Review Summary: Clean Singing Dan Swanö has just taken the crown of awesomeness from his harsher death metal self.
The name Dan Swanö resonates well in the metal community and for good reason. He has created some of the best and most influential metal albums and has led his mixing and producing talents to hundreds more. After being rather silent after the release of the previous Nightingale album White Darkness back in 2007, Swanö reemerged with the new project Witherscape in 2013 that returned to his infamous death metal roots. Fortunately the fans don’t have to wait another six years to hear new material and Retribution is the new album from Dan, his brother Dag, and the rest of the Nightingale crew. The obviously prog-rock influenced group returns to create not only the best Nightingale record, but also one that can stand side by side with Swanö’s other masterpieces.
For this reviewer, Nightingale has always been a band of songs rather than albums. This is not to say that the band has a terrible album (far from it in fact) but over the course of previous records, I got rather bored listening and would come back later. Retribution is different in that there is not a single boring song on the whole disc. While songs such as 27 (Curse or Coincidence) and Lucifer’s Lament start off slowly, they do not give off a lackadaisical attitude that I felt songs on previous albums had. There is a more upbeat and positive vibe that this album exudes compared to prior records even though the actual lyrics deal with themes like celebrity death (27 (Course or Coincidence)) corruption (On Stolen Wings) and even Jim Jones (Forevermore). Dan’s writing of this entire album (compared to his brother Dag writing most of White Darkness) shows off his influence of 80s Album-Oriented Rock and contributes to the positivity.
Although this is the first Nightingale album that has strong tracks scattered throughout, the album is still about the actual songs. On Stolen Wings starts off with some of the proggiest riffage in Swanö’s arsenal but is far from being the most impressive part. Somewhere along the way Swanö went from being one of the best death metal vocalists into this strange Michael Bolton/Baritenor powerhouse of a vocalist. Divided I Fall and Echoes of a Dream show off his softer and deeper voice and combine with the great musicianship to get the listener lost within the song. However, the songs in which he just lets loose are easily the best tracks. Listen to the end of On Stolen Wings; the dude can absolutely belt. Finally there is the song that is the best non-Crimson, non-Dead for a Day that Swanö has written: Forevermore. The synths are absolutely perfect (that solo starting at 1:39 is fantastic). The drums and bass blend in perfectly with the riffs Dag and Dan play. All of these moving parts take a step back to the vocal melodies that Dan sing though; from the arrival of the vocals after the keyboard solo, to the most emotion thirty seconds of singing at the end of the song, this is the best non-death metal song Dan has created.
This has mostly been a review about the genius of Dan Swanö with a brief mention of the other band members, but it has to be that way. Not only did he write all of the songs on the album, but he is the driving force behind the band. The rest of the band members, especially his brother Dag, all play superb complementary roles. Retribution is by far the best Nightingale album, but is not perfect. While nothing is boring this go-around, some songs are clearly better than others and that produces a little imbalance for the entire album as a whole. Nevertheless, it is great to see Swanö participating in a more vocal (literally) role within the music industry.