To anyone that knows me, it's not secret that Dan Swano is one of my biggest musical heroes of all time along the likes of Devin Townsend, Arjen Lucassen, Daniel Gildenlow and many others. From discovering Edge Of Sanity around the time I discovered Death Metal to discovering Nightingale when I found out how much I love Prog Rock, Swano has hit every note for me perfectly, from his amazing vocal range to his undeniable instrumental talent. Wanting to get back into Progressive Death Metal, Swano started Witherscape playing drums, keyboards and singing/growling alongside Guitarist/Bassist Ragnar Widerberg with lyrics penned by the legendary Paul Kuhr of Novembers Doom. This marks the 2nd album, and 3rd release for the band. How has the band progressed over the last few years? Let's find out!
The album starts with the first single from the album, Wake Of Infinity. Starting with an ominous piano riff, it kicks into a mid tempo Progressive Death Metal attack. Swano showing that he really does an amazing job behind the drums with his double bass assault. The song switches between growls and cleans seamlessly. The verse riffs contain some nice thrashy and Death Metal tinges while the chorus riff is a mix of soaring cleans and deathly growls. The middle section is the best part of the song for the Prog fan in all of us, containing a melancholy clean tone on the guitar, which then switches to a classic Hard Rock style solo followed by a beyond beautiful bridge that leads into the final chorus. A fantastic choice as the first single. Next is In The Eyes Of Idols, which starts with a classic NWOBHM style mid tempo guitar riff. Swano once again shows off the beautiful power between his growls and cleans. The chorus is very keyboard driven and catchy as all get go. The middle solo section is also keyboard driven with one of the most beautiful, yet short, solos on the entire album. A very fun catchy song that would be another good choice as a single. Up next is Rapture Ballet. This is where the albums tarts to take an emotional turn musically. The opening riffs are very proggy, almost Dream Theater-esque. The story (which I won't spoil) starts to really take a darker turn at this point as well. The song is filled with odd time signatures that will satisfy the fans who really wanted the prog aspect of the band to shine. The Examiner is easily one of, if not the best, song on the album. While arguably the most mellow song on the album, this is where I started to tear up...literally. The song starts with a very emotional piano riff mixed with Swano's emotional reverbed vocals. To me, this is the Dead For a Day (from 2013's The Inheritance) of the album for me, the song that when I listen to it repeatedly it brings out tears of sadness and joy for me because of the music playing, the lyrical meaning behind the song, and, without question, Swano's emotional clean vocals. While the song is not as upbeat as Dead For a Day, it still strike a chord with you just as hard, just like it did for me (actually as I'm writing this and listening to the song once again, it's hard not to choke up a bit). Marionette is the next song, and much like the previous song, the emotion continues here as well. starting with clean guitar and Swano's reverbed vocals, the song picks up into an emotional ballad with the growls over top of the majestic chorus that is another sheer highlight of the album. Near the end, the song features arguably my favorite guitar solo on the album. These two songs back to back can make even the strongest Metalhead weep, but that all changes with the next song, Divinity. Bringing back the double bass and much more uptempo than most of the album so far, the song features some extremely majestic guitar leads driven by a classic Thrash/Prog riffs in the chorus with one of the most proggy sections for the chorus. Widerberg absolutely shreds in the guitar solo of the song. The song is the shortest non instrumental on the album. God of Ruin brings back the slower, brooding, prog, and dark majestic feeling of the album. Those that are looking for a song that soars from dark lows to brilliant highs will be extremely pleased with this track. A fantastic mix of 70s-80s Rock and Prog all over this one with the dark growls at just the right spots. Arguably the highlight of the album, and my personal favorite song tied with The Examiner is the title track; The Northern Sanctuary. this 13 minute epic showcases the best of features of the band in one track. Everything you could possibly want is showcased somewhere in this song. In reality, the whole song feels like the best song Opeth never wrote. When the vocals kick in it continues the electronic feeling then leads to the most beautiful passage riff before going full blown classic Death Metal with growls, chugging guitars and thunderous double bass. the instrumental riff between vocal patterns (which also is the chorus) has gotta be a nod to Opeth's Deliverance, it just has to be. Things then begin to calm down again and begins to feel like the beginning of the song once again. Things then begin to get heavier again with a distorted version of the clean riff. leading back into the Deliverance meets Images and Words tribute riff. The middle of the song features majestic riffs that mix between Swano's growls and cleans before getting more into tribal drumming and proggy once again. 3/4ths through the song things get acoustic for a bit before getting into one of the most eerie riffs on the album which makes you feel like you are about to meet your doom. The end of the song features the keyboards bringing back the 70's Prog vibe and an almost funeral type riff that makes it feel like everything is drifting away into the abyss and a gigantic Iron Maiden style ending to close out the song. The final track, Vila I Frid, is an instrumental track that that is showcased by lone piano that leaves you that feeling that the story is over....but is it?
Honestly, this is one of Dan Swano's shining moments as a songwriter. This has everything that I want in an album. It's heavy, brutal, proggy, emotional, heartbreaking and a complete tour de force of metal musicality. Combining the heaviness and Progressive Death Metal of Edge Of Sanity, the beautiful emotion of Nightingale and the love of great storytelling by Paul Kuhr; this album needs to be on everyone's Best of 2016 lists. Do not let this absolute gem of an album slip you by. Granted you still have a month and 5 days from this post to pick up the album, but don't dilly dally. You will be so happy that you picked up this landmark album.
- 10/10 *Would give 11/10 if I could!*
Witherscape- The Northern Sanctuary is available July 22nd via Century Media Records
Borknagar- Winter Thrice
FFO- Progressive Black Metal, Folk Metal
Borknagar is one of the most legendary names in Norwegian Metal. As a supergroup powerhouse that is most notable for featuring ICS Vortex and Vintersorg on shared lead vocals (Vortex providing bass guitar as well), the band has become a very collective outlet for the group to share their Norwegian Pagan Ritualistic music. Winter Thrice is the 10th album for the band and hearkens back to more of the Norwegian Folk Metal side of the band that has been missing for the last couple albums (that said, Borknagar has yet to ever release a disappointing album) yet, also make for their proggiest album to date as well.. Winter Thrice just may be the best thing the band has ever released! Let's find out why!
The album starts with the lead single from the album, The Rhymes Of The Mountain. This is collectively the strongest single from the band to date. It features everything that makes the band strong. Soaring clean vocals, evil screams, majestic music that makes you feel like you are in the heart of a Norwegian winter (maybe not so much in the style of Immortal, but you get the idea. Winter Thrice is the next track starting with haunting keyboards before coming in with a double bass driven assault. The song features a great contrast of clean vocals and Progressive and folk elements for the majority of the song and pure Black Metal and screams as the chorus. A great song to name the album after. Cold Runs The River is much more of a mid-tempo song to start then just blasts into Black Metal goodness before a very gorgeous chorus. The song features a choir type background vocals throughout that hit in all the right spots. 3/4ths of the way through features a Led Zepplin style guitar riff and guitar solo mixed with the Black Metal screams that makes for an unexpected, but gracious change. Panorama has the feeling of the last couple albums with Prog style keyboards throughout leading into a nice, off-time, verse riff and shared dual vocals. For those that love the Prog-Driven side of the band, this is definitely a song that will hit home for you. When Chaos Calls starts with a short piano break before leading to a blast beat driven, clean vocal attack (nothing is better than blast beats over clean vocals done right). While there are some screams, the song is more focused on the cleans. The middle of the song leads to a nice, instrumental interlude featuring clean guitar before leading to one of the most majestic moments on the whole album and ending with a nice blend of cleans and screams. Erodent starts with desolate style clean guitar that leads to amazing clean vocals, proggy keyboards, and a killer mid-tempo battle theme. When the song picks up it goes heavy on the blast beats and Black Metal elements and has a gorgeous and evil chorus. Noctilucent is the "ballad" of the album. The song doesn't feature much vocals, but they are all clean and beautiful. The music behind it is very majestic sounding and gives a nice breather for the last couple songs to come. Terminus is by far the best song on the album. Starting off with a quick drum fill leading to a Black Metal driven Assault that has a bit of an early to mid era Opeth and even some Soilwork feel to it. The chorus is slower but sounds absolutely grand. This song has the best use of the of the synths that not the typical keyboard sounds. And absolute highlight of the band's career. The closing track, Dominant Winds, sounds very desolate as well with some wind sound affects that make you feel like you are alone right before the force of double bass driven, grandiose clean vocals, and Black Metal riffing takes place. The middle of the song is another highlight of the album that is both beautiful and evil. Roughly 3/4ths of the way through hits a big Opeth/Goblin style keyboard instrumental section before kicking into the grand finale of the album. Another great mix of the cleans and screams. It ends with keyboard becoming a force with a mid-tempo evil riff leading to a slower clean guitar and bass that slowly fades away making you want to start the whole album cycle over again.
In short, Borknagar has come back with a vengeance! Winter Thrice is the perfect mixture of Prog, Black Metal, Folk, and Melodies/Harmonies. Winter Thrice is the perfect starting point for getting into the band. Any direction you go from here is the way to go. For those that want more substance out of your Black Metal or want your Prog to be way more evil, Borknagar is the band for you! This will be regarded as one of the best albums of 2016!
Borknagar- Winter Thrice available January 29th, 2015 via Century Media Records!
Even with only 3 releases (2 Albums and 1 EP), Triptykon has proven to be one of the heaviest bands in all of Metal. Fronted by the legendary Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost, Hellhammer), Triptykon's newest release Melana Chasmata may have never been released if Warrior would have carried through with his suicidal thoughts. This album nearly killed him, but in a way saved him as well (with the help of his girlfriend who talked him out of it) This album is sheer depression from start to finish. That is not meant to be a negative thing (Haha, word play). It is full of somber tones, absolute destruction of the mind, and of course is the brilliant songwriting of Tom G. Warrior.
Melana Chasmata (which roughly translate into Black, Deep Depressions) starts off with a different kind of opening. Rather than going completely Doom Metal, or going all guns blazing, the opening track, Tree Of Suffocating Souls starts off midtempo (although it gets faster as the track progresses). The opening is layered in heavy riffs and lots of Double Bass. Right from the start when Warrior opens his mouth to sing, you can hear the heartache of life in his voice. The song never leaves the faster, midtempo pace once it starts until about 3/4s into the song where it gets very doomy for a bit before picking it back up to finish out the song. Boleskine House. Starts off slower and more somber than the proceeding track. This is a signature type of Triptykon track that is slow, doomy, and heavy all the way through. So many Doom Metal bands could learn a thing or two from this track in particular (let alone the ENTIRE album). Alter Of Deceit is next, and again it start of slow. It's roughly at the same tempo as Boleskine House, but even heavier (if that was possible). Breathing is a nice change of pace on the album. While it sort of similar to the last couple tracks, when the vocals kick in, it goes into Death Metal bliss. The verses and Chorus are much similar to the track, A Thousand Lies, off Triptykon's debut album, Eparistera Daimones. This is the fastest track on the album BPM wise and is pinpointed on a great spot on the album. It's Fast, Thrashy and filled with great Death Metal antics that would be amazing to hear live. Auroae follows up next and it is one of the most mellow songs on the album. It still has some great doomy guitar and ethereal moments but the song doesn't change tempo and keeps that same eerie feeling throughout. Next up is Demon Pact. The song doesn't really kick in until a couple minutes into the song, but is very dark and evil. Another song that doesn't vary in tempo, it just drags you into the abyss slowly but surely. In The Sleep Of Death comes now and is a little more upbeat (though not much). This crushing track chugs and chugs away while having some very ethereal guitars used in the background. OH GLORIOUS DOOM! Up next is the epic on the album, Black Snow. A bit more upbeat as compared to some of the other tracks on the album, but it is very epic sounding (just like the term implies). It's very grand and huge all while being unrelenting. You get to hear more of Warrior's tortured vocals in this one. All 12:25 minutes of Black Snow does feel like the soundtrack to your demise. The final track on the album is Waiting. Bassist and Backup vocalist Vanja Šlajh does the vocals does the majority of the vocals on this track repeating the line over and over "We Are The Same". The song is surprisingly positive as compared to the rest of the album which makes you feel the hell that Tom G. Warrior was facing at the time. The song itself is a bit more of a Post Rock song than anything else and features a clean guitar solo, again, something you'd never expect from Triptykon. The song and album ends on Vanja Šlajh's voice fading away along with the guitar drones drifing off into what could only be the heavens for an optimistic look, or hell for a return to tragedy.
Overall, Melana Chasmata is a dark, tortured album musically and lyrically. Knowing the back story of Tom G. Warrior during the process only makes this album even more haunting. While as dark and doom as the album is, it's oddly beautiful in a way only Doom Metal can do when done perfectly. Warrior knocked it out of the park on this one. We can only hope now that he is happier with life....and maybe another full scale US tour in Triptykon's lifetime.
Triptykon- Melana Chasmata available NOW via Century Media Records/Prowling Death Records
- Josh Rundquist (That Drummer Guy)
That Drummer Guy: Radio DJ, Interviewer, Reviewer, overall...an OK guy.