Witherscape is a Swedish progressive/melodic death metal band formed by Dan Swanö who has quite the pedigree in the metal genre, previously being part of the band Edge of Sanity who alongside Opeth helped pave the way for the blending of progressive rock elements with extreme metal as well as many other projects such as death metal supergroup Bloodbath and progressive rock band Nightingale, as well as fellow multi-instrumentalist Ragnar Widerburg, who is relatively unknown by comparison. Together they have produced one of the finest metal albums of 2016 in The Northern Sanctuary (Century Media Records), which serves as the follow-up to their 2014 EP The New Tomorrow and 2013 debut album The Inheritance.
Witherscape are a band who doesn’t just release albums for the music alone, they are creating a narrative that expands with each release. This is far from a new concept, with bands like Rhapsody on Fire, Coheed and Cambria, and King Diamond being well-known for their ongoing concept albums. This doesn’t make Witherscape any less intriguing though. From what I can tell, the story-line revolves around a haunted house of sorts, with The Northern Sanctuary taking place 50 years after The New Tomorrow EP, with a new person taking over the house. The underlying story is ultimately a bonus for the dedicated fans who will dig into the lyrics and embrace the narrative, but for the average music fan, this album gives more than enough to satisfy musically.
If you aren’t familiar with the work of Dan Swanö, you might be caught off guard with just how talented he is. On this album he handles all vocals as well as drums and keyboards. His ability to shift from melodic progressive rock style vocals to incredibly vicious death growls is truly impressive and keeps the album extremely dynamic. The keyboards add that timeless progressive feel to the album, and the drumming keeps the pace of the album in check. Widerburg handled the guitars and bass work on this album, and the incredibly riffs and solos alone make this an album worth checking out. He might not be as known as Swanö, but he proved to be equal in skill on this release. Tying everything together is a very clean production style that helps make everything sound very crisp and impactful.
Overall, there really isn’t much to not love about The Northern Sanctuary, as it’s simply a progressive metal masterpiece. Being a narrative focused album does make some of the lyrics a bit cheesy at times, and some songs are a can get a bit long-winded, no time feels wasted on this album. It’s another excellent release for the discography of Dan Swanö, and one of the best metal albums of 2016.
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