Witherscape_The Northern SanctuaryIt’s time once again to turn loose the Swanös! Well, the Swanö named Dan anyway. That’s because the mega-man is back with his Witherscape project, and as before he’s brought along his mustachioed compadre, Ragner Widerberg to provide multi-instrumental support. Those who heard the massive debut, The Inheritance know what to expect – rich, melodic, somewhat progressive death metal with a cosmic ass-ton of hooks, mood and memorability. The Northern Sanctuary cleaves close to the style of the debut while expanding the scope and breadth of the band’s vision. Basically it’s like a collaboration between Yes and early Opeth, or if you prefer, Swanö’s Nightingale project mashed up with Edge of Sanity‘s timeless Crimson opus. It’s emotional and melodic as hell but still a death metal album at heart and it’s actually amazing just how musical and beautiful these two can make the material without it feeling too soft or watered down.

The goods are dropped at your doorstep immediately with mammoth opener “Wake of Infinity” which serves up the best of Omnium Gatherum, Edge of Sanity and Symphony X all stuffed into one glorious musical empanada of awesomeness. There are wild and inventive riffs, crazy keyboard runs and a tasty mix of death roars and uber-dramatic clean singing from Mr. Swanö. This results in a wondrously addictive song that’ll stick in your head like a rusty Bowie knife. It’s a tremendous way to open an album and the best is yet to come.

Follow up “In the Eyes of Idols” has a rock style mixed with classic melo-death as Dan’s vocals (both deathy and cleans) sometimes take on an arena rock vibe, and “Rapture Ballet” is one of the best songs so far in 2016. It’s just a monster of a tune featuring all the things I’ve come to love about Swanö’s work: first-rate riff-craft, excellent vocal melodies and a keen ear toward hooks. It reminds me of vintage Stratovarius mixed with classic King Diamond with some quality melo-death added for depth and body. Also impressive is the grim, brooding emotion and angst of “The Examiner,” and the doomy heft of “Marionette” where Dan outdoes himself vocally, balancing slick clean singing with guttural death roars.


The centerpiece is the 14 minute title track which has a strong Edge of Sanity vibe running throughout as it jumps from mega-melodic to doomy to deathy. As with any long song, the quality of the writing can be weighed by how fast the time goes by and here it flies! The Hand ov Swanö keeps things moving and engaging throughout and with Ragnar’s unquestionable guitar chops things stay technical but always accessible and compelling. It isn’t quite as immediate as the shorter tracks but it’s a grower with a lot of quality moments waiting to be discovered within.

As the 14 minutes of the title track flies by, so do the 47 minutes that compose The Northern Sanctuary. It’s got a great flow and it’s one of those albums you put on and spin straight through to the end. There are no duds and even the weakest track (“God of Ruin”) is still a pretty righteous song loaded with atmosphere and high caliber performances. Since the album was produced by Captain Dan, you know it will sound first-rate and it does, with a rich mix. I can’t speak to any potential forthcoming vinyl mixes, but this sounds just fine as it is.

Witherscape_2016aYou’d certainly never know this was a two-man project with all that’s going on musically. Dan handles vocals, keyboards and drums and does his usual high level job. His vocals in particular have gotten better and better and when he sings he sounds a lot like Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers) with a bit of Piet Sielck’s (Iron Savior) gruffness. The highly dramatic style of his singing can seem over-the-top at times but it works and his cleans are used sparingly enough to achieve maximum effect whenever they pop in. His keyboard and piano work is also strong, and the understated closing piano interlude “Vila i Frid” is especially touching. The guitar-work by the ever mysterious Ragnar is once again impressive, ranging from Michael Romeo-esque corkscrew riffs to wild solos and soft, nuances pluckery. The man has game and he brought it here. Though a technical wiz kid he shows admirable restraint across the album, never wanking when winking would suffice. I don’t know where Dan found this character, but he was lucky he did so.

I was very taken by The Inheritance, but this is a superior album in all ways. The songs are bigger, the writing more confident and inspired and everything just feels larger than life. Dan Swanö has been successful at everything he’s done in the metal world and The Northern Sanctuary is yet another trophy for his already cluttered Hall of Fame. This will be on many a year end list so don’t miss out. Now kindly gets these other swanos off my damn lawn!

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 318 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media
Websites: witherscape.comfacebook.com/witherscape
Releases Worldwide: July 22nd, 2016

Share →
  • Grumpyrocker

    Really looking forward to this one. The Inheritance was fantastic.

  • Adam

    The review reads like a 5 so I’m gonna pretend that’s what the number at the end says. Sweet numerical validation…

    • Dethjesta

      Agreed, this is how I see it in my mind:

      • I was torn between 4.0 and 4.5 so had to go with 4.0. 5.0s are like unicorns made of Swiss chocolate and fine bourbon – very very rare.

        • Dethjesta

          Chocolatey bourbon Unicorn. Now that’s what I call 3 michelin star cuisine

        • The rest of us are still scarred by Happy Metal Guy’s White Wizzard review. NEVER FORGET!

          • Siege Bantayan

            That review has become a meme unto itself.

      • Stop converting my scores to imaginary scores!

    • I think they lost points for lyric videos that force you to try to understand why swano is murdering the path to dependence. Or whatever the ESL gods have convinced him is worth growling about.

      • Nukenado

        One year late, but I’m pretty sure the song’s about religion. The “path of dependence” is about the extreme amounts of faith and (well,) dependence on their religion, hence “In the Eyes of Idols” and the vaguely religious lyrics.

  • El_Cuervo

    I didn’t really like The Inheritance that much but this is a year-end lister for me.

    • Insanity.

    • This IS INDEED a better record than The Inheritance in every way. In fact, it is beast.

      Get the vinyl….

    • Luke_22

      Yeah as much as I’ve enjoyed most Swano related projects, Inheritance didn’t hit me like it did many others. It’s solid enough but didn’t blow me away. What I’ve heard from this so far is really hitting the spot though.

    • jageorge72

      I agree. I gave it somewhere between 5 and 10 spins, and now it is collecting dust. I’m guessing if that was some random band of unknown musicians, it would have got a 3.0 rating, and I would have never bought it in the first place.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Dat demon ass.

  • Dethjesta

    I’ve been looking forward to this release for months now – still got a couple of weeks to wait.

    Good review – I’m really glad the album lives up to the typically high Swano standards. Nothing worse than when an album doesn’t live up to expectations.

  • William Hebblewhite

    Move over Jorn, Swano is my new God

    • That seems hasty. Embrace paganism so you don’t need to choose.

      • William Hebblewhite

        There can only be one!

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          You monotheists, you!

  • Surprised you didn’t make it to a 4.5 here! I’d’ve done it. YOLO and all that.

    • I’m frugal and miserly.

      • You give every scene kid with a vest and a beard a 4, but Swanö can’t get a 4.5?

        • I didn’t even give the mighty vests of Castle a 4.0, you serial defamer!

          • You did in that little steel heart of yours! I know you!

          • I was judicious, tough but fair. Unlike you with anything Arjen or Luca release, you fanboy!

          • Bah! This review is practically libel! You’re not objective!

            Also: Luca didn’t even get a review from me last time around.

          • If you had time it would have been a 4.5-5.0!

          • Nah, the last one is like a 3, 3.5 at best. That’s why I handed it off to someone who’d give it a better score!

          • I’m not buying it. No sir!

          • AMG didn’t want to give a favoured band a slight kicking so gave the album to someone who liked it more?

            The truth finally comes out!

          • jetblindracos

            Fanboy mode in effect with a pinch of Sith manipulation for good measure.But beware, everyone knows that they all fall eventually and when they do,the results are espectacular.Regardless I like it.

          • BREAKING

          • Blueberry Balls

            OBJECTIVE???????!!!!! BLASPHEMY!!!!!!!!

          • FINALLY!

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          That moustache trumps a beard, that’s +0.5 and Dan Swanö means +1.5 to anything. So this should be at least a 6. No wonder you want to do away with the numerical ratings.

          • sir_c

            Typical case of overflow: score was a nine, and above five the digits start over at zero.

          • Blueberry Balls

            You forgot +2 for dual male selfie with an oldfangled camera.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            That picture… it just looks like the flash is about to go off in a cloud of smoke and after the smoke clears they’re going to appear covered in ashes with their hair blown away…

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Don’t encourage them!

    • Blueberry Balls

      YOLO – is that like a Rolo?

  • Can’t wait to check this album in full. I love to sing along about murdering the path of dependance because is so fucking catchy.

    Killer review as usual, señor Tambor de Acero.

  • tetters

    Well suck me dry and call me Dusty! That sounds amazing. Definately worth my hard earned dollars!

  • Diego Molero

    Some Disillusion vibes in here, definitely a good thing. This is seriously great, can’t wait to check the hole album.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Real life keeps getting weirder than any fantasy… never thought I would live to ever read a line such as: “he sounds a lot like Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers) with a bit of Piet Sielck’s (Iron Savior) gruffness”

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Hey, I’m noticing a trend here, Steely-D… what is it with you making these weird vocalists comparisons?

      • I compare them to whomever they remind me most of. Since I’m olde as dirt, sometimes that means older singers.

  • Wilhelm

    DR8 is impressive, but it looks like there is also a 2cd version with the second disc being a dynamic mix (DR11-12?) Thank you Swano!

  • Pimpolho

    Oh yeah, very excited for this album, turn loose the goddamn Swanos!

  • ferrousbeuller

    Been looking forward to this one. As a rule, I’ll pick anything up Swano is involved with and I loved the debut, but this is sounding particularly excellent – especially his Power of Greyskull infused Coverdale cleans…

  • 517H

    Witherscape is my new old school Opeth. Epic musical journey through the soundscape. Can’t wait to indulge in the whole album. Good bottle of red, a few mates and a decent sound system and this album!

  • The Ichthyologist

    Hmm, the embedded video sounds like DT with death vocals.

    • Sounds more like Symphony X to me, but I can hear some DT in there too.

      • The Ichthyologist

        Agreed. The clean vocals are definitely more Allen than LaBrie at least! I have to add that I really like Swanö’s vocals though.

  • Oh man, I had no idea this was coming. I am super excited to get this.

    On another note, in addition to my love for metal, I also am an avid vintage camera collector and love the cross over promo pic of them with the folding plate camera!

    Its almost impossible to tell what make and model of camera that is from that angle, especially considering there were literally hundreds of cameras from that era that all looked very similar.

    From what I can tell, its definitely a German made folding plate camera, probably 6.5cm x 9cm, most likely made in the late 1920s to mid 1930s.

    • It was only a matter of time before the camera nerds felt safe enough to come out of hiding. Rejoice! o/

      [I have to admit that I’m a filthy digital camera user so my contributions will be minimal to zero :(]

    • jetblindracos

      My father had this hobby for many years.I remember when he built

      a small lab to develope his own photos wich he taught himself to do.

  • mtlman1990

    And sold! 2 cd book and vinyl.

  • bob

    So..much…name dropping…

  • JL

    I really love Dan. The guy is a musical madman. He happens to have a killer voice too. The last Nightingale album was breathtaking. His subsequent production, mixing and mastering jobs have been stellar as well. Can’t wait for this album.

    • Whilst I’m vaguely competent at death metal guitar and can play basic rock drums, I think about Swano who can sing, play lead guitar, keyboards and blast-beat drumming and just feel ashamed.

  • Dagoth_RAC

    I sometimes like to pretend the “s” in the middle of a word is possessive. Just to amuse myself. Thus, in my mind, this band will always be Wither’s Cape.

    Unless something unexpectedly amazing drops before the 31st, Fates Warning versus Wither’s Cape is gonna be a heck of a battle for Record o’ the Month.

    My suggestion: pretend Fates Warning came out on June 30, not July 1st. ;-)

  • jetblindracos

    I liked so much the early Nightingale albums.

  • jetblindracos

    Because everyone knows to espect something at least good from Dan Swanö the score is meaningless but in one thing,to annoy AMG and he fell for that.Truly the work of a mastermind.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    So, is this Witherscape cover the picture taken after the one for the cover of Profanatica’s latest album?

  • The hype is real guys. Totally ordered the 2CD edition from Swano’s site with no idea what I’m getting. Whatever. Swano rules.

    Will there be a review of the forthcoming InfestDead compiliation Serpent Sermons at all?

    *looks hopeful*

  • Alexandre Barata

    Sadly Swano’s clean vocals sound too much Disturbed-like… lol Everythinh else is pretty cool, but those cleans are crap…

    • Alexandre Barata

      Or even Nickleback-like. blerg

    • Shawn Cypher

      He’s been singing clean vocals since before either of those bands even released their first album.


  • Hideous destructor

    Listened to the embedded track. Now feel inspired to pour a scotch and put on purgatory afterglow!

    • jageorge72

      Purgatory Afterglow…… now we’re talking!

  • Tom Hardy

    I like Dan’s older material but this I can’t get into and it’s weird that questioning view in the minority. I’d need a lot of patience to listen to a full album if their music sounds like the embedded track in the review.

  • OzanCan

    Dan Swanö…this man never stops, does he? Ahh who cares? m/

  • Felchmeister666

    Excellent review & I have no doubt this’ll be a solid album. But my god, I don’t half miss Panthymonium…

  • Oscar Albretsen

    I overlooked this review for some reason when I first saw it, but I just remembered I loved “the Inheritance” when it came out. It’s been buried in my CDs for the last couple years, though. Seeing this encouraged me to dig it out again. Pure Swano. Can’t wait for this new album.