There are few sure things in the world, but there’s one name that screams quality and excellence and that name is Dan Fucking Swanö. From his work on classic death metal albums like Edge of Sanity‘s Crimson, his collarboration with Bloodbath, Threshold and Demiurg and his proggy solo albums like Moontower, the man has the midas touch and one of the best death roars of all time. He’s also a producer extraordinaire and perhaps the best at making death metal sound the way it should. Witherscape takes his hefty talents and pairs them with unknown instrumentalist Ragnar Widerberg for a concept album about a gothic insane asylum and evil goings on. Musically, it’s a stunning mash-up of Crimson, Damnation-era Opeth, Omnium Gatherum, Mercyful Fate and even King Crimson. There’s some ominous and deadly death here, but interspersed with a lot of 70’s prog, gothic touches and traditional metal, with Swano showcasing his massive death roar and clean singing voice equally and to great effect. What makes The Inheritance truly shine is how well crafted the songs are. Instead of sounding confusing or patched together due to the disparate influences and ideas, the songs flow wonderfully, the transitions from death to prog feel smooth and seemless and each song is loaded with interesting ideas and great playing. I had no reason to expect anything less from Swanö and as usual, he delivers the goods and then some!
This is a deep, complex album, yet the songs remain startlingly accessible. Opener “Mother of the Soul” abruptly kicks to life with an ugly death metal rumble much as Crimson did back in the day and it alternates between Crimson-esque ideas and Opeth‘s softer moments with traces of 80s metal like Blizzard of Oz-era Ozzy. Swanö shifts between death and clean vocals at the drop of a dime and both are effective at conveying the moods and textures of the song. “Astrid Falls” is mellower and almost dreamlike and incorporates the same kind of beautifully trilling riffs Omnium Gatherum rocked so effectively on New World Shadows, yet works in extreme death and black metal concepts as well. “Dying for the Sun” fuses modern-day Katatonia with spacey, 70s prog sythns and even throws in riffs that sound like “Hall of the Mountain King.”
Other great moments include the Rapture-esque downbeat melancholy during “Dead for a Day”, the very Symphony X-like neo-classic power of “The Math of the Myth” and the grim, depressive march of “The Wedlock Observation” where the refrains of “you’re falling to pieces” feel more despairing and grim than they rightly should. None of the songs fail, though “To the Calling of Blood and Dreams” doesn’t hit me as hard as the rest. Another minor quibble is some songs run a bit too long and repeat ideas one time too many (“Astrid Falls”).
It’s hard to say enough positive things about Swanö’s vocal performance. I always loved his death vocals and his roars don’t disappoint here. The bigger surprise is just how well the man can sing. He lets it all hang out and at times he even sounds like Russell Allen. Most of the time though, he sounds like Michael Bolton. Before you spit random beverages on your monitor, allow me to point out that Bolton has a big fucking voice and whether you celebrate his entire catalogue or not, you can’t deny the dude can belt. Swanö channels Bolton’s big, hook-selling style, but grounds it in a metal and goth-rock ethos so it works. Naturally, his keyboards are rock-solid and he borrows moods from Yes and Genesis, but uses them to create atmosphere (which is heavy on this album) and never allows them to overwhelm the songs. He also plays all the drums, because he’s just that awesome.
Ragnar handles all the guitars and bass and performs admirably. Some of the riffs sound like vintage Edge of Sanity, others may remind of Opeth and some sound like early Judas Priest. The man has chops and though he never turns things into a wank-fest, he provides plenty of fluid, melodic solos and a ton of tasteful, classy riffing with delicate flourishes.
Sound-wise this is an obvious winner, since Mr. Perfect did it. Swanö knows how to produce death metal and he mixed it much like the vintage Edge of Sanity albums so it has a big, punchy sound with just enough rawness and murk. Better still, The Inheritance is the perfect length at just under 44 minutes.
The Inheritance is a major triumph for Swanö and the unheralded Widerberg. They compressed the various eras of Swanö’s work into a cohesive, memorable platter full of interesting music, slick arrangements and hard hitting songs. I certainly hope this isn’t a one-off project, because this duo has a whole lot to offer. P.S. I love Dan Swanö.