Witherscape- The Northern Sanctuary (Century Media)

Witherscape emerges from the northern sanctuary to slay.
Release Date: 
22 Jul 2016 (All day)

Back in 2013 I was quite excited (to put it mildly) to hear of a new project being put together by Dan “The Man” Swanӧ. A darling of the death metal world, Swanӧ played prominent roles in bands such as Edge of Sanity, Nightingale and Bloodbath. The man is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, vocalist and a talented producer to boot. It’s generally regarded that everything he touches turns to gold. Witherscape was no exception as The Inheritance proved to be a delicious blend of prog rock, gothic and death metal and wound up being one of my favourite records of 2013. But can Swanӧ match the excellence of that last effort?

Can he fuck. Even from the first spin, The Northern Sanctuary slays. There’s no cause to fear as the Swano touch has not gone stale. Listening to this record, you would swear that Witherscape was a full band rather than Swanӧ (vocals, keyboards, drums) and his partner in crime Ragnar Widerberg  (guitars and bass) as the performances sound so rich and full. Opening track Wake of Infinity absolutely pops in the speakers with its mix of crazy keyboards and highly dramatic vocals. In the Eyes of Idols sounds almost like classic rock filtered through a melodeath lens while Rapture Ballet shines as it combines angular King Diamond riffs with Insomnium keys.

Swanӧ’s vocals are one of the anchoring points of the album. His crooning cleans and utterly devastating growls are constant highlights throughout the album and are able to provide massive hooks and melody while still thoroughly grounding The Northern Sanctuary as a death metal record. Widerberg’s guitar playing is a delight, bringing riffs and solos that are flashy yet knowing when to pull back from guitar wankery. The mix was handled by Swanӧ and as such it really shines. The man has an in-depth understanding of dynamics and how music of this kind should sound. The drums sound organic, the guitars warm and everything pops just right. 

If all my fanboy gushing up to now hasn’t clued you in, The Northern Sanctuary is a stunning record. It manages to improve on all of the aspects of Witherscape’s sound and expand on them. This is end of year list material. Get onto it.