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The Northern Sanctuary

Dan Swanö
(Vocals, Drums and Keyboards)
Ragnar Widerberg
(Guitars and Bass)

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) as well as 2014’s complimentary “The New Tomorrow” EP, Swedish duo WITHERSCAPE, who feature 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, return with another mesmerizingly dense conceptual album entitled “The Northern Sanctuary”.

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. The versatile vocals span between hauntingly quiet clean vocals, melodic heaviness as well as fierce 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 Da”, "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…”.

And Swanö 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 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…”

“The Northern Sanctuary” is consequently enhanced by breathtakingly powerful artwork courtesy of Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák/www.hjules.com (Nightingale, Destruction, Tyr, etc.). The sophomore album not only continues WITHERSCAPE’s quest for sonic extravaganza with fearless, no-boundaries songwriting, but also raises the bar in terms of production.

Having been responsible as mixing engineer and producer for bands such as Opeth, Katatonia or also Asphyx via his Unisound Studio throughout the last two decades, Swanö has lately been on the forefront of combating the “over-compressed” modern sound approach by presenting optional full dynamic mix scenarios for the educated listener. Such humble effort is cemented by the bonus disc of the limited edition Mediabook version of “The Northern Sanctuary”, which offers a full dynamic mix of the entire album as well as an additional ROM part with instrumental versions of all the songs. And Swanö is happy to add: “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 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, musically both profound and effective. 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. You could probably argue that WITHERSCAPE hereon deliver progressive Death Metal in the truest sense of its definition…