For Those Who Seek Eternity
ON THE verge of Edge of Sanity’s final dissolution, Dan Swanö has a lot of points to make and things to bring out to the clear. He is evidently in a talkative and cheerful mood. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be. After all, the composite funeral hymn of the resourceful Swedish deathsters, Crimson II, worked out and hammered home by Swanö alone, is a solid album and capably representative of the pioneering class that catapulted Edge of Sanity into the melodic death metal Elysium in the early to mid 90s.
Relaxed and confident, Swanö triples the anticipated duration of the interview with what seems to be almost no effort at all. In the whirls of his jubilant expressiveness, the musical mastermind is prone to converse on end and to cut out small-scale lectures on simple yes/no questions. It has got to be something special that makes him burst out with all those run-on sentences—and also, the small contradictions within those sentences. One indication of the multi-instrumentalist’s true recognition of the heights of Crimson II is the pride you begin to hear in his voice when you listen to him long enough. Edge of Sanity: back with a vengeance? Hel yes. Out as soon as an Indian summer? An affirmative answer rings out also here. Read on and learn.
“IT WAS the way I always wanted to make an album, really,” says Swanö of Crimson II and the recording process that took place at his own house. “I see it as more of an art form for me, to get this vision, this idea of what the album will be like. I was always hoping that some day I could record it whenever I felt like it. To take breaks and just hang out with my family, take a walk and just feel that I am not restricted to being in this room eight hours with the clock ticking and all that stuff. So for me, finally to be able to record it at home was a fantastic experience.
“You pay attention to the musician and in which environment they work the best. Very few musicians will make their best takes in the studio because it’s very much ‘in the spotlight’. I’m much more relaxed here, I can just record a lead guitar in the middle of the night or in the morning or during lunch break or whatever. When I feel like it.”
This notion of unbound liberty, one of the epitomes encapsulating this interview, spreads out from the conditions of recording Crimson II to the musical foundations it was built upon. Similarly to the first Crimson album released in 1996, Swanö was again in the midst of throwing together a theme album, a huge epic consisting of numerous smaller entities which were supposed to merge into one flowing, harmonious whole. To the far-sighted Swede, this has always been a somewhat natural working method.
“Different from many other death metal musicians, I’ve grown up with symphonic music: mostly symphonic rock music and also symphonic pop,” he explains. “All my favourite artists were relying more on themes than riffs and verses and bridges and chorus. My first encounter with music was very much Mike Oldfield and stuff like that. That was just looong tracks. Ever since I fell in love with the Incantations album from Mike Oldfield I realised that this is also a higher form of music where you have a theme that will go through the album and you have all these different parts. Then I got into Jean-Michel Jarre, who is the same with Oxygen, Equinox and all that. It’s not the traditional verse-bridge-chorus-lead-a-few-chorus-and-over thing. I just felt that my natural way of composing is finding all these magic parts. Let them live for as long as possible. Even in the early Edge of Sanity days we were trying to stretch every riff for as many times as possible. Not really because we felt like it, it was more that the riff had more life in it than just ‘this drum beat eight times and some vocals on it’. There are some moments in the track “Enigma” where the same three notes are repeated for almost one and a half minutes. But we take these three notes through heavy, mid-paced, blast beats, complex, thrash and death. I just felt that I got very good at that after a while; to have a solid musical idea and really make the most out of it. I just feel that if it’s something that I’m fairly proud of, it’s that I’m able to do this kind of work and not bore my listeners. I’ve done a lot of theme album stuff, I’ve produced albums with Diabolical Masquerade in the same way. You have a bunch of ideas and somehow I make them flow, and it’s just because I’m easily bored as a person. I want to be constantly entertained. And I want you to like it. It’s not like I record an album and when it’s released, I don’t give a fuck, I just take the money and run. I do this only because I want you to like it. I’m not really interested in the money or anything that comes with it as long as you dedicate 45 minutes of your life to listen to my music. I want you to love it. That’s really all that matters for me. And if I don’t love it, I cannot share your joy. That’s my only goal in life, to make music that I love and hopefully other people will love too. When they do, it feels right.”
With regard to the feelings that entailed writing and recording Crimson II, Swanö sees the album as a ‘traditional Edge of Sanity birth’. As always, at the end of the sessions it was all stress and uncertainty about final deadlines.
“Writing the album at ease and starting the recording was like I had all the time in the world. All of a sudden: bam! It had to be finished. I just felt that I was working round the clock. It felt like I was moving backwards; it just kept not turning out the way I wanted it. I ended up doing the mastering and everything in a bit of a haze, really, not sleeping properly. So I was very nervous that the album wouldn’t turn out as good as it could have been. Looking back now with a little bit of distance, to me it’s the best Edge of Sanity album. That’s all I wanted it to be. I didn’t want it to be the new Sgt. Pepper or anything, I just wanted it to be the best death metal album I could’ve written in the year 2003. And it is, so I’m very happy and I’m also happy with everything around it. I think it looks excellent and it’s also good that Black Mark is finally back on track working really hard to find the best promotion agencies and paying money for great campaigns, and you see that. You get to deal with the big guys. To me it’s the pay check of all my hard work with Edge of Sanity. It’s finally good to get the recognition and be treated with a bit of respect with a release because all the other stuff I have done has been received like, “Oh, Edge of Sanity guy’s new band”. And I know why people go back. I know why Bruce went back to Maiden, I know why Rob went back to Judas Priest. They fucking miss the, how can I say, special treatment. Because you’re using this name, this album will sell a few hundred percent copies more than if I would have called it Rock the Fire or what the fuck. It is Edge of Sanity, it is the logo, yeah! It’s just like the product industry: with this logo it costs 1,000 crowns, with that logo it costs 200 crowns, the same pair of pants. I always wanted to be on the wrong side of the commercial world, I always wanted to do it my way and fuck the commercial, but for a change, I felt that this music is too fucking good to be forgotten in the vaults of the distributors. This must be out because Edge of Sanity, from 1989 onwards, as a whole thing, not me, needs some fucking credit for changing death metal. We were the ones who took all the risks with clean vocals, overly melodic music, taking the tempo down, bringing in the goth, bringing in the symphonic, the progressive. A lot of other bands have taken the credit for it. So it was time for us to get a little bit of recognition. To have one person in the world thinking, ‘Maybe that band wouldn’t sound like this if they had been listening to Edge of Sanity’. That’s all I want. But in order to get there I want to play with the big cards and the big guys because it’s the last chance I have. As we speak now, Edge of Sanity is dead and gone. This is the final thing. When I’m done with the publicity and all that stuff, Edge of Sanity will sleep forever because I promised the other guys that so is the case. Funeral is held, everything is over. But this is the requiem, the epitaph of Edge of Sanity. I wanted us to go out in style and for me, the only way to do it is to do it alone. 100 percent my edition.”
There was indeed a meeting with Black Mark and the former members of Edge of Sanity about Swanö’s doing Crimson II on his own. Even though they were all for it from the beginning, the front man did receive some oppositional raps.
Swanö coughs. “The thing is that the opposition came from some of the fans, not from the band. If you knew the Edge of Sanity guys you would’ve pretty much known what to expect from them. They didn’t really ever care about anything. When we had finished the Unorthodox album, I think the overall feeling on that train ride home from the studio was that it’s over. This is the first ending in the chapter of Edge of Sanity. From this day on, we had emptied everything up. Our musical pockets were empty. We had nothing more to give. So we started slowly writing in the Unorthodox way, like tracks such as “Jesus Crics” that ended up on Spectral Sorrows. We all felt that this is turning onto just another project band like we’ve had thousands before.
“People don’t really argue in Edge of Sanity. It’s just like, ‘This is my track, I don’t give a fuck, play it, I’ll play yours’. It’s always this ‘you do yours and I’ll do mine’. Then there were three members who didn’t give a fuck. I mean, I don’t even know what they think about the albums, haha! They might hate all the Edge of Sanity albums; they never told me. They never told me if they liked the sound or the cover, they were just there. Just like these guys at work. They don’t tell you anything. That’s the strange feeling.
“We had this meeting and when I called Andreas (“Dread” Axelsson) up he had just had the news broken to him through Internet discussion groups and a friend that I would take over the band he used to play in and make an album myself. And when I called him up, he was like ‘Heey! How are you doing man!’ It wasn’t just like ‘what the fuck do you want?’ So it was just something we did. It was like if I met an old girlfriend of yours, is it okay if I hang out with her? ‘Yeah, yeah, go and have a beer some time’. That’s the attitude. So when we met we just ate ice cream and told a lot of crappy memories about touring and puking and football—because they’re all, including Boss, football freaks. So they were all talking about football teams and I was there sitting like, ‘hmm, da dum da dum’. But eventually we said, ‘If it sounds good, we will make a farewell show. Apart from that, I will do Crimson II alone. You will get a lot of money off the back catalogue vinyls and CDs’. And everyone was like, ‘Yeah just fucking do it, we’ve all already forgot about Edge of Sanity. It’s a part of the past so if you want to go and dig it up and go for one more album, just fucking do it, but let us know it is over after this’. It’s just like the final round. And I just felt that they owe that one to me. They didn’t really owe it to me but I think they did because I kept the band alive for so many years. I made it happen. It’s just that there’s always a lot of hard work from someone in every band. There’s no band in history where all the five members are doing nothing, ever. It could’ve been so maybe with the boy bands, I don’t know. There’s always a Joey Tempest in every band. And I was the one, but I didn’t take credit for it, really. But now I do, haha.”
Travelling back seven years in his mind to the time of recording the first Crimson disc, Swanö reckons the biggest differences between that album and its sequel locate not only in compositional but also philosophical territories.
“We made Crimson because we could not, as a functioning unit, make ten good songs. We were very, very close to breaking up and I have always known that one way to make an album when you don’t feel you have anything happening is to make a one-track theme album. Just look at a lot of artists going through thick and thin. You have had it in the seventies: when all the bands were having problems, they make these huge albums. Like Yes; and also, in the later days, Dream Theater went through some crisis and they make these long tracks where you don’t really have to think too much about song structures or hit singles or chorus. You just take a melting pot of all your riffs and sometimes these albums don’t flow very well. I think Crimson was one of those things where we said, ‘Okay, what can we write in twenty-four hours?’ It was all our schedule allowed us to have to write an album, and that’s the strangest thing because I didn’t have any songs written, and neither did the other guys. We were so tired of it that we said, ‘okay, look at it: this is the weekend we’ve got. We have to make all the tracks for the next album this weekend.’ There’s no way we could make ten classy songs in a weekend but we could write a forty-minute epic. Because we just write and write and write. Let the next riff be inspired by the riff before it. The other guys that totally hate progressive rock and they have never ever listened to a theme album in their lives—not even Operation: Mindcrime—these guys said, ‘okay, if that’s the way out, let’s do it’. So for them it was just like writing a riff and deciding how many times we should play the riff—and then write the next one to fit with the one before. For me it was a mindless way of having the next album written. My plan was to make the first Crimson a different album, one that wouldn’t sound very much like Edge of Sanity; it would sound more like the track “Twilight” from Purgatory Afterglow. Going from doomy, heavy parts to mid-paced, with lots of clear vocals and maybe having more of the goth elements and all that. But the other guys were so bored out of their brains after ten minutes that they started going, ‘can’t we have more death and black?’ and ‘when will we stop this motherfucking dance crap?’ So they wanted all the raw brutality because at the time they were very high on the new level, the black metal thing. I was producing a lot of black metal bands at the time so instead of being the guy hanging out in the corner telling everybody that everything sucks, I joined in because I wanted to finish the album. I went with them for all the fast parts, all the brutal parts, all the black metal parts as long as I could break it off with my parts. ‘Us’ was not existing; it was me or them. ‘My part, their part’ all the time. So the difference here with Crimson II is that it’s all my vision, it’s all mine. It’s the way I believe you should compose music. You couldn’t have a classical composer co-writing with somebody. I’m not comparing myself to fucking Beethoven or anything, but if you have one vision, it’s sometimes the most perfect way of having your ideas the way they were supposed to be. It might not be a bad idea. Not very many artists that paint go, ‘you do the trees and I’ll do that, and you’ll do the red and I’ll do the black’. It’s one man’s work. I always believed that the artier you become the more you have to rely on one person’s vision. The other guys were not into my vision at all, heh. They just wanted to riff out, and I just didn’t want to do that. So for me it was a relief. I felt somehow during the recording of Crimson that if I some day get to do this again, I will do it alone. The other guys were just in my way. In a way they made Crimson work better in 1996 than my album would have done. I can give them that much credit because they adapted it into an Edge of Sanity audience. I wanted to mess it up. I wanted people to think, ‘what the fuck are these guys doing now?’ I wanted to make a statement. I wanted to make a very progressive and different album that would be very far away from traditional death metal. Maybe it was the best that happened. But I would say that the differences are huge, and big musically because the times that you have really fast parts on this album are when an old Edge of Sanity riff is recycled. None of the new parts are death metal, really. It’s more like an aggressive form of metal with very tuned down guitars and growling vocals. It’s not really what I call death metal if you want it by the old book. A good sequel should have some things from the first movie or the first book or whatever; I wanted four or five riffs to be the same as on the first one but in a version that I stand for.
“I would like people to hear that Crimson II sounds a little bit less contrived. It sounds more well thought out and well written. I think ‘contrived’ is the perfect work to describe Crimson. We really made it; it just felt like ‘this riff is boring but hey, it’s 40 seconds long’. Whereas I cut out eight minutes of material from Crimson II because it wasn’t good enough. I would say that there are some bands in this world that would kill for those riffs that I cut out. I just wanted it to be back to back when I listen to it. A perfect album. Once you start listening from 15 minutes and listen to 25, something could work. But once you started the day listening from zero up to 40-whatever minutes, some parts at some point you started thinking ‘what are we having for dinner?’ and upps, something is wrong here; this riff doesn’t work. I even cut out one of the leads that one of the guys were recording up in Stockholm, and it killed me saying, ‘Sorry, the part doesn’t work, it has to go’. Because it made the song go from flat down straight up. ‘I wanna entertain myself and I’m not entertained. There’s nothing wrong with the lead, the problem is the rhythm part behind the lead; it doesn’t work. It doesn’t make it happen’. There was a lot of those decisions that killed me, taking away parts that I spend maybe ten hours doing, some weird programming on a synthesiser, and just cut it out brutally, with no feelings about it. Just like, ‘It doesn’t work anymore. Shit. Take it away’. That was something that could have been done with Crimson, but if I had done it the album would have been something like 10 minutes instead of 40. I wanted it to be 43 minutes of good bits, so that I do not really feel that I should cut out anything. There’s nothing I regret in the decisions I made in the arrangements. I feel like everything is absolutely perfect. It took me such a long time to decide upon the final playing time. I hope that people feel that there is a reason to everything. It’s not just like el cheapo, another contrived thing.
“Crimson II was in many ways a very dangerous project. The only way to win over a sceptical audience is to amaze them, really. To make the best possible fucking album so that they would all shut up. This far, all the people who were giving me a hard time said, ‘Sorry, you were right, this kicks ass’. That’s the greatest feeling you could have. And some of these people saying, ‘It’s not going to be like the other one’, they were in my head when I wrote this riff. ‘I’m gonna get that fucker,’ you know. ‘I’m gonna shut him up. This riff will kick his ass and there will be no other guys’, haha. There was a little bit of a revenge feeling going that really made me want to make the best. It was revenge upon the whole melodic death metal scene. It was revenge towards the other guys for doing the Cryptic album which was anti-Edge of Sanity. It was my revenge on Crimson. It was a lot of things. I just wanted to show people that this is what I can do, this is what I did in Edge of Sanity and this is my heritage. This is my contribution to the future of death metal. And we’ll see. That’s all there really is to it. I just want to bring a new generation into Edge of Sanity listening, which will happen, eventually.”
Anti or not, Cryptic’s still one helluva corker in the Entombed sect of crunchy groovefest supplemented by concise melodicity and choruses to kill for. Some of the progressive leanings that entered Swanö’s musical output since his last Edge of Sanity record, 1997’s Infernal, also made their way into a prominent position on Crimson II, affecting, and softening, the sound of the record quite considerably. The AOR-listening songwriter sees that there are clear reasons for this.
“What I have done is that I have started to re-evaluate my life a little bit. I’m thirty years old this year and I just felt that it was about time I started to be more honest to myself and to the people around me on what I am really all about musically. I’ve never been a dead-on heavy metal maniac. I’ve always really liked good, soft music. That’s really where I come from. A lot of people came from a heavy metal background and started doing other things and then go back to their roots and make heavy metal. But I go back to my roots. You find me doing Phil Collins, Genesis and really soft stuff. That’s where my roots are; that’s really my desert island kind of music. Soft rock and AOR and all that stuff. That’s my stuff. It was about time I started writing music for myself without any of the filters like, ‘What will he or they think when I release this?’, ‘It’s too soft’ and all that. So I really didn’t care if I went too soft or whatever with some parts. I know there are some things on Crimson II that would never have worked on Infernal for example. I don’t care because to me it was the ultimate section when I wrote it, I thought it was good enough to be on Crimson II. I think that the overall softness of the album is just that it is written by a 30-year-old looking back at his career of death metal but the death metal is just a little tiny spot on the musical map. My musical heritage is in very soft and melodic progressive music with 20-minute tracks, structuring, keyboards and everything. So I wanted it to sound like my death metal, being who I am, you know what I mean? I wasn’t thinking for anyone else and that’s really when the best albums come out. That’s when I do the total ego things and don’t think about what anyone in the whole world will think of it other than myself.”
On Crimson II there’s a notable portion of recycling done with some riffs and parts that were originally used on the first Crimson album. For Swanö, the effects and ideas he desired to put forward with these riffs are not uncomplicated.
“It’s hard to explain, but some of my favourite bands always do this thing that they can play a track live which is from one album and you know that there is one track on that album that they will never play live but within the solo part they take the goody bit of that song and do a bit of a medley thing. They just give you these 20 bars of that other song within the other song and the whole crowd goes berserk. They just scream, ‘yeah, it’s that part from that song, how fucking amazing!’ There were so many people telling me which part on Crimson is their favourite one when I was doing a post on my forum on the topic—everyone was like, ‘yeah, that part’. ‘The soft one that sounds a lot like a Nightingale thing, that fast one and that chunky one in the beginning, these are the ones I’m going to steal.’ And it was great because instead of going back to stealing classical themes or going for sample CD’s and pick some weird noise or whatever, I went to the master, I went to the first Crimson one. I stole a little bit of weird ambient noises here and there and I took this riff and matched it up with something new. There’s a piano part and in the background there’s a riff from Crimson and it’s just a backing thing, really. As soon as it fades up it fades down again. These tiny details. And it was just my way of having visions from the first one melted into the second because they are related; it’s the same concept but in another texture. It’s still about the girl, the tank and the end of the world if it doesn’t put her back in there. I wanted it to be connected, like a sister to the first Crimson. It’s not that I turned back to the first one and said, ‘That’s all crap’. I just felt that there are some parts that deserve to be among these other good parts.”
The lyrics for Crimson II were chosen from two possible candidates, one of them virtually unknown and the other world-famous in the progressive music scene. Swanö says he wanted the lyrics be a combination of a good concept and something that was very singable, something that instantly made his mind go, ‘Ah, this is the way I should do this vocal part’.
“It’s like when you’ve got the first line, you know all the next lines will follow. Blam. The problem I had with the first lyric was that although it was a very good lyric, it was impossible to sing. It was like reading a book; there was no syntax. It was just like 3 words, 5 words, 17 words, 1 word. It was like, ‘Uuuh, it’s going to be very progressive’. And Edge of Sanity was always about the catchy vocal lines. When I started adapting the first vocals, it was like, ‘fuck, this is not Edge of Sanity’. We have the most catchy vocal lines ever. It turned out to rap, just like talking to the music. I wanted it to be rhythmical and very catchy like in the old days. Luckily enough, my wife knows Clive Nolan very well and he wasn’t doing anything particular at the moment so he said, ‘well, I could give it a shot’. He sent me a bit of an idea of his version for it and I told him about the idea I had about the monastery, the nun and the book and all that. He said, ‘yeah, it’s a good concept. He sent me a draft of the lyrics and I immediately saw that these are the lyrics to a song, this is not like a script to a concept movie thing. This is as very lyrical as it is telling a story like Operation: Mindcrime or my other favourite theme albums. So I had to tell the horrible news to the Israeli guy; ‘Sorry, I will pick the other lyric but it was for the best’. And yet again, he was the very person who really made the whole thing start, if you look at it from a very big picture—I mean, Crimson II was pretty much invented by this Israeli guy. I had to let his lyrics go. I had to cut him off the project because it had to be the best. Even though it killed me. This is what I owe to the project and I owe to them: only the best possible. And the other lyric was the best possible. I had to go with that one. And even though Clive is a very respected person, I would have easily scrapped his lyric as well if I found something better. It was not about that. I was ruthless at the time. I was just, ‘Fuck! It has to be the best!’ Because there is only one comeback of this kind. This is my last chance.”
From the lyrics to the vocals, in the beginning the plan for Crimson II was that Dan would do only a small part of the death vocals. However, he ended up recording almost half of them.
“Originally, I was not supposed to do any growling vocals at all”, the man corrects. “It was strange really because I was doing the basic vocal recording with these other two guys that I felt would do the vocals. And everything was pretty clear that this guy would sing that part and maybe Peter Tägtgren from Hypocrisy will sing the high parts. And everything just turned itself upside down. I kept asking Roger to sing more like me and to sound like I did on Unorthodox. After a while I felt, ‘This line here, you’re not getting it right, I want it to sound like this’ and I just went up to the mic and snap, I was back in 1991. It just sounded better than ever before. The other guys were like, ‘Hey! You told us you couldn’t do it anymore’ and I was like, ‘Well, the other times I tried after recording Moontower it sounded really horrible’. But within that moment it was magic because it sounded so much like Edge of Sanity. It just kind of came back. I think it was there all the time but I was not trying hard enough. I was not stepping up to the microphone to record the vocals for an album, I was just going up there to record a scratch take or whatever. The fact that I had two fans there—it was also about showing them who’s the boss, haha. So I just went up there and everyone was like, ‘yeah, fuck, Edge of Sanity is back!’ So I just kept adding and adding my vocals and I actually re-recorded some of the other guys’ vocals. We ended up using Roger and his high-pitch voice where Peter Tägtgren should’ve been and it was just this big mess and I wanted it to be a positive mess of different but similar singing styles, so that you were not having a problem with different singers all the time but you were neither having a problem with the same singer having this monotonous sound from beginning to end. I wanted this smooth transition from one vocal style to another. To this very day I still have to point out to people that this is me singing, and that is Roger. But if they would have only me or only Roger, I’m pretty sure that it would sound stiff. The voices are too one-dimensional. So just like with a guitar, you have to change the key sometimes. This is when I change the vocalist. It’s accidental genius to have all these different voices coming in. It was splendid.”
Has your voice yet recovered from the effort you took with the vocals?
“I had a few rough days. I mean, it was clear to me why I hated it so much because when you woke up it felt really bad. Just like you had swallowed a fucking CD cover or something. It was really horrible. But you know, in the good old days I had to go back and do it again, waking up the next morning sounding twice as bad and having to do it again. It just kept snowballing and at the end you were coughing blood and you couldn’t speak for two weeks. Now I just did all the vocals, maybe 25-35 minutes worth of recording time, I rested for a while and when my voice was gone, I didn’t do it until it came back. You have an injury in your throat and if you let it heal long enough you will get back where you started. But if you don’t let it heal, you’ll only make it worse. That’s the constant pressure of being recording in the studio, having to do the vocals on Friday and also being on tour. So I would definitely say that I quite unexpectedly got back into growling. If the circumstances are right, I could see myself growling on an album in the future now that I know that I can do it. It’s just like another part of me being awake again. It’s because of the growling that you and I are talking today. It’s pretty much my key to the whole thing. So I will cherish that voice which people still believe to be one of the better in the world and they don’t do that with my clear vocals. I’m probably number 1, 051,000 on that rank while people keep telling me I’m one of the five best ever growlers and that of course is really an honour. I just feel that if I can do it good and people still like it, I will do it for as long as people relate to it. There will be a second coming of me growling, definitely.”
A staple question, sure, but if Dan had the chance to redo something on Crimson II, which aspect or part of the album would he try his hand at?
“I would like to have the lead guitars recorded in a proper way because the guys were recording them by themselves,” Swanö accounts. “They sound a little bit out of place, really. I was trying three or four days to make them fit. I wouldn’t say that it sounds bad, it just sounds so different. It’s just like trying to make a piece of black and white fit in a very colourful environment. I always had my leads, which worked perfectly within the texture to compare with. I nearly cried in despair that I had the most fantastic leads but they sounded like crap. But since that guy from Freak Kitchen bailed out on me really close to deadline, I had to beg on my very knees for them to make it at all. Otherwise I would have to cut out maybe seven or eight minutes from the album and that would have not been accepted. When I listen to it, it’s just like a little bit of hmm. But there was nothing I could do about it. I did my best and when you look back on it, there are other Edge of Sanity albums that sound like they were recorded through a pair of fucking headphones. So in comparison it still kicks ass. And that’s really what makes me forgive myself.”
NOT FAILING to take notice of the current worldwide popularity of death metal, this issue of Qvadrivivm enfolds the sub-genre in a much tighter grip than previous volumes. It’s an undeniable fact that in the early 90s Dan Swanö was one of the valiant, forward thinking figures who helped to fertilise and cross-pollinate a new variety of death metal, an inventive, stirring breed of it. He was one of those who, in a sense, brought the gently-coloured slipovers and festive Hawaii-shirts into a shrine of black leather and dodgy denim. The kind of progression he generated with Edge of Sanity may be seen as a favourable turn or a catastrophic, lamentable evolution but whichever way you look at it, independent of your chosen bias, he was undoubtedly one person who introduced death metal to a new, diverse assemblage of co-operative blends and unforeseen aides. For this reason, if not for more, it would have been screwy not to question the NWOSDM vet on the state of death metal.
“I think that what the death metal thing is has been milked out a bit,” he spits. “Death metal is always judged from the evolution just before it. You don’t really compare today’s death metal with Scream Bloody Gore, saying, ‘This is not too bad compared to the other thing’. You just take it in steps. I would say that I’m responsible for the sheeping out of the whole death metal industry. We did a lot of forbidden things with Edge of Sanity. I’ve also done a lot of things around the Moontower project, like, ‘Hey, this is traditional prog metal with death vocals’. And now they have a new element to it. A lot of bands took the mid pace with a lot of analogue keyboards and Hammonds and shit. I think your country mates Amorphis were also one of the bands who really stretched the death metal thing because they had the growling vocals and the keys and the Hammonds and the Moogs. We were like appearing on the scene at the same time with Moontower and I was amazed when I listened to Amorphis; there was another fucking band on the planet who did the same shit, haha!
“I would never call Crimson II a death metal album to the face of someone who has been there since 1984 like Paul Speckmann. I would just say that this is a pretty brutal metal album with growling vocals. I would even say that there are more vicious vocals on the fucking Billboard chart than on Crimson II. I would say that the guy from Linkin Park has one of the most brutal voices. I mean, he is screaming his black metal fucking brains out. I just love his screechy voice. And you have all these other bands with one guy screaming his head off. You have brutal growling and all these bands like Mudvayne. So it’s, like, metal. It’s chunky down-tuned guitars but I cannot say it’s the death metal that I got into. It’s got nothing to do with Leprosy. There’s just like one riff on the album that I feel is a death metal riff; it sounds a bit like Morgoth. The rest is just me-metal, haha.
“I would say that every time I get a kick out of a death metal record it’s because it sounds like something already in my record collection. And I would say that death metal is dead, really, it is. It died a long time ago. Instead of thrash or any other genre related, why was it death metal that was exploited and turned commercial? Why couldn’t it have been thrash, or some of the others, hate metal or whatever the labels they were coming up with? It’s just that death metal happened to be commercialised. Entombed and all the other bands; five good-looking guys selling more records than healthy, and they were death metal which turned metal. And all of a sudden Entombed is a death metal band because they used to be. They still are to somebody. But the stuff they’re doing now is not even close to the shit they were doing in the early 90s. That’s the same for the whole death metal industry. Once a death metal band always a death metal band even though you don’t play death metal anymore. It’s like being a porn star, haha. You’re plagued. Once a porn star always a porn star. It could be you haven’t been fucking for thirty years but you’ll still be a fucking porn star. My relation to death metal is that I’m proud of being one of the guys who explored it but someone expecting a death metal album in Crimson II, I think they’ll be horribly disappointed. Because there should be no lead guitars, keyboards, clean vocals or progressive rhythms in death metal. It should be just like Leprosy. That’s really all I have to say about that.”
Jump from the chronicles of death metal to those of Edge of Sanity. Meditating upon the recorded history of Edge of Sanity, what kind of images and recollections does Swanö’s mind catch?
“I would say that Edge of Sanity was a pretty strange time,” the man assesses. “I always like to do comparisons rather than just talk about what happened. Me and Edge of Sanity is just like this boy that lived all his life in a very protected environment, doing whatever he was doing, being a nice boy, never doing anything naughty, who all of a sudden got in touch with this other world, hanging out with friends and going to parties. Clubs, girls, booze. From one day being this guy sitting at home with his mother watching the TV to being this guy hanging out dead drunk in the streets. Just as some kind of teenage revolution kind of thing that we all go through. That was me but in a musical way. I was sitting at home playing the piano, doing the Genesis one and all of a sudden I turned into this strange death metal head, dying my hair black, growing a moustache and having these big leather clothes and spikes and going to Stockholm to hang out with Merciless and Entombed. But I was the fucking Richard Marx guy. And somehow that’s the whole thing. It’s just like I was fucking enchanted by this dark force that was kind of the counterpart of who I really was. I was a geek, you know. It was such a strange way because that’s where everything happened. That’s where I met my wife, that’s where I met some of the best friends I’ve ever had—through this subculture that just happened to me. So Edge of Sanity was the highlight of all that. It was me getting into the scene and having the ultimate high while being in Edge of Sanity around the time of Unorthodox. The rest is just a hangover, really, with a few ups and downs. From Unorthodox there was really only one way to go, and that was downhill. Then you had all the things happening with the studio, recording all these albums, and then you had some minor things. But to me it was, from that top, just, ‘I have to get out of this. This is not me anymore. I don’t want to be a part of this movement.’ Every time we released an album, basically because we had to, I got back into the whole underground feeling, talking to people like yourself writing for magazines and all the fanzines there were back then, going to the gigs and meeting the fans. And then you are someone. Actually, I am something to someone in fucking Japan or America. I am someone to someone. If I get out of this, I will just go back into being that guy who plays the piano and is no one to nobody. I’ve had this urge since I was a little kid to be somebody. And I became someone in the death metal industry. It was very hard to pull myself out of that. It took me ten years, if not more, to try to turn away from that. Ever since that day in 1988 when I first got into it, I feel pretty much now that I can recover from the death metal industry totally and just disappear and still have some credibility because now people appreciate me for whom I really am, even with my side things like Nightingale and this upcoming project, Second Sky, which will be very light. I know now that people will respect me. I will always be the ex-singer of Edge of Sanity and the producer of Dissection and Marduk but I will have to live with that. It’s something that will never go away because that’s what made me who I am today in the world of magazines, the underground, the Internet, and all that stuff. It meant the world to me a couple of years and I would not be talking to you if it weren’t for the transition I went through. I would’ve probably been an extremely boring guy working at a factory in my home town, married to some ugly chick with three kids and a dog, which is anti-me. But that is what would’ve happened if someone or something, I don’t really know, hadn’t directed me to music. Because that was the most out thing. It was a bigger chance that I would become a fucking pro football star than become a synth rocker because that is a thing that doesn’t happen very often. So I just thought I have got to get into something and I have got to do something more on the extreme, a bit like a desperate actor, so I will be known for my horror or my splatter or porn or whatever. Doing cool normal movie things will take me nowhere, being just a struggling co-guy all the time.”
Swanö admits that the lack of success Edge of Sanity faced at the crest of their performance, not growing quite as big as other Swedish hopefuls of the time being moulded out of kindred masses of clay—groups such as Dark Tranquillity, Dissection and In Flames—bugs him ‘a lot’. He has a habit of dispelling this irritation, however, by way of rationalising it to himself that it is because Edge of Sanity never toured. This is one part of the truth. Another can be derived from the record label they were on.
“If Edge of Sanity had been on Nuclear Blast and we would have toured like fucking maniacs, we would’ve been equally big with the other guys,” he claims. “But we never did. We were playing it safe. We didn’t do the touring, we didn’t really do any proper gigging around the time we could have been big. We made all the gigging around the first album, which nobody really cared about anyway. And Black Mark wasn’t really a solid label in reaching out to the kids. We were on the wrong label at the wrong time. So I would say that lucky them. I still believe there are some really good songwriting made by some of these other bands like In Flames and Dissection. I would say there is something about these other bands that makes them more a band for a girl or boy to really dig and buy the t-shirt and the poster. Edge of Sanity was more of an art form compared to these other bands. We were experimenting more. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed these outcast bands. I’ve never really been big on the big bands, you know, like Iron Maiden. I always liked the unknown bands from Canada and these strange countries. They sounded a bit like the bigger ones but they were more progressive or the other way around. That’s really where I came from. And I realised what a fucking pain it is to do a 60-day tour with no days off and being on a label like Nuclear Blast or Earache or any other big label where they were thinking of you as a machine. ‘You can go on tour and you can make a new record now, you can do this, you can go to that TV show. You have to fly to America and back, that doesn’t matter.’ I felt that fuck that. Let me be in the underground. Let me be that guy that someone will dig up and follow in fifty years’ time, wondering, ‘Why didn’t he make it big? Why is he this underground ghost phenomenon that has this link to all these fantastic albums but never made it with his own band?’ Because there are so many like that. And I just felt that that is good enough for me because I’m a lazy bastard and I don’t want to do all that fucking crappy shit really to be playing live to more people or making more money because that’s not really what it’s all about when it comes down to it.”
At one point, Swanö did think of having a stab at the big league with Edge of Sanity. That, coincidentally, would have happened with Cryptic, which was an album he never played on. Shortly after the release of Infernal the man had an encounter with Black Mark where they told him that in the future it would be the rest of the band performing under the title Edge of Sanity, not Swanö. He says he has never really forgot Black Mark about making that decision.
“It was a custody fight over who gets the name. The jury, in this case Black Mark, showed to go easily with the other guys. They said they had to, because of a contract, but to me that’s bullshit because if they would’ve fought a battle for me, it would have been as easy as telling the other four guys, ‘Here’s a few thousand crowns, go out and get stoned’. They would have let go of Edge of Sanity at that time, but because they were not really fighting to get the name, it was just that Black Mark showed to work with them because they were four. I don’t really, to this day, know why they did it but when I ask them they say, ‘It was because of legal reasons’. I say, ‘That’s fucking bullshit, there are no legal reasons for what could have been a really hugely successful band on your label turning into something that just kind of died’. The Cryptic album was a huge flop. I know that if I could have done the album myself, at that time, it would have been a different beast to Crimson II. It would have kicked ass and it would have made Edge of Sanity into a real functioning unit with touring and everything. I was planning on making it fulltime, doing like Therion and other guys were doing at the time. But they totally kicked out my legs underneath me and I just fell. It took from around April to October for me to recover. That summer was hell because I lost the studio and I lost Edge of Sanity. The studio was a choice I made but at that time, knowing that I had lost both of these things that had been a part of my life for a very long time, since the late eighties, they were all gone. I had a new job as a salesman. I went to talk to stupid people about strings and crap. I just wanted to be a death metal rock star but I was really going to have to struggle now to get the recognition. Then you release a perfect solo album that I am so proud of, and nobody gives a fuck. It just kept poking me in the eye. And then Nightingale, nothing happens. It wasn’t until Bloodbath that I finally got some recognition, and that’s because the other three guys happen to be pretty big, heh.”
Do you think there’ll be anything you’ll miss from Edge of Sanity now that it ceases to exist?
“Since I’ve been pretty much kicked out of Edge of Sanity since 1997 I’ve already gone through all the mourning period. I would just say that this is just like re-uniting with the love of your life, from one standpoint, to a magical weekend and then say goodbye forever. It’s just like the last time you were separating you were arguing and you have both been walking this earth pretty much wanting to have this ending in a nice way. You both knew when you were together that this is the last time, this is never going to happen again, and you made sure to make the most out of it and let all the emotions from the big thing, just concentrate on this short period of time and then have the guts to say farewell forever. This is what’s happening now. So for me this is like the real funeral. Evolution was a fake funeral, it was something I tried to make as my funeral, but it only stirred up feelings of incompleteness, that I kind of gave in one more time and accepted that the other guys have the Edge of Sanity that should be remembered. But I just wanted it do be this way. I just wanted to feel that this is the music to be played at the fucking funeral, not Cryptic.”
At the very point of conducting the interview, when the heap of gravel has yet to hit Edge of Sanity’s coffin, Swanö, living up to his reputation as a frantic musical mastermind who never stops expanding his CV, already has a number of imminent projects living off his vivid compositional energies.
“I’m already working like a maniac on the Second Sky project, which is me,” he tells. “If you look at it from one angle, it’s my first album ever. It’s really the kind of music I wrote in my room at the piano when I was a geek. It’s like a time machine; I’m going back to 1986-87. ‘What if none of this would ever have happened?’ This is the album that would have come out eventually. It’s fantastic, it’s like meeting an old friend, getting back into the right grooves again, like ‘This is me, this is really fucking me’. When you take apart that entire ‘Wanna be a star, wanna be in a mag’ thing, that’s the essence of me, my main writing. And all the melodies will be the same; you’ll hear the Edge of Sanity traces. There are really traces of the Second Sky project in Edge of Sanity. It’s really all coming out from the same source, but this will be the source at its purest form. This will be the maximum taste. And some people will hate it. They will fucking totally not like it. But it’s going to be my music; it’s going to be very atmospheric and emotional. Not very commercial. But it’s not that I think any of the songs couldn’t be massive hit singles, it’s not that it’s non-commercial and strange. It’s just that they’re not written to be commercial hit singles, but they all could be. They have that strength; they’re all magic songs to me. I’ve been nursing some of these ideas since 1996. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m also preparing a lot of additional studio work; I’m going to play drums on an album with this Roger guy who did the vocals for Crimson II and it sounds like Death’s Leprosy, which is very nice. And I’m going to help one Swedish prog metal band and do a bit of fixing and tricksing with the drum sound just like I did with Katatonia on their last one. Just to get my foot back into the studio world again. I’m always writing for Nightingale, I always find riffs and ideas. ‘Oh, that could be an album title or that could be a song title or that is a cool line’. So it’s not like I sit down and write for Nightingale. Nightingale is more my only real band now. That’s my whole world. But it being my whole world means that I have to take a lot of breaks from it. It’s like, ‘There is an important message here: Second Sky, leave everything in your life, now. Tuff!’ And I sit there in a trance. But that moment leaves very soon and then I will have to go back to my structured life. It’s just like I can be at work, supposed to pick up a phone call, and all of a sudden I just have to sit down by the piano. My mind has been working on it. Ding! I’m ready, play me! Bam! And then it comes out. It might be three chords but these three chords are good enough to build a song. They have the secret in them. That’s the kind of shit that used to happen to me when I was at factory school and came home and sat by the piano. And I’m so ever thankful that this has come back. That kind of writing has not been a part of the death metal thing, it has all been very constructed. This is the magic thing. The songs are there. In order for them to come I cannot just sit and wait for them. I have to live and do other things and that’s why the Nightingale project is around the clock, trying and fixing and tricksing. All of a sudden I get interrupted by the Second Sky ideas. As soon as they are there, there will be an album. There will be another Nightingale album and some additional work, and I will work a bit on my web site and do some web design to hopefully have that one out some time, realistically around Christmas, but we will see. I want this web page to be a smash. It’s a bit like with the Crimson II feeling. There’s no reason for it to be there if it’s not a killer.”