Saturday, August 6, 2016

Witherscape - The Northern Sanctuary (2016)

The name Dan Swanö has always been a sure stamp of pure quality in metal, a man that takes an album to the next level. During his close to 30 year career, he has been a part of countless bands, such as Edge of Sanity, Nightingale, Infestdead, and many, many more. He has also contributed as a guest musician for bands like, Threshold, Therion, Novembers Doom, Omnium Gatherum, and Katatonia. So yeah, there are few people in metal that works as hard as Mr. Swanö. His latest project is Witherscape, a progressive death metal band he fronts together with guitarist and bassist Ragnar Widerberg. They emerged in 2013 with the release of "The Inheritance", a nice album that still felt a little flat, because I had a feeling that it was just an appetizer for what would come.

Three years have gone, and we are now here with Witherscape's sophomore release "The Northern Sanctuary", and let me tell you all, the duo has taken a big step forward here. Just like the album cover, "The Northern Sanctuary" is a grandiose album that takes the listener to a epic adventure, where Dan blends almost every essential element available. The heavy, melodic, epic, fast, slow, and catchy are all in this album, getting a good piece of the spotlight. It is impressive how Witherscape can take all of these ingredients and create a fantastic meal out of it, without turning it into a big, messy soup.

Every aspect of "The Northern Sanctuary" is so beautiful and uplifting, and the flow of the album is just marvelous, making it easy to get through this album in one sitting. The individual songs are strong by themselves as well, showing off some great creativity with different tools. It could be classic metal, excellent prog, or just an epic mastodon that spans over 13 minutes. Every song on "The Northern Sanctuary" has a purpose, a goal to fulfill, and a story to tell, and they all succeed in a fantastic way.

One of the highlights is most certainly the title track, a 13 minute behemoth that gives the album a more than worthy grand finale. It is as epic as it can be, treating us with what could be best described as a summary of the rest of the record. It has a little of everything in it. My personal favourite though is "The Examiner", a really beautiful song where Dan delivers a passionate performance, pushing his vocals to the limit, and Ragnar helps out with fantastic guitar work (that solo i subtle, but extremely effective). But really, every song on this album is of good quality, so do not miss out on any of them.

It is truly a shame that this album only consists of 8 songs (not counting the under 2 minute outro "Vila I Frid", Swedish for rest in peace) and a total play time of 46 minutes. Just as you are getting the most enjoyment out of the album, it ends. Another 10 minutes would not have hurt, but then again, the consistency that this album has is pretty hard to beat, so squeezing in another song would put that consistency in jeopardy. I don't know, "The Northern Sanctuary" is still an amazing album that further solidifies Swanö's legacy, but I wanted even more from it. It is strange, I feel like this project has yet another gear to put in, and hopefully, they do so with their third installment. Can't wait!

Songs worthy of recognition: The Examiner, In The Eyes of Idols, Marionette, The Northern Sanctuary

Rating: 8,5/10 Rapture Ballets

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