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Dan Swanö Of Witherscape Chats About Sophomore Album "The Northern Sanctuary"

I have been eagerly awaiting news of a new Witherscape album ever since "The Inheritance" landed three years back.

It's an album that has more than just grown on me over time - it's easily now one of my favorite music releases period, so it shouldn't come as much surprise that the Dan Swanö-led project was named metal's absolute best newcomer of 2013 in our prestigious year-end awards.

After a brief interlude with an EP that had more covers than new material, we are finally getting a full and proper follow-up album as new studio effort "The Northern Sanctury" is due to drop later this summer.

As with the previous disc, I made sure to check in with Swanö to get as much info as possible on the impending album, which continues the storyline of the creepy house from the band's beginning. Read on to discover the trials and tribulations of birthing this coming monstrosity, which nearly killed Dan in the studio!

xFiruath: First off, I just want to fanboy for a moment and say “The Inheritance” was easily one of the best albums of 2013. I still listen to that regularly, and it was on heavy rotation for inspiration when I was writing my debut novella “Empty” that came out earlier this year, so thank you very much for such a killer release!

Dan: You're welcome!

xFiruath: “The Inheritance” had a really strong story that clearly remained in the music from the beginning to ending track. Does “Northern Sanctuary” follow that same pattern, and if so what's happening in the story this time around? At the end of 2014 you had that EP “The New Tomorrow.” Is that directly connected to the storyline and did it bridge the gap at all, or was that more of a side release?

Dan: Yeah. The story continues. After "The Inheritance" ended, the story took a 50 year jump. The bridge track - "The New Tomorrow" saw a new character "Mannen i Vitt" (Translated to: The Man in White) buying the house from the 1st album at an auction. He was tired of the chaos of Stockholm and decided to buy that place up north and start a kind of a hotel for people with special needs, problems with the health, their soul or an addiction etc. The north of Sweden is very far away from anything and the peace and tranquility (and the low real estate prices) was calling out to him! Said and done.

The house is shaped up and the "patients" arrive and at first everything is normal, then the very religious and very "clean" man, let's call him M, feels a very strange presence in the house and it makes him do crazy things to the patients, and in the end the evil spirit living inside Astrid on the 1st record, possess his body and eventually burst out of him after making him perform a ritual to open the portal to its home hell-dimension, bringing on hell on earth on the process (as seen on the cover).

xFiruath: As far as the sound of the album goes, is the breakdown of harsh to clean about the same as the first album, or has the tone shifted quite a bit? Are there any surprises in store for fans of the previous album?

Dan: The clean vs. growl during the same passages are still there. That is definitely a big part of Witherscapes sound. Wouldn't say that there are surprises, but there's definitely a more traditional song structure on this one. The tracks "Dead for a Day" and "Math of the Myth" from the first one are the main inspiration for the over all tone, except in the 13 minute epic title track, where all rules are thrown out the window!

xFiruath: Tell me a bit about the tracking process on this one versus the previous album.

Dan: We recorded the stuff in our own studios in Sweden and Germany, like with the 1st one. The process went smooth but it was more time consuming to wrap it up than I thought, so the album got delayed until I felt I had given it my 101% in every department.

xFiruath: I chatted with you about the previous album in an interview and I remember you mentioning the insane volume you produce when doing harsh vocals... and how it really puts you out of commission right after from a pained throat. Is that still the case, and did you try to get all the harsh vocals done in one go through this time around?

Dan: Actually, this time around it was even worse and I actually had fear for my life at some points because the headaches and nausea I got from the growling this time was beyond anything I've ever experience. You know this kind of head-ache you have when you wake up, after falling asleep being so drunk you cannot sit up straight, that times a million....!! I also got real massive head aches from the more aggressive clean singing, so the singing had to be spread out for months, with only a few verses at a time, or I would be buried by now!

xFiruath: Has anything changed as far as the lineup this time, and are there are any guest appearances on the album?

Dan: Line up still the same and no guest appearances at all this time actually! Wanted it to be as different from the 1st album as it could be, yet still be kind of similar, but better..and doing small things, like doubling all the vocals, use reverb, smaller drum kit -resulting in a more steady, beat-keeping based drumming, different cover artist etc.

xFiruath: With the first album you guys recorded two cover songs that ended up on the deluxe edition. Did that tradition continue here with new cover tunes?

Dan: Nope. We definitely hit our cover vs. original tracks quota with the EP release. So at this point, we won't make any more cover versions. We focused all our energy on making the best possible album, and we even wrote 2 more tracks than we had to, making sure we picked the best possible selection of tracks that went perfectly together.

xFiruath: The art you mentioned earlier seems to have changed tone quite a bit – did Travis Smith do the artwork again, and how does the art connect to the music?

Dan: The art is done by Gyula Havancsák that I have worked with before with Nightingale (also with Infestdead and a yet to be released Edge of Sanity compilation). The artwork I had in mind didn't really seem to trigger Travis in the way I needed, so we decided to let it be for now, and we tried with another guy first, but it didn't work out, and in the end stuff got so delayed that Gyula was available and he nailed it beyond my wildest dreams!

xFiruath: It seems like you've been getting a lot more involved in the music side of things again instead of the producing side, with Witherscape and Nightingale. Do you have any other projects in the work, or do you plan to return to Nightingale again after wrapping up this album cycle with Witherscape?

Dan: Well, I still have some stuff laying around, but it is at the other end of the spectrum from Nightingale, so another album from Nightingale is very uncertain. If we come up with 45 minutes worth of music equal or better than "Retribution" some time in the future, then yes, if not, then no..it's that easy! I am planning to put together some brutal stuff, in the veins of early Edge of Sanity, meets early Pan-Thy-Monium, kind of thing.

xFiruath: Of course I've got to ask – are any plans being put into motion to get Witherscape out there live? You had said “no” pretty strongly last time we talked, but maybe something has changed...?

Dan: Even stronger "No" this time ;) Strictly studio!! The only band that play live from time to time is Nightingale!

xFiruath: Anything else you want to discuss that I didn't bring up?

Dan: Check out the special edition of the album, with the full dynamic mix. If you care about the music and want the hear the album the way it is intended to sound, without any degradation of the "making it loud" process, buy that version and listen to CD #2. Turn up the volume a bit and enjoy the dynamics :) Also, again a big thanks to Paul Kuhr from Novembers Doom/These are they, for putting together the perfect lyrics to our little horror story :) Thanks again man!! You're the best!

xFiruath: Thanks for your time, and I can't wait to hear the new album!

Dan: Thanks right back at ya! Hope you like the album.

xFiruath's avatar

Ty Arthur splits his time between writing dark fiction, spreading the word about underground metal bands, and bringing you the latest gaming news. His sci-fi, grimdark fantasy, and horror novels can be found at Amazon.

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