Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary (Century Media)

Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary (Century Media)

Wow. Just, wow… Dan Swanö returns to the fray with an utterly astounding aural battery of gargantuan scope and execution…

It’s hard to know where to begin. Everything about The Northern Sanctuary is so expansive, so vast, it swallows the listener up in its maelstrom of brilliance and pounds away at you until you start to get those childhood feelings you used to get looking up into the night sky wondering at the massiveness of it all and feeling small, so very small…

You really do; from the moment opening track Wake of Infinity trips in on a creepy, Psycho– style piano run to the final dying seconds of closer Vila I Frid – a haunting, piano-led instrumental that works as a much-needed aid to get you down from the massive over-stimulation you’ve been suffering from for the last three quarters of an hour – you’ll struggle to control your jaw as it keeps heading floorwards.

This is undoubtedly Dan Swanö’s meisterwerk, a thrilling melange of almost all the bands he’s been involved with over the years, boosted by the marvellous chemistry he clearly shares with multi instrumentalist Ragner Widerberg – and what a performance that man puts in throughout, too, contributing some of the best rhythm guitar playing I’ve heard in a long time – the sum of which is a stunning, if highly improbable, trip to the land where melodic death metal, prog rock and AOR collide.

Believe me, I’m not making this stuff up. Although the near-fourteen minute title track is clearly the creative centrepiece of the album, it’s certainly not the best track. This accolade goes to the staggering Marionette, a gentle, lacrimose semi-ballad that weaves the gentle touch of Toto with the emotional bombast of Evergrey and wraps it all up in a thunderous cosset of Swanö’s immense melodeath bellow on the most melodic death metal chorus of all time. Don’t take my word for it – you need to hear this to believe it – you’ll need patting down with a damp towel at the song’s end, let me tell you.

The chugging, melodic In the Eyes of Idols is pretty smashing too – it’s what Celtic Frost’s Cold Lake might have sounded like if Tom Warrior had have had the guts to go all-out AOR rather than going of half-cock back in the day – whilst Rapture Ballet is packed with drama and some fine, parping keyboard work to augment the spiralling, serpentine riffage of Widerberg.

Look – five hundred words or thereabouts just isn’t sufficient to impress upon you just how compelling, propulsive, how downright addictive The Northern Sanctuary is. I can’t get it off the stereo, and I’ll wager you’ll not be able to either. Not just highly recommended – I insist you give this a listen!

The Northern Sanctuary will be released on July 22nd through Century Media.

Ferry Templeton
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