By Lord Randall

Verifiable unsung metal legend Dan Swano only remains so because he’s more often behind the scenes than behind a mic. On the eve of the release of WITHERSCAPE’s sophomore full-length, Lord Randall pulled the man away from his mixing board for a talk on The Northern Sanctuary, concept albums, and the man in white…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Where does 'The New Tomorrow' fall in the story? Does it at all?

DAN SWANO: The Man In White finds the house in the paper, buys it and all that, the ‘Wake Of Infinity’ track starts with him being up there, waiting for it all to begin!

WC: Explain as much as you feel comfortable, the concept behind "The Northern Sanctuary".

DS: Said and done. Mannen I Vitt (The “man in white” from ‘The New Tomorrow’ EP) buys the house that’s on the first album cover at auction. The place opens up for business and the entity that possessed Astrid on the first record is now looking for another host, and it finds the perfect one in the Man in White. Fast forward to the end, the Man is White is so pure in spirit and mind (very religious dude) that the entity can fully take over his mind and body and perform a ritual. The house is built on one of the seven gates to hell, one of the important factors for the ritual to succeed, and since the entity wants to finally open up the vortex to the hell dimension it once came from, but was trapped on earth when the dimensions were separated at the creation of time. And once the ritual works, the entity can go home, and as a nice farewell present, hell on earth, the rapture, the Armageddon etc. all happens at once. End of story.

WC: You worked with Paul Kuhr (NOVEMBERS DOOM) on lyrics again. I know you've produced NOVEMBERS DOOM before, but what led you to approach him to work on WITHERSCAPE, and how much of the lyrics are true collaborations? As in, obviously you have ideas you want to explore lyrically...

DS: I love Paul’s lyrics and he's also a great musician, so he can truly translate my sometimes very wacky scratch lyrics into something fantastic, using really rough guide lines from me and Ragnar. It's such a privilege for me, who's not a big fan of lyric-writing, to send an album off, with scratch lyrics, and then, one by one, the real lyrics come in the email and they just work, both musically and conceptually! Dream come true!

ZT: The new album picks up 50 years after the EP ("The New Tomorrow"). How did you fill in the gap of time, or was it important to? Also, is there more to the story? Did the whole story present itself to you at once, or did you realize after the first album/EP that there was more to tell?

DS: Well, we just thought it would be cooler to set the whole thing up in another era. And what happened during these 50 years is probably that the entity continued the search for the perfect host, resulting in many strange deaths around Sweden, and the house just got more and more worn down!

WC: "The Northern Sanctuary" is more...not "typical", but traditional in the way the songs are arranged. Was this a conscious decision, or just the way the songs came together? Personally, I see moments of more AOR/lite-prog bands like STYX and ALAN PARSONS PROJECT than before. APP being one of my favorite bands of the '70s-'80s, it's good to hear bands being influenced by unexpected acts. We can't all worship at the altar of THE BEVIS FROND and ATOMIC ROOSTER...but maybe more of us should, you know?

DS: I am a big fan of A.O.R. music and pomp rock, and those elements are always in my music, even though they are sometimes really well hidden! To be able to top the 1st album, I really had to get back to do things the way I did things before I had my writers block in the mid 2000's and that was to put the stuff together in the computer and mess around with various arrangements all alone, and also let the stuff live a bit before I had to record the real version. The plan was to have an equal part of ideas from Ragz this time around too, but due to various circumstances, I started the writing sooner than planned, and Ragz was busy doing SHADOWQUEST, so in the end I wrote a lot of the stuff using only my bits and pieces, but at the end I got his stuff and rather than putting one of his riffs in each songs, I put a whole bunch of them in one songs (‘God Of Ruin’) and he also wrote important piece of the title track (such as the nice intro/outro 6/8 piece and some of the other gloriously epic moments)!

WC: Do you ever see yourself expanding the lineup of WITHERSCAPE? Also, with the various international projects you've been involved in, does it feel nice to be able to trade ideas in person with Ragnar (Widerberg, guitars, bass). Or have I totally missed it and you're on opposite sides of the country?

DS: We're on opposite parts of Europe! Well, not really. But we have a whopping 15 hours minimum drive between us (I live in Germany) and that old-fashioned way of working was what brought the whole project to life in the first place, when I still lived close by. But these days, we have to stick to my usual writing methods, and we only see each other for recordings and photo shoots. We discussed bringing in some outside drummer for the next one, and maybe some really magnificent acoustic player like Christoffer Wadensten (MEADOWS EVER BLEEDING) or Anders Måreby (UNICORN) to give us more of a palette. I mean, both me and Ragz are decent players, but it's one thing to nail stuff at home on the sofa, another to nail it so that I believe it's a magic take for an album.

DS: How important was/is it to you to keep your production/mastering of your own music sounding real as opposed to hyper-compressed? Let's say one of "those" bands offers you an unholy amount to work on their next album with the condition that you give them “that sound”. At what point does personal integrity fade when choosing to work with/not work with a band?

DS: I tend to get very obsessed with my own productions. In the ‘90s and early ‘00s, lots of them were destroyed in those last "Is this the best I can do?" moments. This time around I was really happy with the mix, and the idea of having to steal even 1dB of dynamics away from it killed me, because there is just nothing to gain from it - the loudness war is just completely useless – so, thankfully, my wonderful label Century Media let me release the album the way it is supposed to sound, in all its dynamic glory on the CD2 from the MediaBook. So that folks is The Mix! The usual CD sounds good, but it is limited to reach a louder for me CD2 is like "at the movie theater" with a big bag of sweet popcorn, and CD1 is like "at home on the sofa with a big TV and a BluRay, and some good chips”! Still awesome, but the 1st alternative is awesomer! If a band wants exactly the same sound as on the WS album, no problem. I can get them most of those sounds without a problem, but even in those cases, it just ends up sounding like a great record, and not like a clone or anything!

WC: Let us know a little insight to the songs 'The Examiner' and 'God Of Ruin', speaking mainly musically. Like, what is it about those 2 that makes them such important parts of the story? 

DS: Well, ‘The Examiner’ is based on an idea that was supposed to be the opening of my first record after being kicked out of E.O.S. back in the day. Somehow, I forgot how to play the riff, which is crazy since it's pretty simple, but the actual finger setting is strange and pretty uncomfortable, so it's nothing you stumble upon by a mistake on your evening strum. But one day it just came back to me, and that set the tone for the whole track, since the verse and the chorus are the same. It could have been a NIGHTINGALE track too, but I felt that it added some depth and some explosion to the WS sound, and the growls are just a few, during the post chorus bridge, which also is a bit unusual for us. ‘God Of Ruin’ is all Ragnar, even though I arranged it, it's all his quirky and wonderful riffing. It's also unique on the album with its kind of doomy vibe to it. One of the last songs to be completed for the album.

WC: Since 14-15 or so, I've been a sucker for a true rock power ballad ala HEART, JOURNEY, WHITESNAKE. I think you've hit right on it with 'Marionette'. Even with the handful of spins I've given the album so far, I can tell I'm gonna look forward to that song each and every fucking time. Thanks for that, and for making this jaded old man feel young again. 

DS: [Laughter] That is so amazing to hear, because I am also a big ballad fan and there are some stuff that I dig that some metal fans would have me hung, drawn and quartered for, if they found out. But what I wanted to do with ‘Marionette’ was a combination of shoe-gaze alá SLOWDIVE around ‘Just For A Day’ and then have kind of a tuned down deep epic rock thing like ALTER BRIDGE or BREAKING BENJAMIN for a chorus, but still have that vibe of shoe-gaze/indie like MY BLOODY VALENTINE in their darkest moments in there. An experiment gone right! I love it!

WC: About the title track, you do realize it's pushing 14 minutes in length. Was this a dare? Were you frightened of an album full of 3-4 minute songs with your name attached? In seriousness, though, did you set out for 'The Northern Sanctuary' to be this huge epic song at the end, or did it just grow into itself? 

DS: Well, it kind of grew longer and longer, since I kicked out 2 full songs from the album to make space for it, I needed it to be like 8-9 at least, but one I got back into "epic mode" there was no stopping me! I got to use all those parts that I just couldn't seem to find a good spot for, but you cannot just align stuff in the computer and have the tempo change abruptly every 2 minutes (I know some bands do it and call it progressive...but it's not for me) so there was a lot of additional writing that needed to be done to get to all the passages with the flow intact and I also got to use 2 ideas from an old hero of mine, Uwe Osterlehner (ex- DEATHROW) and also a riff from an old friend, Tino Kallioniemi, that was the guy that Ragnar replaced at the music-shop where I worked. If he'd never worked there, maybe there would have been no WITHERSCAPE.  

WC: Is the story over now? Is there a new concept, or have we just begun? 

DS: At this point, to me, it's all done. I would like to give Paul full freedom with the next one, and just do whatever he feel suitable for the project. One concept per track, one for all, one for side A, 2112 style etc.


MARILLION - "Misplaced Childhood"
We recently moved to a house, and the only music we had around while moving in and while fixing stuff was this one, kind of "stuck" in my bedroom Alarm-clock, iPod dock-CD player-thing...And I just rediscovered how amazing it is. I must have heard it like 10 times from beginning to end over the last couple of weeks and fell in love with it again.

QUEENSRYCHE – "Operation: Mindcrime"
Totally. Amazing. Stuff. Still remember the impact it had on me, my friends, and the whole Finspång music scene. One it was released, every band started to sound like that album, even my band at the time, ICARUS. Which was a good thing, because it set up on the path for what became UNICORN. I love how there's a bunch of hit singles and some crazy intermission pieces, the narration, the "radio theater" stuff is fantastic. Even the production is awesome, kind of small, but still big!

AYREON –" Into The Electric Castle"
This one blew me away completely. I was hoping to create something similar to this myself, but once I bought this album, and with people like Fish on vocals, and Ed Warby on drums....come on...I just gave up then and there!

E.L.O. – "Time"
I discovered it pretty late, in 1988 or so. I loved their older albums, and also albums done after this one already, but for some reason Time was left behind, but it completely blew me away, and songs like ‘Twilight’ (I did not steal that title from here - or did I??) ‘Yours Truly’, ‘Ticket To The Moon’, etc. all super. At one point, I was 100% convinced that I would re-record the whole album myself and call it "Another Time", I did a demo of ‘The Rain Is Falling’, and after a while the whole project felt a bit...weird...but I still love the album more with each listen.

Really good stuff. Some songs on here are their best work. A great combination of epicness and metal. I was a bit disappointed with their releases after this because of their "un-epicness", but since Jens Bogren spiced up their sound, I have learned to appreciate SYMPHONY X for what they have become these days!