Following up on 2013’s highly acclaimed debut album, The Inheritance, Swedish duo WITHERSCAPE return with another mesmerizingly dense conceptual album entitled “The Northern Sanctuary”. WITHERSCAPE features singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer extraordinaire Dan Swanö (ex Edge Of Sanity/Bloodbath, Nightingale, etc.) on vocals/keyboards/drums pairing up with fellow Swedish multi-instrumentalist Ragnar Widerberg on guitars/bass.
Musically, “The Northern Sanctuary” manages to seamlessly blend the best elements of 70’s & 80’s Prog/Hard Rock with atmospheric yet subtle extreme Metal. The versatile vocal gymnastics alternate between hauntingly quiet tones to utterly ferocious growls, further extending the stylistic whirlwind that the limitless nature of the songs produce.
Swanö explains the stylistic approach as follows: “I would say that the main influence was some of the tracks for the 1st WITHERSCAPE album! I wanted to expand on the styles of "Dead For A Day”, "Astrid Falls" and "Math Of The Myth", also adding new vibes. This album has more of a traditional song structure, except for the epic 13-minute title track, which was the last song made. That one was actually a reaction to a ‘social media’ comment that said "Stop playing it so safe!", which pissed me off and challenged me to write one of the most "unsafe" compositions I have ever been a part of…”.
He further elaborates: “I actually wanted the title track to have a similar character as the "Halloween" song from Helloween or "Suite Sister Mary" from Queensryche, and so be a great balance to the other stuff on the album. There's a track called "Divinity", which I still call "Voivod", so that influence is pretty obvious!? With "In The Eyes Of Idols" I wanted to write something pretty direct and accessible and "Wake Of Infinity" was designed to be the opening track. The piano riff in its beginning is one of the first ideas I ever sent to Ragnar for WITHERSCAPE back in 2010, but I forgot all about it for the first album. And I am glad I did, because it’s just the perfect opening for this album now…”
Once again, Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom) contributes lyrically to the new album. Swanö explains further: “The theme picks up where we left off with the "The New Tomorrow" EP. There is a 50 year jump in the timeline 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…”
“The Northern Sanctuary” is enhanced by breathtakingly powerful artwork, courtesy of Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák / www.hjules.com (Nightingale, Destruction, Tyr, etc.). With their sophomore album WITHERSCAPE has raised the bar in terms of production and continued on their quest for fearless, no-boundaries songwriting.
Having worked as a mixing engineer and producer for bands such as Opeth, Katatonia, Asphyx, etc at his Unisound Studio, Swanö has been a proponent in combating the modern mixing approach. He elaborates, “We support the ending of the stupid “loudness war” that has been plaguing CD's for the last 15-20 years now. As a reaction to this, we have included the mix (found on the bonus disc of the limited edition Mediabook version) as it would sound if that war never happened. One just has to turn the volume knob up a few notches and then it's “Full Dynamic Metal!”
“The Northern Sanctuary” is a truly remarkable effort, both profound and effective. Its infectious catchiness will appeal to the passionate followers of Swanö’s diverse artistic catalogue, but also to fans of bands like Opeth, Amorphis or Symphony X.