Review Summary: A remarkable solo album that breathes new life into progressive death metal.
Dan Swanö could easily be compared to that guy you sit next to in the office, as funny as that sounds. You know the guy I’m talking about; he’s been working with the company for 20 years, punctually fifteen minutes early every morning, many certificates of achievements hanging around his cubicle, everybody wants to use him as a reference on their work, and so on. Maybe Dan Swanö doesn’t quite compare to the popular guy in the description above, but his resume in the underground heavy metal world is about as long as the extra paper that the crappy printer in the office spits out in a given year (we’re talking about a lot of paper here).
Besides his fabulous work with Edge of Sanity for about ten years or so, he was also part of Nightingale, Katatonia, Ribspreader, while also finding time to work with such genre defining side projects such as Bloodbath (drums, guitar) and Infestdead (guitars, bass, drum programming) to give a few examples. In a way, it’s almost hard to decipher between his main bands and side projects because of his constant juggling of priorities. On top of all this, Swanö is also a renowned studio wiz. Besides doing the production and engineering for his own projects, he has also lent a helping hand to a mountains worth of metal bands, most notably Coldworker, Dissection, Hail of Bullets, Marduk, Nasum, Opeth, Pain, and Vinterland to briefly skim a long, long list. With all this and the lending out of his many individual instrumental talents to another long list of metal bands as well, how the hell does this guy sleep or even find the time for his family life, let alone to find the time to create a massive solo album after being booted from his own band, Edge of Sanity, in 1997? All of this experience combined with the many trudging years in the metal underground have equalled up to a solo album that is both unique and a breath of fresh air in the progressive death metal genre.
With a nice concise eight song set list that has no filler and an abundance of diversity from his many influences and learned ways in the industry, Moontower
showcases many fine qualities that Dan Swanö has built over the years. To state the obvious, Swanö has not only written and arranged everything on this disc but has also performed every single instrument on the album while producing and engineering the disc in his home studio in Sweden. Why this is worth mentioning is because of the long, gruelling process that this must have taken in accomplishing; especially an album of this calibre. Everything on this disc works so well together. No instrument stands above another while trade-offs between specific instruments (which I will discuss later) give the disc a great variation, keeping the listener in check for the whole entire ride. Swanö’ signature progressive, mid tempo, death metal guitar riffs provide a great balance against the layers of uplifting melodies and well executed low end, churning out some very cohesive song writing. Swanö, not as recognized for his drumming abilities, provides the perfect amount of groovy rhythms and tight fills that manage to fit the songs flow and also providing an excellent stabilizer in maintaining the albums consistency. Swanö’ vocals aren’t to shabby either, showcasing why he has one of the best death metal growls in the genre. He is also quite capable of doing a complete one-eighty with his vocals and singing in a light hearted croon much like Mikael Åkerfeldt’ beautiful range in Opeth. The instrument trade-offs between the guitar leads and synthesizer keys (that were mentioned above) play into each song on the disc. Rather then do the norm by incorporating two lead guitarists that play off each other, Swanö has opted to change things up a bit. Instead the listener will notice that the keys and guitar lines play off each other instead, making parts of this disc sound very much like Rush meets Edge of Sanity. The synthesizer key leads are an obvious highlight to this disc; adding lush layers to the crunchy sound of the guitars that will either turn the listener off completely if they are not fond of 70’ progressive rock, or like me, will completely envelop the listener in a world of bliss.
Picking a favourite from this disc is tough considering every song on Moontower
has something unique to offer. The instrumental song ‘Encounterparts’ would probably top my list if I had to pick one song, simply for its dramatic contrasts that are exuberantly performed through many sweet interplays between the melodic guitar hooks, 70’ inspired synth keys, and haunting clean guitar lines. Regardless of favourites on this disc, the whole album works as a whole. It’s hard to come by a solo album these days that makes the listener want to replay the disc after the final notes have passed. Sadly, this is Dan Swanö’ only solo album to date. It’s not that Edge of Sanity’ latest works, such as Crimson II
, haven’t been up to par, but it just doesn’t come close to possessing the unique qualities that this album holds. Here’s hoping that Swanö does an album like this again where he is free to do whatever his mind sets his sights on.