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In case you don't know anything, Dan Swanö's one of the most productive and popular Swedish musicians over the past twenty some odd years and has played in a friggin' grocery list of bands as well as a ton 'o collaborations and guestspots. He's also been producing at his studio Unisound since the early 90's and I'm sure he gives the ladies what they want when they want it too.
'Moontower,' released back in '99, is said to be the Edge of Sanity album that Edge of Sanity never recorded. Y'see back in '97 Dan booted himself from the band after recording 'Infernal,' which was an odd album since the song writing styles varied greatly and the band were butting heads at the time and the results were an uneven mixed bag of things. EoS eventually went forward without Dan and recorded 'Cryptic' with Roberth Karlsson as vocalist while Dan began work on 'Moontower,' which feels like the true follow-up to EoS' legendary 'Crimson' album.
Dan once described this album as, "if Rush played death metal in the 70s," which is just a bit off in my estimation. First and foremost, yes, 95% of the vocals are performed in a death metal style, yet the actual instrumentation itself is hardly heavy, plus factor in the synth driven nature of the songs and its pretty hard to really label this as anything more than progressive rock with death metal vocals. Fortunately the synths are really what makes the album such a delight, often times sounding rather technical and complex as well as quite proggy in that vintage 70's tradition and generally just really catchy as well.
Unfortunately the drums and guitars suffer a bit as a result of the abundant synths. The drums are often just buried and absent from the recording while the guitars don't get a whole lot more love either, although some dynamic riffs and really catchy leads can be found (some acoustic bits here and there too), but as always them synths take control in the end.
Under most circumstances I'd probably say this makes the record terrible, but Dan's the man and the guy just knows how to write some fantastic songs. Memorable, emotional, wacky and even dark at times, its a hell of a record to experience. The lyrics are also quite good with each song focusing in on something different.
So, hardly a perfect record in the traditional sense, but then again I've honestly never heard any other record that sounds exactly like this one either. By the that statement alone you should probably consider looking into this one. In the end this is very much a record for prog and Dan fans though and not so much for death metal fans at all. Definitely give it a go no matter your usual tastes, but best of luck finding a physical copy. I've got mine and you cannot have it!!
Originally wrote for, Lunar Hypnosis: http://lunarhypnosis.blogspot.com/
Perhaps best known for the seminal progressive death metal band Edge of sanity, Dan Swano was already a member of the legendary echelon, both within Sweden's music scene and globally. Suffice to say, he is one of the most influential figures in extreme metal, and was essential in making prog-death what it is today. Besides Edge of Sanity- which is almost certainly his greatest work- Swano also dabbled in more melodic progressive rock, under the guise of Nightingale. Fusing those two halves together, 'Moontower' is born. Although Swano is no stranger to 'solo' efforts, this is the only record to date under his own name, and it presents the man's talent through a slightly different angle. I proper fusion of Nightingale and Edge of Sanity, 'Moontower' is an incredibly synth-laden, melodic take at death metal, usually to the point where it feels more like a melodic prog album with growls than something more metal related. There is nothing quite new here for Swano, but 'Moontower' is an enjoyable and tastefully streamlined fusion of his previous work.
'Moontower' is in no short stock of the death growls that will found the strongest associations with the death metal style, but the instrumentation is not necessarily heavy. In fact, the synth-dominated mix makes it sound like an album coming out of the 'neo-prog' scene; that is, key-driven progressive rock fuelled by accessible melodies. This does put 'Moontower' in an awkward position, as I believe that it may be too laid back for someone looking for a death metal record, yet too filled with Swano's distinctive growls to appeal to someone who may be turned off by the style of vocals. Rather, I think 'Moontower' is a record that will find a perfect niche with listeners who love both prog and death metal. With 'progressive death metal' in its majority, we are used to hearing the death metal aspect dominate. Here, the contrary is true.
As much of a risk that 'Moontower' was, it would have been an inevitable failure if proper attention had not been paid to the songwriting. Although 'Moontower' does lack in terms of a binding album cohesion, Swano writes a very tasteful batch of songs here. The synths are the strongest part of the sound, having both the liveliest tone to them and the most interesting arrangements. There are passages here where the keyboards get quite technical and 'proggy', but for the most part, I found the synth's greatest role to be in the crafting of catchy hooks, of which there are plenty to enjoy on 'Moontower'. Sadly, the guitar and drums take a beating in response. The guitars are generally mixed lower than I would normally expect from a death metal record, and sound flat and even a little wimpy as a result. Swano's growls are in fine order as usual. 'Moontower' is an album that enjoys more strengths than it does flaws, and I would even honour it with a wholehearted recommendation to anyone interested in the work of Dan Swano. It does not however, possess the 'epic' quality that makes his grandest work stand out as some of metal's best.
Many bands have taken death metal beyond it's roots. Cynic expanded it by fusing it with jazz and prog metal on "Focus", Dripping expanded their slam death metal sound by mixing it with classical acoustic guitar, keyboards, and hip-hop beats on "Disentigration of Thought Patterns", Fleshgod Apocalypse expanded it on "Oracles" by literally mixing classical music into their sound, and so on. But despite this progression, there still remains a particular focus on the more death metal side on those albums. I don't have a problem with that, as it makes sense because it's death metal, but I've always wondered what it would be like if a band truly bathed their sound in another genre to create an album featuring equal elements of both.
As if he had read my thoughts, Dan Swano pumped out this bad boy, which is one of the most innovative albums I have ever heard. Yes, this is death metal, but it is just as much a death metal album as it is a prog rock album. The death metal side relies heavily on the vocals, while the prog rock sound relies mostly on the keyboards. The guitars are mostly a cohesion of these two styles, which never ceases to amaze me.Dan sings in the death grunted style we hear in most death metal. His vocals are guttural roars with extreme power and anger behind them, and are similar to Mikael Akerfeldt's growls in Opeth. A couple times on this album he'll let them go and let out a few lines of clean vocals though, although those times are rare. His clean vocals aren't the emotional, beautiful clean vocals heard in Opeth, but instead are more blues sounding, which fit well at the ending of "Add Reality".
His lyrics are something to marvel at, with every song focusing on a totally different topic. "Uncreation" is about the end of the world, while "Add Reality" is about Dan's girlfriend. We also have some innovative ideas here, with "Creating Illusions" focusing on use of computers in music and "In Empty Phrases" focusing on Dan's lack of confidence with the pen and paper. "The Big Sleep" is also a very interesting song, focusing on Dan's fear of death. There is a certain amount of reality in these lyrics that you won't find in many other places, and I suggest you read them. Unlike most progressive death metal bands, who are prog by definition, Swano is prog by sound as well as by definition. His songs have that catchy upbeat prog rock sound that really makes you want to sing/growl along with him if you know what I mean, which further shows the Rush influence.
It's a hell of an album to behold, especially in these days when death metal bands are more or less copying of each other. Buy this now if you like progressive metal, you will NOT be disappointed.
Dan Swano, a guy whose musical potency cannot be defined in numbers or words, has unveiled yet another masterpiece. This is simply another one of his albums which redefines creativity, but this time it’s not under the tag of Edge of Sanity or Nightingale. It’s his ‘only’ solo album; Moontower. The music here is a shifting kaleidoscope of death metal and progressive rock. And by progressive rock I mean the stuff that came out during the 70s, not the kind Porcupine Tree or Opeth do. The keyboard drives the sound, pounding out melody after melody while traditional palm muted riffs accompany them, reminding the listener that this ain’t no cheese sandwich shit like Ayreon or Dream Theater.
Now, the tone of his keyboard deserves a special mention. Despite heavy use you just never seem to get enough of it. As I already said, there’s not an ounce of gayness in it. They are throughout all the songs and provide them with further balance, support and feel. There are also some moments where he nails the Jon Lord (Deep Purple) tone to provide a classic rock feel. As for the vocals, he largely uses growls, but they’re not the kind you heard with Edge of Sanity, but a little more towards his clean voice. A little “lighter” and accessible, you may say.
The drumming too is nicely varied to match the mood of each riff, staying away from too many blasts to provide a very intelligent backbone for the space-like ambience. The songs are neither 10 minute bores nor are they random one minute interludes. With 6 minutes of average length, and structures fairly digestible, Swano leaves no room for even the smallest and pettiest of complaints. They are catchy but can still stand the test of time, and this is coming from a person who doesn’t listen to the best of albums more than 7 or 8 times. This one however, shows almost a hundred plays as per my last fm profile, and that should be proof enough.
For my first album review, I’ll review the latest album I’ve listened to, Dan Swano’s Moontower. For those that don’t know him, he’s pretty famous in the metal community for having tons of side projects (I think over 20 bands!). This is the only album actually released in his name. He’s also famous for making multiple albums himself, on which he plays ALL the instruments. This album is no different. Dan’s Swedish genius leads him to play everything, drums, guitars, bass, keyboards, and vocals.
The overall style on this album sounds like a heavier Rush mixed with growling vocals. For those that are not familiar, growling is a vocal technique that originated in death metal bands. It is essentially, singing with the stomach (as far as I know) instead of the throat (though some artists use a more throaty sound). Dan’s growls are top notch here. For the majority that will scoff at the first listen of the growls, let me give some credibility to them first.
To me, growls are important in certain metal bands. With just normal “clean” singing vocals, a lot of Opeth’s and Dan’s music would sound very awkward. Growling vocals are not evil, but they can be intimidating. Think of them as the opposite of falsetto vocals. They can represent anger, power, etc. So if you’re a bit apprehensive on the growls, just listen to the music a bit more and you’ll get used to them. And once you’re used to the growls, you start to love them. (I do, and I first heard Opeth when I was 11!)
Music-wise, the music is very keyboard based. For most of the album, guitars take the background, only becoming prominent in certain spots, while keyboard melodies take the forefront. This is both good and bad. Sometimes, the keyboards just won’t fit and make the songs a bit cheesy. Other times they are perfect in the atmosphere. In any case, it does create a fresh and awesome sound that hasn’t been duplicated very often (or at all).
Vocals – The growls here are awesome, very fluid sounding, and powerful. However, the clean vocals are used enough! Dan has a great low singing voice, but its seldom heard.
Music - The music here is also awesome. The guitar riffs are great, yet not very memorable. The guitar and keyboard solos are technical and sort of want to make you air-guitar (or air-keyboard) . But very often, the keyboards take up too much of the forefront and make the music cheesy.
Emotion- The album overall creates an slightly epic and powerful atmosphere. However, its hard to pinpoint what emotions are being represented in the music. The growls say anger/power while the keyboards suggest happiness. Don't expect too many shivers down your back during this album.
Lyrics - The lyrics are a bit atheistic, which bothers me a little bit as a Christian. They sound skeptical on the supernatural and deal with life and deception. They aren't exactly Satan-loving, but there not God-loving either. Still, the lyrics aren't anti-Christian or Satanic so they don't bother me too much. But the lyrical style is a bit literal and not very metaphorical. For example, the lyrics of "The Big Sleep" sound like a person talking ("I mean, I'm alive, and I plan to be"), not like poetry (which I like in lyrics).
Misc. - The production here is perfect. The album is complex and technical, but the songs are definitely too short. The album is only about 40 minutes. I think the songs should be 2 or 3 minutes longer, they make me long for too much more. But the album offers a very fresh sound that I haven’t heard before (or probably ever will).
Overall, the album has its flaws, no album is perfect. But if your looking for a fresh sound with keyboards like Rush combined with Scandinavian metal, you can find it here. Standout tracks on the album are Sun Of The Night, Add Reality, and Encouterparts. This is awesome progressive metal and shows how sophisticated one can make (death) metal.
I hear a lot of Dan Swano. Who doesn't, the man is in many, many bands. Now, I know for a fact that Swano is a capable musician from all of the projects he's been a part of. He's a very great musician at that. This album impressed me in a lot of ways, but also left a lot out (or too much in, in some cases).
The guitars are fairly intricate, but I can't help but feel vexation from the general tone of the guitar. The guitar sound is very fuzzy and heavily distorted. In many forms of metal (death metal, black metal) that may not be a problem, but it just doesn't work here. It's like a very bad itch that I am not able to scratch...and it's always there. The acoustics are much better than the electrics because it is devoid of distortion and the fuzzy electric guitar sound.
The keyboards are actually kind of cool in a lot of the songs. In some songs ("Add Reality" for example) it really gives the music a bright and retro kick to it. My only problem is that the keyboards are heavily overused, and at times much too squeaky and wailing. The overuse of keyboards reminds me much of the band Styx, but to a lesser degree. If the keyboards were used in moderation I wouldn't care as much, but they are ALWAYS there.
The music sounds rather peppy and felicitous - perhaps too felicitous. Some songs remind me of old video game music (Castlevania, anyone?), except add in a bit of a cheesy edge and sometimes even preposterous. Not a bad album by any means, progressive fans would go ape shit over this album if they haven't heard it yet. Even if you're not a prog. fan, I'd say it's worth a listen or two. Bits of it are quite enjoyable, but to me, a lot of it sounds very hyper and oblivious to the world around it by being too happy.
If you're a prog. fan, you'll most likely bow down to this album and beg for more. If you're not, it's at least worth a listen; it might surprise you. Over all, the musicianship is superb, but there is just too much. Swano needs to learn to slow the fuck down at times.
Dan Swanö, the man behind such bands as Nightingale, Edge of Sanity, Pan-Thy-Monium, Unicorn etc. etc. Moontower is his solo project, unfortunately not an ongoing one. Moontower is Swanö's first creative project after his departure from Edge of Sanity and also his first creative project after his writer's block. He is a one man wonder, he has recorded all the instruments by himself and the record was also recorded, produced and engineered by him so it most probably is just the way he wants it to be.
Moontower doesn't sound like anything Swanö made before it, nor does it sound like anything he has done after it. It is easy to say what kind of music Moontower is since it is really clear when you hear it. Classic heavy metal riffs meet Swanö's great death vocals and keyboard melodies from 70's prog rock acts (Kansas, Marillion). The combination may sound a bit weird but works very well. Most of the time the keyboard melodies are in the lead and bring most of the flavor in to the music. Swanö doesn't use just one sound on the keyboard though, he also uses it as a hammond and a grand piano which adds diversity to the album.
Swanö also knows how to use his instruments and doesn't over emphasize any instrument. The keyboard solos are done with exquisite taste and are nothing too flashy. Guitar solos are scarce but the ones found are really great. Swanö's experience and excellence as a composer shows as well. Every instrument supports each other very well and Swanö's really strong vocals and great vocal melodies fit the songs almost perfectly and even perfectly at times (the verse of 'Patchworks'). Also Swanö's compositions are very catchy. They stick to your mind like glue but there's a down side to that too. While most of the parts are catchy as hell, not all of them are and the non-catchy parts end up sounding more boring than they actually are. It is just a minor flaw and doesn't intervene with the overall listening experience almost at all.
(Originally published in Tuonela webzine (c) 2002)