I should start this review off with some sort or recap or explanation of Dan Swano’s incredible career and fucking vast contributions to metal, but if you’re into metal and not familiar with the man’s output, you need to rethink your metal listening life. Yes, he’s that crucial.

Oh fuck it.

Whether it’s his performance in the incredible Edge of Sanity, his solo band and Blood Bath, (among many other impressive bands) or his producer/engineer credit on some of the finest albums the genre has to offer (Dissection, Dawn –among others- but those would be enough to warrant legendary status) Swano is a creative gift to metal music, and his latest offering from Witherscape is another notch on his belt of mastery.

Swano has had his hand in numerous genres of metal, and along with his collaborator Ragnar Widerberg, they use Witherscape as a blender for all of Swano’s experimentation. Sure, this is a death metal album. It’s also a progressive metal album. It’s also catchy as fuck. It also has ballads, crushing heaviness, pop sensibilities, and atmosphere for days. Some songs focus more on one aspect or another, but Swano and Widerber’s talent lies in the mixing and melding of all these sounds and to not make the music come across as muddled or pretentious, but to craft songs of exquisite nature that are classic metal as well as infectious.

I fucking loved Witherscape’s previous album The Inheritance but this one tops that. It’s not really fair to hold one or the other against each other as they’re two separate albums and while some of the ideas of The Inheritance find their way into The Northern Sanctuary it’s a beast of a different color. And that’s what makes Swano so engaging. His ability to never give you what you expect and to constantly move his music in a new direction.

This album, after only two listens, has already shot to the top of my favorite releases for the year. It’s an album that celebrates Swano’s creativity but metal as a whole. You’ll need to hear this. As soon as possible.

Witherscape’s The Northern Sanctuary is available now from Century Media.