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This band and album came to my attention through my once-fervent appreciation of the fellow Swedish progressive death metal group Opeth. Although my love of Opeth has since dwindled a fair bit, I am left now with the music of Edge Of Sanity, led by none other than Dan Swano, who seems to have taught Opeth frontman quite a bit when it comes to metal. With the prospect of a forty minute epic riding my expectations high, I was nearly expecting to be let down, but quite clearly; that was not the case. Rivaled by only a handful of other albums in death metal, 'Crimson' is a powerfully crafted opus that takes beauty and heaviness in equal measure and combines them in a narrative style to create what is one of the best put-together concept albums I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.
Telling a fairly dark story that blends elements of science-fiction and the supernatural, 'Crimson' revolves around a dismal vision of the future in which mankind can breed no longer, and depends on a mythic princess to lead them to salvation. Unfortunately, she makes a deal with an 'unholy entity' of sorts to save her people, and from there on, things start to fall apart. Even as a story of its own, 'Crimson' is a convincing piece of fantasy fiction, and while some parts of the plot are left a bit obscure, it feels like a perfect milieu for the music to score. Although some listeners may find it difficult to follow the story on first listen due to the rather garbled nature of death metal growls (of which there are plenty here), the music gets the intended feeling and imagery across just right. 'Crimson' also makes use of some incredibly memorable leitmotifs that also seem to coincide with recurring narrative elements, such as death. Speaking musically, Edge Of Sanity is very clever in the way they re-use ideas from earlier in the forty minute epic; things never feel too familiar, and there is always a tinge of development to make the ideas feel even more dramatic than earlier on.
For death metal, the guitar work here is surprisingly melodic and often alternates between heavier and darker moments, much in the same way Opeth would. There are also some guest appearances from Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth, doing a vocal section and some guitar soloing. What might come as a surprise to some that find themselves particularly endeared to the band is that Akerfeldt's performance here pales in comparison to Dan Swano. Especially in Swano's emotive growling, there is always great power involved, and the lyrics are much more coherent than some other vocalists in death metal. Swano's clean approach isn't quite as sharp as his growling, but his deep tenor holds a nice resonance, particularly in a part later on where he harmonizes with himself beautifully.
The lead guitar licks are always top notch and melodic; never particularly technical, but always powerful. The rhythm guitar is not quite as organic, instead sometimes feeling like it is simply there to get the heaviness and chords across without putting its own mark of feeling into the music. That being said, there is little to distract from the enjoyment of this work. Although the word 'epic' is unfortunately tossed around far too often when describing music, Edge Of Sanity's 'Crimson' writes the book on it. One of the most powerful albums out there in the world of metal, progressive or otherwise.