragnar is a riff machine though and his solos on all of the tracks are tasteful and suit the song. Also, Dan’s drumming is some of the best he has ever done. He also does all the keyboard work as well which is equally stunning.
The key to “The Northern Sanctuary,” like all of Dan’s work, is that it is MEMORABLE! The songs have chorus that you sing, riffs you hum and still kick your ass each time you listen to them. “Wake of Infinity,” “In the Eyes of Idols,” and “Rapture Ballet” start the album like it’s a greatest hits album! “The Examiner” starts with excellent piano work and offers a slight change of pace. “Marionette” is a gut wrenching ballad like song with a death vocal. It’s one of the only death metal ballads I know of! It’s one of my favorite tracks!
The one thing that “The Northern Sanctuary” has that “The Inheritance” didn’t was an epic 10 minute track. The title track does the trick here and makes for an amazing climax to the album and summarizes what Witherscape are all about! “The Northern Sanctuary” is another masterpiece from Dan Swanö, Ragnar Widerberg and Paul Kuhr, who prove that when you are as talented as these guys, you don’t need a lot of cooks in the kitchen! My hope is that “The Northern Sanctuary” gives Dan Swanö the recognition he so richly deserves and he becomes more than a cult hero!
1. Wake Of Infinity
2. In The Eyes Of Idols
3. Rapture Ballet
4. The Examiner
7. God Of Ruin
8. The Northern Sanctuary
9. Vila I Frid
Label: Century Media