Dan Swanö. The name won’t mean much to the public at large. “Sounds Swedish,” some might say. “Is he an IKEA designer?” You facepalm, shake your head and move on. But sometimes, every now and then, you find yourself opposite another discerning metal listener. You drop the name, and a knowing smile spreads on their face. Because they know. They know that Dan is The Man. They know about his work producing some of the best sounding records in metal. They know of Witherscape, not just receiving, but absolutely earning record of the month here just last year. They know of Pan.Thy.Monium, Nightingale, Moontower and his (possibly several hundred) other projects. And they know of Edge of Sanity, and thus of Crimson, their quintessential album and crowning achievement.
To avoid preaching only to the choir, let me briefly expand on what Crimson is. Much like Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick and last year’s Winter’s Gate by Insomnium, Crimson is an album consisting of a single song. 40 minutes of continuous music is practically what progressive rock was invented for, and one could say that Edge of Sanity finalized their transformation from their death metal beginnings to their prog-death peak with this record (others might say it was this album’s predecessor, Purgatory Afterglow, but that’s splitting hairs.) Besides the brilliant songwriting, the album is kept cohesive with a post-apocalyptic story about an infertile Earth and a messianic princess corrupted by evil forces. It has battles with demons, soul-imprisoning stasis chambers, ritual mass-suicide and the whole thing is filled with grandeur and epic horror.
But the album is a triumph in songwriting much more so than in storytelling. The tale is merely a backbone for a series of spot-on melodic riffs, atmospheric and acoustic interludes and outstanding solos. Whereas Winter’s Gate had 8 distinct sections across the album, Crimson is truly one song. It cleverly plays with the concept of verses, choruses and bridges to instill a sense of familiarity by returning to some melodies a few times and leveraging other passages, recognizable but unique in the running time, to make each spin rewarding. Highlights dot the album and provide a sense of buildup and climax, coinciding with the story and smithing the two together inseparably. The king’s lament over his queen takes the form of crunching death/doom before morphing into a blackened torrent and is an early highlight, but it’s the Jonestown-type ceremony that takes the cake, writhing through ominous funeral doom and pummeling, crushing blasts before the aftermath culminates in an unholy roar that reverberates for an eternity.
The record has plenty of such powerful moments in a variety of styles. That it all meshes together is thanks to the songwriting, but the performances help all these styles sound fluid and natural. The rhythm section utilizes a dual guitar attack, contributing to a fairly unique sound along with the slightly distorted bass of Anders Lindberg. A combination that results in a maelstrom of sound, with Dan taking the forefront on lead guitar, keyboards, and most significantly, his full-throated growl which I still count among the best in metal. Later on Crimson II he would use a slight reverb on the vocal track, and was hard to understand as a consequence, but the story comes across loud and clear here. None other than Mike Åkerfeldt (Opeth) joins the proceedings to provide the black metal shrieks and some solos. The production is as you should expect from Dan Swanö – warm, dynamic and with an attractive bit of fuzz. In other words, excellent as well as bespoke for the material.
I discovered Crimson in high school. I had only started listening to metal intensively two or three years before, and though I had gotten into the loud and growled stuff at that point, I had never even heard of a 40 minute death metal song, let alone considered how it could feasibly be done. Boy, was I in for a ride. For several weeks I barely listened to anything else. I loved the way the dark story was used to guide the music, which strengthened and emphasized the plot in turn. I was in awe over Dan’s vocals, the intricate structure of the songwriting, the great solos and the swirling, pounding rhythm guitars. By proving my skepticism wrong, Crimson has been a major force in my musical development for over a decade now. It helped me branch out into more progressive music and learn to appreciate the concept album. My tastes have grown wider and deeper, and though this record is not the only cause of that, its influence is incontrovertible. If you’ve somehow missed Crimson these past 2 decades, make it a point to change that. You just might find yourself ensnared.