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