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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.