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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.