White Darkness is arguably the best Nightingale album after Dan Swano decided to turn it into a real band, following the release of I in 2000. It still possesses the same hard-rocking melodic quality of its two predecessors, Invisible and Alive Again (they also released a cool 10th year anniversary album in between), but this album also sees Dan Swano going back to his more prog rock roots he displayed on The Closing Chronicles and I, with a good deal of dark melodies, brilliant production, and his best vocal performance to date.
Interestingly enough, his brother Dag Swano co-wrote pretty much every song on the album, bringing in riffs and melodies from way back. Most of these songs feature elements Dag Swano wrote in the early 80's, inspired from a variety of bands. For instance, "Trial and Error" is a successful experiment in that it weaves the classic clean-toned acoustic bits with Dan Swano's impossibly powerful vocals, adding in a cool Rush-like middle part and a terrific lead guitar solo towards the end. This song feels like the perfect combination of the chorus-driven Alive Again and the more progressive dark rock of The Closing Chronicles, perhaps Dan's finest Nightingale album.
Dan Swano opts for some of his most diverse vocal expressions on this album in years. When he was in Edge of Sanity alternating between guttural death growls and silky clean passages, pretty much every metalhead admired him for his versatility. Nowadays, Dan still uses the same light/dark contrast, which particularly becomes noticeable on "One Way Ticket" and "Hideaway". The former is one of the darkest songs on the CD, and features an addictive guitar melody that recalls Mike Oldfield's earlier body of work. The chorus to this song is awe-inspiring, and the very end where Dan goes for the throaty Jorn Lande-like singing is something we've never heard from him before. Similarly, "Hideaway", the most progressive tune, sees Dan beginning with sinister low whispers in the intro and then moving to a gripping chorus whilst repeating his classic Moontower keyboards for cohesion. Though this song was written by drummer Tom Bjorn, you can still catch Dan's progressive side in the mix of the keyboards and his more aggressive, somewhat Odyssey-like vocal style. The part where he goes for the really deep vocals is sort of like Sentenced and Amorphis when they first abandoned their death metal styles in favour of clean singing -- this is easily the greatest vocal performance I've heard all year.
Dag Swano's guitar playing takes these songs on a completely new level. The lead solo on "Fields of Life" is fantastic as is the super-clean playing on the largely acoustic-based ballad "To My Inspiration". Actually this might be the best acoustic tone captured on a Nightingale album yet. Both of these songs contain very personal lyrics, the second being quite possibly the greatest ballad Dan has penned since his Unicorn days. What gives this one an extra edge is that Dan is a much better singer now, oozing sheer emotion through and through. Even Dan himself dubs it "one of the best ballads he has known", which is saying a lot given the self-critical perfectionist he is.
The title track is made up of a rather unusual song structure, and one that hugely differs from Nightingale's back catalog. Again inspired by an old song written by Dag Swano, it features a searing synth solo by Thomas Lassar and a forlorn piano motif that repeats itself at the most unexpected moments. The backing harmonies on this song are also amazing. Lassar also appears on "Belief", the first song to explore religion in its lyrics. This is like a nod to David Bowie with heavier guitar accents and a strong rhythmic bottom. Lassar's Hammond solo is a mindblowing combination of speed and melody; it recalls Uriah Heep and Ken Hensley's work on Ayreon.
Although Dan Swano is one of the greatest songwriters in the world, he had no finger except laying down the vocals on some of these tunes, one of which is "Reasons", which functions as a sister song to "Eternal" on Alive Again and boasts wonderful melodies akin to the school of Gabriel-era Genesis. The section where the guitar solo is joined by a wicked synth addition is pure magic. This is songmanship at its best. Where other bands could compose an entire album with just the melodies on this track, Dan and his band have created ten masterpieces on a single album.
White Darkness keeps getting better with each listen and now stands as my favourite Nightingale album along with The Closing Chronicles. Mind you, the two CDs are worlds apart in songwriting and production, since the former is a true joint effort while the latter was a solo statement from Dan.
After hearing Dan Swano return to a darker and somewhat more aggressive vocal style on some of these cuts, I can't wait for his appearance on the upcoming Frameshift album. It's going to be one of the greatest albums in his ever-growing discograpghy. Till then, check out White Darkness and cherish it for years to come.
- Fields of Life
- Trial and Error
- One Way Ticket
- Wounded Soul
- To My Inspiration
- White Darkness