Track-By-Track Review: Witherscape — The Northern Sanctuary
Let’s “murder the path of dependence” together with the first use of our experimental Toilet ov Hell track-by-track-o-meter.
To summarize a short historical introduction, Ragnar Widerberg (also known as the guitarist of the melodic power metal band Shadowquest and for rocking a huge moustache) and Dan Swäno (ehhh, just judge for yourself) teamed up in 2013 as Witherscape with the goal of continuing the contrasting Swedish tradition of crafting evocative melodies along abrasive obscurity. The Inheritance, their debut, came up the same year with both of them handling all the instrumentation, composition, lyrics and concept crafting, supported by some guest musicians to add some keyboarding and growling to their eclectic canvas. The album garnered a positive reaction from critics and fans, mostly hailed for the carefully written progressive death metal elements. A year later, an EP was released to rekindle the Witherscape flame and gave a hint of the upcoming future of the duo.
So, here we are in 2016 with a new album, entitled The Northern Sanctuary, that shakes once more their formula with new aspects. Is it good? Is it a less charming repetition of their first hit? Let’s find out with our experimental Toilet ov Hell track-by-track-o-meter (And, boy, we do hope this cheap old crock does not explode in our heads with this sensational record):
“Wake of Infinity”
A sense of eerie danger opens with the 70’s inspired keyboard melodies coiled around the Opeth-ian circular guitar riff. Descending into the maelstrom, the first minutes of the song go to an unstoppable road of speed metal inspiration, reminiscent of the fastest segments of the final Edge of Sanity era. Dan Swäno vocals ascend and descend with mastery and explode into a beautiful bridge that leads to an infernal chorus. The cut-in-half segment is carefully placed to give an excellent variation and endow the return of the infernal chorus in the final seconds with a cathartic vibe. “Wake of Infinity” is a good opening of the album with great twists.
“In the Eyes of the Idols”
With a more hard-rockish inspired sentiment, the second cut of The Northern Sanctuary is an instant hit. Remembering the “Black Tears” catchy hooks and his Nightingale project, Dan Swäno growls with fierce attitude over a mellow wall of keyboards, and the main riffing induces a more pop framework in which the duo plays with careful balance. With his singing, he commands the attack until the melodic death metal carnage concludes in an epic constructed jam with a perfectly executed solo by Mr. Ragnar.
Another killer addition to the track listing is this twisting progressive song. Keyboards once again initiate the dancing, and the guitars sum up the contrapuntal following with a solid rhythmic base. Dan’s vocal range explores different sceneries inside his baritone coloratura; his raspy croons and sweet highs embellish the ambiance with gusto. Wonderful guitar work, with those elastic melodic riffs inspired by folk and progressive death metal rituals matching the razor-sharp soloing. In short, this is one of the best songs of this piece.
With a mellower introduction and powerful baritone vocals, the hooking machinery of the album rests a little with this mid-tempo ode. This is the link that Witherscape crafted to their previous album; more moody, more touching. The hard rock riffage acts again as liberation from the pessimistic beginning; the duo explores once again the come-and-go of the contrasting battle between the ballads vs. the extreme music harshness, placing the keyboards strategically in segments to aid the ambiance. The arabesque guitar riff at 3:29 is a delicious addition, of course.
After “The Examiner” gap in the extremity, the fifth song of the album enters in an anxiety-inducing calm. Dan’s growls are clear, vibrating and demonic at the same time in the chorus, while the verses sound like a depressing lullaby. The morose slower segments feel a bit disjointed compared to the explosive death metal doom extravaganza, but this is another good cut with such a great low bottom sound.
Kicking off with a sweet synth melody, once again the band develops their degenerated Scorpions hard rock melodeath with splendor. The sixth song has such a bright and mellow vibe that it will make you smile from start to finish. While it can feel a bit rushed in the songwriting department, the hard-rocking experience of this piece should be a great addition to a high-octane playlist with those playful melodies.
“God of Ruin”
Unlike the previous song, “God of Ruin” is welcomed with a slower riff, but one that is way more embellished with some beautiful progressive curls and twists. Around the middle of this trip, the “proggy” elements circumvent the space but are then paired along with a couple of space synthesizers that welcome sudden aggressive punches in a tension-and-release exercise. Soaring high, the progressive nature of this track does not shy away from the hooks of the vocals, which go hand in hand with the main riffing.
“The Northern Sanctuary”
The title track is massive, I repeat… MASSIVE! The composition is twisted, progressive and vicious. Do not let the haunting intro deceive the initial listening, because the intensive drumming segment of the verses pays off to a relentless attack of death metal burbling darkness. The long structure of this song does not push it to mediocrity; instead, the duo carefully selected the pieces and times with a clockwork-level precise song-crafting to adjust every riff and structure to the optimal form. 5/5.
“Vila I Frid”
The translation to the English of this Swedish phrase can be “rest in peace,” but this charming song is the tender breeze that finishes the record in the perfect Swedish extreme metal tradition. A sad delicate piano decorates the landscape, followed by the perennial silence. Perhaps a sudden cut in the end, but it is a short track that serves its purpose, to remind the listener that death is not the end because you can spin this record again. 3/5.
*beep* *beep* *beep*
We have the results on our Toilet ov Hell homemade machine: Witherscape’s The Northern Sanctuary has a well-rounded rating of:
In summary: this is a record that kicks a huge amount of asses, with a gorgeous crystal-clear production and a huge batch of twists that will appeal to the melodic metal aficionados or the progressive heads.
You can jam this album on Spotify, and you can get a sweet physical release on Century Media Records; remember to follow them on Facebook and tell this maniacal duo that the Half-Elf Lord of Venezuela commanded you to say “Hola” or “Aiyá”.