WITHERSCAPE – THE NORTHERN SANCTUARY
Release Date: 22 July 2016
Label: Century Media Records
One of the reasons why metal is objectively (obviously…) the best music ever crafted by the human mind, is the idea of concept creation. Meaning, to give shape to an artistic conception by articulating it in all its width through an entire album (or more), itsartwork and its lyrics. So what could be better than a concept album? A project which is “concept” in its entirety, of course.
One of the best such examples in the world of the modern hard sound is, the hailing from Sweden, five-star atmospheric prog/death duo Witherscape of multy-instrumentalist, singer and legendary producer Dan Swanö (ex Edge Of Sanity/Bloodbath, Nightingale, etc.) and his fellow multy-instumentalist Ragnar Widerberg (Shadowquest). After itsexcellent debut “The Inheritance” of 2013 and the Ep “The New Tomorrow” of 2014, the act is preparing to release its second full-length album titled “The Northern Sanctuary”, which will be available in Europe on July 22 via Century Media Records. D. Swanö handled the vocals, drums, keyboards and production (in his very own Unisound Studio), while R. Widerberg took care of string instruments (guitar, bass). Onceagain , Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom) was asked for his valuable contribution in the writing of the lyrics while the artwork was created by Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák (Nightingale, Destruction, Tyr, etc.).
The story of the concept continues with the main character “Mannen i vitt” (the man dressed in white), that we met in the previous Ep, who as the new owner of the horror house, converts it to a hostel renting out rooms to visitors who want to enjoy the tranquility of the Swedish north. An activity that would be very pleasing if the host wasn‘t possessed by the dark entity that haunts the place forcing him to provide themwith another, rather unpleasant, kind of “treatment” while a ritual is taking place in the background in order to open up a dimension from where the demon can return to the otherworldly, chthonic places it came from (the taunting building of the concept, which can be seen on the album cover of the first release, is built on one of the gates of hell). Musically, the album is a mix of progressive hard rock of the 70s and 80s and modern progressive death metal. The intense atmosphere is not the result of ambient or instrumental add-ons, but the combination of the keyboards, the lyrical artisanry and the exceptional guitar work in the songs‘ structure. I think that the abundance of well-written riffs that skillfully jump from style to style with stability and without technical exaggerations, is the backbone of the album. The keys “observe” the overall musical development adding atmospheric range and occasionally the horror element in the wayclassic piano themes do in a horror film. Another beautiful feature are the vocals which look like an irregular singing evolutionary board going from hard rock to growls and vice versa. In such albums it is difficult to choose favorite songs as the essentially complete one another, but truth be told “Rupture Bullet”, “Marionette” and “The Northern Sanctuary” made me smile a little more.
Overall we are talking about a very good album, a product of sheer musical genius that breaks the genre boundaries not only to join them but also to expand them beyond the visible horizon. A complex creation that through repeated listenings succeeds in taking you on a journey through the iconic rock sound of previous decades and the dark, nakedrooms of the estate where the plot unfolds at the same time. And all this with a heftydose of prog/death metal. In many ways, one of the most high quality albums of the year so far and a necessary addition for the album collection of fans of Amorphis, Symphony X, Opeth and every metalhead with broad musical horizons.