Dan Swanö - Vocals, Drums and Keyboards
Ragnar Widerberg - Guitars and Bass
“The Northern Sanctuary”
Following up on the refreshing impact of 2013’s much acclaimed debut album “The Inheritance” (“Album of the month” by Germany’s Rock Hard magazine and position # 97 in the official German sales charts) and 2014’s complimentary “The New Tomorrow” EP, “The Northern Sanctuary” is yet another mesmerizingly dense conceptual album, enhanced by breathtakingly powerful artwork courtesy of Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák. Once more lyrically supported by Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom), WITHERSCAPE continue the storyline launched with the debut album, as Swanö explains:
“The theme picks up where we left off with the "The New Tomorrow" EP. There is a 50 year jump in the time line from the 1st album and the main character "Mannen i vitt" (The man in white) has purchased the house where all the horror initially happened. He's restored it and rents out rooms to people from the big cities, who are aiming for some peaceful northern Swedish silence. But the entity still haunts the house and "Mannen i vitt" is possessed by it, so consequently he/it does terrible things to the "patients". Since the house is built on one of the gates to hell, there's a ritual taking place, opening the hellish dimension from where the evil entity once came, so it can go back there…”
Musically, “The Northern Sanctuary” manages to seamlessly blend the best elements of the band’s 70’s/80’s Prog/Hardrock and even AOR roots with contemporary, yet always atmospheric and subtle extreme Metal. Its infectious catchiness will doubtlessly appeal to the passionate followers of Swanö’s diverse artistic catalogue, but also to fans of bands like Opeth, Amorphis or Symphony X.
Superficially, Witherscape might seem like a brand-new name to the scene, but when looking and listening closer at its content that surely isn't the case. Legendary Swedish vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Dan Swanö is perhaps best known for his work with Edge Of Sanity, Nightingale and Bloodbath. Active since the early '90s, his career runs much deeper than this revered trio, having produced seemingly countless bands from across the metal spectrum (Opeth, Dissection, Katatonia, Asphyx to name just a few) as well as launching or taking part in side projects including Moontower, Odyssey and Pan.Thy.Monium. Following a lengthy silence, Swanö has returned with multi-instrumentalist Ragnar Widerberg at his side and a new conceptual project, Witherscape. No surprise that it's an outing of epic proportions done up in expected in-your-face Swanö tradition.
According to Swanö, Witherscape has been in planning for a long time, spawned as a result of his working relationship with Widerberg, which began at a Swedish music store. In spite of being five years older than Widerberg, Swanö discovered they had so much in common musically that brainstorming for a full-on metal project of their own was the next logical step. Widerberg quotes acts like early Judas Priest, Rush, King Crimson or Mercyful Fate as far as his inspirations in regards to Witherscape and Swanö elaborates his list to also include Judas Priest (1975-1989), Voivod, Queensryche, Rush, Marillion and Mercyful Fate.
"I think that most people will love it," Swanö says of the Witherscape record. "I feel a certain way when a song just works as I'm writing it. When I listen to it I have this feeling about the songs all the time, and you should have that with anything you do. I've done so much mixing and I've proofed all the masters, so at this point I normally wouldn't be able to stand the record. Not for years. But, I still feel like I could listen to the Witherscape record again right now. I knew the only way I could make a truthful comeback is if I was 100% behind the music, and I think this is what the fans have been waiting for."
Vocals, drums and keyboards were handled by Swanö for the album, with Widerberg looking after all guitars and bass-work, including the solos. It's a symbiotic musical relationship where the duo was able to feed off one another's strengths to create some of the strongest material in Swanö's extensive catalogue.
"One of the coolest things about Witherscape is that we actually rehearsed," says Swanö. "We were two grown adults getting our coffee and sandwiches, going to the Nightingale rehearsal room, gearing up and rehearsing the material for hours and hours. We'd record everything, take it home and listen to it, pick apart the songs. When all the rehearsals were done and we were satisfied with these eight tracks, we made a full-scale pre-production."
"The Inheritance" is a pretty thick concept album split into different episodes and very briefly, the Witherscape story takes place in a remote village in northern Sweden in the late 1800's. The central character lives in Stockholm and comes from wealth, and upon the death of his family he's informed by the family lawyer that he has inherited a large estate up north. Having been oblivious to the estate's existence, he decides to investigate, and once he's there "all kinds of weird shit happens…", according to Swanö.
"That's the concept we ended up with early on, and I realized I could never write the lyrics for it, so I got in touch with my friend Paul Kuhr from Novembers Doom because I've mixed all their records. I know that he's a really good lyricist because he believes in his own work, which is really important when you give him eight songs with scratch lyrics which have to match syllable by syllable with a kick-ass story. And he nailed it. Paul also wrote a short story in more detail to explain exactly what's going on. The special edition of the record has the whole short story so you can sit down and read it, or don't give a fuck about it and just listen to the music."
Witherscape runs the gamut of metal soundscapes from death to prog to old school, loaded with riffs and solos, lush clean vocals and guttural growls, an even spread of aggression and atmospheric darkness, and on one occasion, handclaps. Die-hard Swanö fans will likely draw comparisons to Opeth, Ayreon, Moontower, the catcher moments in Edge Of Sanity's catalogue, and even Amorphis or Type O Negative while taking Witherscape's nine song journey (with the closing title track being an instrumental piece).
"In terms of the whole feeling I wanted as the Witherscape sound, I was being pulled in a number of different directions," Swanö admits. "I came to a point where I felt I was completely over-producing, sort of hiding everything in overdubs, reverbs and delays. I lost the plot because I was thinking 'This must be epic! '. I remember sitting behind the drums one day while we were working on the record, hearing just one guitar playing a riff, and I thought 'This IS fucking epic!' We already had the Witherscape sound at the beginning; it was just a case of allowing the music to breathe and go where it wanted."
"The Inheritance" comes enhanced with hauntingly beautiful artwork courtesy of Travis Smith / Seempieces, who has previously worked with artists such as Opeth, Nevermore, Riverside or Katatonia and based on its stylistic originality, its compositional depth as well as the intense atmosphere, it's an album that should easily appeal to all Swanö followers out there but also to a new generation of listeners that interested in the current movement of progressive extreme Metal.