Examining Edge of Sanity: A Discography Breakdown
It has been a while since my last installment of this series. Diving head first into Darkthrone‘s discography the day after finishing Opeth was a strenuous task. My mind, fresh from being melted by death metal and prog-rock, was not quite ready for the frozen landscapes I traversed. A bit of time was needed to recuperate my sanity. Two months went by and I was feeling the need for Death Metal. Truthfully, this genre is one that I don’t know much about. Yes, I like it, but I had never delved past the standards. I thought it was due time for me to expand my knowledge base. After a quick consultation with the mighty Toileteers, it seemed that Edge of Sanity was to be the best choice. Here are the results of my death metal discog diving.
Nothing But Death Remains (1991)
Edge of Sanity’s debut album is a solid slab of death metal. Nothing quite groundbreaking here, but I can hear the seeds being sown for future reaping. The start/stop riffs are jam-packed into this album and I have absolutely no problem with that at all. In fact, that was a huge draw for me upon the first spin. I was also immediately drawn to the mid-riff tempo changes, the slow sections really breath quite well and help place emphasis on the more technical and faster segments. Overall the tone is average to good; I still don’t know if I am in love with or despise the snare sound, only time will tell. Swanö’s demented growl is a huge plus in my book and the attempt at keyboard orchestration was a great idea, but I would’ve liked to hear it fleshed out a little more. The high point of this album for me would be the one-two punch of “Angel of Distress” and “Impulsive Necroplasma.” Those two songs slay everything else on this album.
Unorthodox, Edge of Sanity’s second album, starts out rather, well, unorthodox. After a fairly spooky 38-second intro track, we are introduced to the first proper song, “Enigma” that starts with an interesting mishmash of orchestral strings, death metal riffs, children speaking and choral lines that are reminiscent of hymns. At this point, I was ready to turn the album off, but then the song finds its bearing and decides to crush the life out of the listener with somber harmonies and foreboding chord structures. And thus starts this horrific beast of an album. Edge of Sanity really upped their game with this album and started to forge ahead on their path of individuality. The songwriting as a whole is far more memorable, and the band does quite a phenomenal job of capturing a variety of moods within the death metal sound; the proginess is starting to show itself here. Another step up from their debut is the tone on this album. Thick, meaty, buzzsaw guitars cut through the mix, the bass is decidedly audible, the drums have improved and Swanö still sounds great. “A Curfew For the Damned” represents the album pretty well and has one of the catchiest vocal lines when Swanö belts the title out multiple times. Oh, and the string section on “When All Is Said”? So good.
The Spectral Sorrows (1993)
First and foremost, this album has one of the greatest Manowar covers that I have heard. Swanö and co. absolutely KILL(WITH POWER) on their rendition of “Blood of My Enemies.” The elation felt when I initially heard this was enough to damn near bring a tear to my eye. I could seriously go on about this forever, but I digress. Back to our regularly scheduled program.
Immediately, I am sucked in by the spectral warbling that bookends The Spectral Sorrows. Edge of Sanity then does a phenomenal job of bursting me out of that spherical space bubble and into the vastness that follows. “Darkday” is a solid mood setter, operating with an alternating fast/slow riff structure, giving me an idea of the album following, but does not prepare me for the chaos that ensues. Throughout its entirety, The Spectral Sorrows delves into many different styles and influences, more so than I have heard on the previous albums. “Lost” is dang near an NYHC track, reminding me of Madball more than anything else, and the following track “The Masque” has some very Sabbathian riffage and NWOBHM melodies. This energy and experimentation are kept up during the rest of this album, most interestingly on the song “Sacrificed,” a haunting Type O Negative-esque, electronic, horror ballad. As a whole, I must say that The Spectral Sorrows comes off as a bit scatter-brained. The inconsistencies give this album a “collection of singles” feel, if you will. This does not, however, stop me from enjoying the album.
Purgatory Afterglow (1994)
At the start of this album Edge of Sanity baffles me yet again. The softly sung intro reminds me of mid-era Opeth but soon gives way to the crunchy, chainsaw guitar that I have come to learn and love from this band. “Twilight” is an interesting song and showcases, what I believe, to be the proper keyboard usage the band strived for on their debut. The melodic sense is put into overdrive here and many harmonized riffs between bass and guitar grace the listener’s ears. After this first track, I found myself fully immersed in the twilight world that Swanö had created. As with The Spectral Sorrows, Edge of Sanity has no problem wearing their influences on their sleeves here, and the intro “Blood-Coloured” is most certainly a Black Sabbath tribute if I’ve ever heard one. Unlike its predecessor, however, this album flows better from one song to the next. A true progression can be felt as the album plays out and I found myself enjoying it more and more, especially as the band upped the melodic dosage between brutal riffs. This is not meant to down-play on the heavier sections, just to highlight the well-balanced songwriting throughout Purgatory Afterglow. The final track “Song of Sirens” is perhaps the one oddball track, as it draws from the industrial metal sound that was growing in popularity at the time and reminds me of Nailbomb.
Crimson wastes no time with a melodic intro and punches you in the face, giving you the shock needed for the in-depth, concept song that follows. Yes, I spoke correctly when I said “song” in reference to Crimson. While the later released digital version was split into eight different songs, originally this reverent piece was a solid forty minute block of progressive death metal. With Crimson, I began to understand the Opeth comparisons that I had read about with the band. There may be some people cringing at this point but the comparisons, to me, are warranted. Both bands have a very start/stop writing style when it comes to transitions between riffs and verses, and Swanö utilizes both a beautiful clean tone along with his meaty death growls, much like Akerfeldt (except way better!). However, this is where most comparisons can cease, as each band’s music is greatly divided. Nevertheless, on to the music! Crimson is a spectacular show of storytelling and songwriting. This is by far the band’s most ambitious and cohesive album to date. Musically and lyrically, everything ties well together, and while this may seem like a daunting task, Crimson is best listened to as a whole. The narrative depicts an intricate post-apocalyptic world that finds the human race infertile and barren. With what seems to be an act of God, a daughter is born to the king, but slowly the world crumbles as a political uprising surfaces around the girl’s life. Mixed in with more rebellion and evil masters, Swanö and crew execute the story phenomenally and would work very well in novel form. As a Sci-Fi/metal/prog nerd, this album is a welcome addition to my repertoire.
As the smooth intro gives way to the riffs “Hell Is Where The Heart Is” sends Infernal into a frenzy of melancholic heaviness and sets a slightly depressive mood upon me. However, in proper Edge of Sanity fashion, this mood is cast from my mind as the upbeat tracks that follow weave in-between death metal chugs and 70s hard rock riffing. Yet again, my mind explodes at the creativity found within this band’s music. In reality, these concepts should not meld together within the span of one song, but Edge of Sanity makes it work with a highly compelling approach. Whereas the songs flow well on their own, Infernal lacks the cohesion previously heard on Crimson and it is a real shame. Perhaps it is due to my complete amazement with Crimson‘s clarity and vision, but this album falls flat. There are solid riffs, the drums are spot-on, and Swanö once again proves his utmost competence as a well-rounded vocalist. Nevertheless, the songs feel smashed together in no particular order or progression, suffering from a worse fate than The Spectral Sorrows.
Here it is, the “Swanö-less” album. Cryptic seems to be a very polarizing record among fans. Having seen both positive and negative words regarding the album, I was skeptically eager to take the plunge. I jumped out and landed smack dab in the middle of a boiling pot of sludge. At first, I thought it was a fluke and that Edge of Sanity was just being themselves again, playing whatever they felt on one track and something completely different on the next. Then track 2 played, and track 3 played and so on until the whole album was over and I was still swimming in that thick, putrid sludge. And, well, I liked it. Why may you be asking? Because I love sludge metal and Cryptic sounds like Soilent Green and Crowbar had a bastard swamp child, that’s why. Now, to clarify, I like this as a one-off album and would very much like to have heard this under a different name. As an Edge of Sanity album it sticks out like a sore thumb (no Swanö, no prog, etc), there is no denying that, but there really are some phenomenal songs here. Clocking in at a brief 35 and a half minutes, the album is well worth a listen and perhaps a few more visits if it grabs you.
Crimson II (2003)
As if back from the dead and with a vengeance, Dan Swanö returns as the sole member of Edge of Sanity. Crimson II shows an evolution in the band’s sound with the Prog and Symphonic tendencies heard in the past brought to the forefront, most notably with the keyboards and synths. Whereas the band had been dabbling with these instruments before, during several movements here they take the lead providing many memorable melodies and push the buzzsaw guitars out of the limelight. Tonally, the guitars lack the rough edge and their riffs don’t have the angst that I have looked forward to with each album prior. I find this lightly off-putting and the whole album, truthfully, is refined in such a way that it sounds almost nothing like Swanö’s previous work with the band. Everything sonically on Crimson II meshes together, almost too perfectly, for my taste in an Edge of Sanity album (I know, I know… I’m weird) but does sound phenomenal. Music and production aside, Crimson II’s narrative is some of Swanö’s best worked lyrical magic. He weaves poetically and effortlessly through a sequel story set in the lifeless world of its predecessor, portraying brutal yet beautiful settings and situations. As Swanö softly sings the final couplet and the album comes to an end, I feel it stands as fitting closure for the band.
“Lest bitterness and chaos be the harvest they wouldst reap
For she must never waken from this Crimson Sleep”
Phew! That was an intense exhibition. Though not as lengthy as my previous breakdowns, this was just as educational. I have a newfound respect for Edge of Sanity and this has opened many doors for other bands and projects alike. Now… the moment you have all been waiting for… THE LIST!
My ranking of Edge of Sanity’s discography is as follows:
- Purgatory Afterglow
- The Spectral Shadows
- Crimson II
- Nothing But Death Remains
I can feel a certain “NOPE” budding into fruition below, but hopefully, I haven’t caused any serious damage to anyone. Let me know below what your favorite Edge of Sanity album is and give me a list of your own.
Once again, I thank you for putting up with my ramblings of past bands and the drive all of you give me to continue. I have a large list already in mind, but if you have any specific bands you’d like to mention for me to dive into next, please do so!
Be sure and check out my previous Discog Dives for more of my goofy opinions.