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Dan Swanö has created quite a musical legacy in the underground, over the past couple of decades, and it all goes back to Edge of Sanity. While not as well-known as some other Swedish death metal bands, such as Entombed, Dismember and Grave, Edge of Sanity still released some quality material in the early-'90s, before fading into mediocrity and then obscurity. The band's third studio effort, The Spectral Sorrows, was released in November 1993 and may be the true highlight of their discography.
This album eluded me for quite some time, not that I put that much effort into finding it. I had obtained the first Edge of Sanity album, Nothing But Death Remains, back in high school but it failed to make a great impression on me. It was a solid offering of old school death metal, yet it did not seem to draw me well enough to warrant seeking out more. Some years later, during my first visit to Sweden, I ran across Unorthodox and The Spectral Sorrows in a Stockholm record shop. The latter was, by far, the more impressive of the two and managed to spend a lot of time in my stereo, alongside Necrophobic's The Nocturnal Silence.
Recorded in Unisound / Hellspawn Studios, this was produced by Dan Swanö and shows that his skills are much more appropriate for death metal. Rather than the flimsy jobs given to Marduk and Dark Funeral, among others, this album has a strong production that suits the music quite well. It is odd to think that only two years separate this from the first record, as the sound quality has vastly improved. There are no random drops in volume and the instruments are quite clear and easy to follow, without being overdone and sterile. The guitar tone is fairly thick and heavy, capable of crushing your skull right in. The drums are a little lower in the mix than one might expect, at times, but this is a good thing and only serves to place more emphasis on the guitar riffs. The production also worked well to connect each song, remaining consistent enough for the varying material to be tied together, so to speak.
As for the songwriting, itself, there is a lot of variation present on The Spectral Sorrows. There is a solid foundation of old school death metal; however, Dan had worked with so many different bands that he was clearly becoming bored and it shows on this record. Though the core remains the same, this album is much more melodic than its predecessors, which can be heard in nearly every song. In most cases, this has to do with the guitar melodies, such as the tremolo riffs in "Darkday" and "The Masque". Even songs that seem more traditional and primitive progress to become more introspective and involved, such as the way "Livin' Hell" slows down and features riffs that are more akin to doom than death metal. This continues on tracks like "Lost" and "Across the Fields of Forever", which are more slow-paced and expand on the sombre atmosphere touched on by other songs. "On the Other Side" takes this a step further with the inclusion of truly despondent clean vocals, near the end. Even the intro and outro carry a rather melancholy feeling. "Waiting to Die" feels a little generic, compared to the rest, but is still decent enough to earn its place among the rest. For the most part, this album does really well to mix all of these elements together in creating the band's masterpiece.
Unfortunately, there are some things that do not seem to fit in quite as well as the rest. They don't exactly drag the album down, all that much, but they may be a little difficult for some listeners to digest. The Manowar cover, "Blood of My Enemies", is done really well and is far more listenable than the original. Dan uses clean vocals for this song, which was probably the right choice once deciding to record it. Other than that, the song sort of fits in where it is, and doesn't possess an atmosphere that is really at odds with the surrounding songs. The song that is most shocking has to be "Sacrificed", which is a complete departure from death metal of any kind. This song sounds like Dan's tribute to goth rock like Sisters of Mercy or The Cure, and that is exactly what it sounds like. As crazy as it may sound, he pulls it off about as well as possible and it is atmospherically consistent with the rest of the album, as it maintains somewhat of a depressive feeling. "Feedin' the Charlatan" is probably the one tune that fits in the least, strangely enough, with terrible vocals by Andreas Axelsson (which is odd, considering that he did such a great job on Marduk's Dark Endless).
In the end, The Spectral Sorrows is a very solid album and is likely the best that Edge of Sanity ever recorded. There is a bit of experimentation, to be sure, but it is more than countered by the large amount of high quality material that is found here. It features a good balance, while not getting overly progressive as the band would later do. This is likely to appeal to fans of old school Swedish death metal just as much as to those that prefer a bit of a melodic edge to things. The dark and mournful atmosphere may even make this attractive to fans of black and doom metal, and the multitude of memorable riffs will have you returning for countless repeat plays. This has easily stood the test of time and is far superior to most that have tried to follow suit with a similar style.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Edge of Sanity, quite possibly the most underrated metal act ever. Not as heavy as Dismember, Entombed or Grave. Not a melodic as At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity or In Flames. Their prog/death fusion overshadowed by Opeth.
This album marks the beginning of Edge of Sanity’s progressive death metal stage. Not as melodic as Purgatory Afterglow but more melodic than Unorthodox. The hard “edge” of both Nothing But Death Remains and Unorthodox is still present but tends to take a step back. The Spectral Sorrows’ emphasis is on melody and song structure. Songs tend to focus on a fewer ideas rather than riff after riff, which usually becomes tedious after a few tracks anyways. However, you still get a good taste of old school Swedish death metal riffing here!
The vocal department is a step up from previous work. Swano’s hoarse death shout is still powerful as the last two albums but feels more controlled and audible. Clean vocals return but are not overused. Those looking for more of an emphasis on clean vocals should check out the albums preceding this one.
Production still has that early Swedish death metal sound. The drums are VERY thin as compared to Unorthodox. This is something you might pick up right off the bat. It’s not a bad thing but adds character to the record, which is something charming about this era of metal. Unlike most trigger happy drummers nowadays, you can tell that Benny Larsson actually played them.
Unlike Unorthodox, The Spectral Sorrows doesn’t suffer from too much repetition. We hear lots of song variation within13 tracks, an intro (The Spectral Sorrows) and outro (A Serenade for the Dead). We have standard death metal songs such as Darkday and Livin’ Hell. Melodic death numbers such as Lost, Jesus Cries and Waiting to Die. Progressive tinged numbers like Across the Fields of Forever and The Masque.
But we also have the odd numbers! The Manowar cover, Blood of My Enemies. The catchy Goth rock song, Sacrificed and the hardcore inspired Feedin' the Charlatan. Although credited for all vocals, I’m not sure if Dan Swano’s actually singing on Charlatan. These track are out of place but aren’t bad tracks! Like early albums such as Metallica’s Kill Them All or Slayer’s Show No Mercy, these tracks are cheesy but a blast.
Overall The Spectral Sorrows is a solid release of early Swedish death metal with nice progressive/gothic elements added into the mix. For fans that recently got into Edge of Sanity (I’m guessing Crimson or Crimson II) The Spectral Sorrows is a nice place to start backtracking since you get a good mix of everything Edge of Sanity was about.
Can you fathom such an evil? So sinister, so coerced into madness that it leaves nothing but carnage and lost hope in its wake? The Spectral Sorrows did what Unorthodox couldn’t – leave its mark in the form of a black, venomous stain where nothing is holy. Unorthodox was a collective effort that brought creativity to the realm of death metal, but it was here where Edge Of Sanity truly left a barbaric (yet refined) crease in the very earth that was just a breath away from exploding (the awesomeness was overwhelming).
Unorthodox left me wanting more – it was a solid effort that greatly surpassed the rather stale debut, providing hints of progressive experimenting without bailing on its core elements. Songs on there such as “When All Is Said,” “Enigma…” and “Cold Sun…” had enough depth to them to match the second void in the cover art, but only a couple other songs could reach the same effect out of the dozen (and a couple) that made up the album. There wasn’t a whole lot of substance that held the songs together, either; while a sturdy sophomore as one unit, the pieces were less than impressive. Needless to say that the issue had been fixed, which means The Spectral Sorrows reigns not only as Edge Of Sanity’s heaviest offering (aside from the debut), but the songs are backed by some sick leads, doomtastic riffs, grimy bass, cryptic atmosphere (Seagrave artwork says it all), and perhaps Swanö’s most ferocious vocal performance in the band.
The one thing I didn’t mention above was the drum kit. Larsson, for all the ugliness he encompasses, knows how to drum – this is undeniable. Between his choking blast-beats and echoing cymbal crash-course, the man knows how to lay down some trickling patterns and curbstomping support. However, his snare drums (Tama Drums are to blame, according to the booklet) suck donkey dick. It’s the exact same problem as virtually every Edge Of Sanity album of the 90s; these snare drums are so pathetic: weak, frail, thin, underproduced (waka waka waka!). The snares sound like plastic kiddy baseball bats hitting steel rods… yeah, because I’ve honestly heard what that really sounds like. It doesn’t detract from the high-like experience, but it’s the most notable flaw that always irks me (for any band). Drumming on “Lost” and “Sacrificed” in regard to snares is actually not bad at all; “Lost” has a thicker tone which should have been the case for all the other songs and “Sacrificed” might just be programmed beats, but anything goes when it comes to Swanö.
Contradicting these pussy snares are some beefy guitars by Dread, Nerberg, and Swanö (on various occasions); Dread and Nerberg switch between lead and rhythm like it’s their day job. The hellish, grubby tone is something to uphold like a king – a tad grinding; that is, grinding like a mechanism churning limbs into mush. Nothing speedy, but galloping riffs, skull-crushing tempos, morbid melodies, and more fun than a bag of body parts can be found throughout the album. Pretty much every track from the chilling intro, to the melancholic “Darkday,” past the tormented screams in “Jesus Cries,” and through the forest of lead licks in “Across The Fields Of Forever” and “On The Other Side” is packed with complacent riffs. The sense of identity – where one song has that underlying support to stick to its goal – is highly prevalent and was the missing piece of Unorthodox. You feel like you can speak to songs like “Lost,” “The Masque,” and “Waiting To Die” without waiting their entire track length for a redirection to technical support in India.
On the repressive end is Swanö himself, still just shy of his early 20s. The man is a demon incarnate; his growling on here is unique – tormented, but not mutilated. Like a lion’s roar, but in a studio instead of the African plains. His growls come from within – lots of stomach power and spaghetti went into getting these cramped growls down to perfection. The Manowar cover, although laughably bad at first, will automatically make you pick up a sword and decapitate a water bottle (face it, you don’t keep peasants in your room). His style on this cover becomes more of a hoarse form of yelling; half mean-singing and half utterance through growls.
The only song Swanö doesn’t growl on at all is the hip “Sacrificed,” which really comes out of left field. It isn’t his only other clean performance on the album, but his deep, possessed voice will definitely catch your attention on this one. The song holds the strongest melodies, even if it isn’t death metal (more like gothic rock); still extremely catchy and simple. Dread does some backing vocals on it (“Deeper down down…”), but his main vocal contribution is on “Feedin’ The Charlatan.” I’ll give the man credit for his charred screams on Marduk’s debut and on other Edge Of Sanity songs, but his hoarse yelling / fettered growling on this track is so unappealing that it hurts. He goes in and out of deep growls and plain babbling that just makes you wish he performed with his boiled shrieks. When they’re distorted, he actually sounds like Jonathan Davis from Korn – yeah, just stick to those good old screams, Dread.
Today, The Spectral Sorrows remains one of Edge Of Sanity’s best albums, primarily because these songs have the riffs to talk shit and the depth to comfort in. The brooding atmosphere will send chills up your spine if Swanö’s decrepit growls don’t do the trick, but the more melodic moments will be sure to make you feel right at home. Not outright like melodic death, but not fully death metal anymore either – a nice hybrid of sorts that’s still more death metal, but the last of it they’d end up doing, too.
I'm a sucker for Swedish death metal and Dan Swano is somewhat of a metal God to me. 'Crimson' always astounded me with its hypnotic progressiveness but "The Spectral Sorrows" offers so much more in terms of sheer death metal brilliance. Quite honestly after one listen I'm 100% sold on the relevancy and replay value of this LP: put it up there with the very best of Dismember, Entombed, Anata, or Ribspreader. Holy shit this is devastating.
The production is absolutely pristine and for music this godamned good, it BETTER be. The traditionally heavy-as-fuck distorted guitars churn out memorable palm muted riffs at thrash-like intensity only to be accentuated by a completely elite undistorted exotic guitar scale. I love death metal because of all the complex music theory behind the seemingly incoherent mass of noise (to the uninitiated). Doom, viking, power, thrash, death, prog-hard rock and FOLK elements scatter themselves brilliantly: the electric guitar folk influenced guitar leads featured on the death metal songs blow my fucking mind! What the fuck!
This album has some serious groove to it, and while groove-based music blows, it is perfected here: the tempo changes are constant and Edge of Sanity plays odd time-signatures throughout but this album never comes across as pretentious. Dan Swano is the vocalist and puts in a noteworthy performance here: up there with Ross Dolan with lyrical coherency his death metal vocals truly give the album an even more crushing/emotional feel. The clean-sung songs have a very viking / power metal feel to them and add a bit of lightness to the otherwise dark, oppressive atmosphere.
This is death metal bliss. This is a glorification of exactly why heavy metal will ALWAYS be the contemporary standard for the intellectually advanced. Brutally assaulting, Rhythmically addictive, and Fucking-Swano! GET THIS NOW!