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.

Share →
  • Such a brilliant album.

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      Objective truth.

      • PanzerFistDominatrix

        Alternative fact…

  • Subterranean

    Worst cover for the best album.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      I like the cover, actually. The execution could have been a little better but it’s intricate and unique. I’ve seen much much worse around these parts…

      • Wilhelm

        Duncan C. Storr is the artist, most known for doing most of the Skyclad albums. It’s a different style than Necrolord, but I like it too.

  • El_Cuervo

    Granted I’ve only given this a thrice over but as is I prefer Crimson II and Purgatory Afterglow. I’ll need to spend more time with it.

    • Ferrous Beuller


      • El_Cuervo

        dick face

        • Ferrous Beuller

          I know you are, you said you are…

  • Diego Molero

    Nothing more to add, this article says it all. I’m just going to go and listen to the album, again.

  • Reese Burns

    When I was first getting into metal, I had this album described to me as prog metal, and I dismissed it, thinking it was going to be more of the same dreary shlop as what Dream Theater have been pumping out. I still can’t remember what it was that made me check this album out years later, but boy I’m glad I did. I’ve been a loyal acolyte in the Church of Swanölogy ever since.

  • AgonMcDuck

    Holy hell, this is two decades old already? Man do I feel even older now.

    I prefer Purgatory Afterglow ever so slightly but damn. Great albums, great band, great man. Dan Swano is a force of nature.

  • seasonsinthesky

    Brilliance all around. Hopefully it gets properly reissued on vinyl without the fade ins and outs that plague the Crim I/II double LP.

    • tomasjacobi

      I’ve heard that Black Mark Productions are completely unresponsive to license requests, so it might be a while before that happens…

      • seasonsinthesky

        Understandably. They only have Swäno and Bathory to make them any money. They’ll press that shit ’til the end of time.

        • tomasjacobi

          Sure, but they seem to be clueless about how to do a proper pressing (or a digital version for that matter; the download/streaming version also has those fades). It would be better if they licensed the rights to a label who knows how to do a proper vinyl pressing…

          • seasonsinthesky

            In full agreement. I’ve heard nothing but bad things about BMP vinyl. We’re lucky they do non-picture discs and put Twilight of the Gods on a 2xLP at this point.

    • ScaleTheInferno

      How’s the mastering on the vinyl cuts?

      • seasonsinthesky

        Nothing bad to report on the actual sound of it. It’s the dipshit fades that ruin the listening experience. Plus with Swanö doing dedicated mixes and masters for vinyl of his new stuff, I don’t doubt this was optimized too, as much as a 1996 death metal mix can be.

  • The Nerd.

    One of the greatest albums Swano has ever done.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I’ve had it for years and really like it but for some reason or another I’ve never listened to it completely in one sitting. I always end up stopping somewhere near the end or middle and then either start again or scroble through to near where I left off.
    It’s kinda frustrating!

  • Dagoth_RAC

    I discovered the name Dan Swano via his production on early Opeth albums and his guest vocals on some mid-90s Therion albums. I really enjoyed his voice and was able to find a local copy of Crimson. I *loved* it. I then ended up buying more of the Edge of Sanity catalog (like Spectral Sorrows, Purgatory Afterglow, and Unorthodox) via Black Mark mail order. At rather inflated FX rates and shipping costs. I think I had to mail them “International Postal Money Orders” or something like that because their website did not have credit card processing at the time. But it was totally worth it. Dan was the man!

  • Chris

    Words cannot fully express how much I love this album. Sheer perfection from start to finish.

    Oddly, I never really warmed to Crimson II.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Definitely a masterpiece. I always thought of like a metal version of King Crimson’s “In the court of the Crimson King.”

  • Treble Yell

    Purgatory Afterglow is my personal favourite but this is still incredible. If anyone’s interested in other single-song albums, check out Light of Day, Day of Darkness by Green Carnation. Not perfect but when it works few things reach its heights.

    • gerard espinosa

      Though I still prefer “Crimson”, you are absolutely right with Green Carnation. Sadly and unlike Mr. Swano, they never did something as brilliant as “LoD,DoD”

  • LExpoZiod

    The album that started it all for me. I owe my love of heavy metal to this album and for that, it will always be one of my favourites.

  • I tried many times to get into Purgatory Afterglow and failed, but Crimson just nailed it hard. I do enjoy Crimson II as well but Crimson is where it’s at. Just brilliant from start to finish

  • Wilhelm

    I never found this amazing, not compared to other death metal classics. I always thought it was solid album, but a little overrated…then again, I’ll have to go back and listen to it to see if my opinion has changed. Swano is a god though.

  • Kill The King

    Love his solo album, Moontower.

  • Shrümpelstiltskin

    Crimson is the best. I am really not a fan of one song albums, but Crimson I can get through with ease.

    • GardensTale

      I don’t love them by definition, but Thick as a Brick is pretty amazing too, and IMO can stand alongside Aqualung as the two best things Tull ever did.

  • Matt North

    Think I’ll be pumping this into my ear-holes later.

  • Wojtek

    Truly one of the best albums ever made in metal… I remember listening to this (and Moontower) and thinking that the dude who’s behind it must be mad in all the good ways. Even if I like Dan’s newer works, this is still IT. A masterpiece.

  • Innit Bartender

    OK, I’ll make a point!

    • GardensTale

      Let us know what you think!

  • BernBern17

    Dan Swano makes me feel like a lesser man

  • Solaire

    As much as I love this album, I think Crimson II is better.

  • MPS

    Even though Crimson is a good album it’s seriously no match for Spectral Sorrows and Purgatory Afterglow. We’re talking about Death Metal masterpieces here. And now I need to listen them immediately…

    • Jeffrey Dean

      Holy crap! An Eaglesoft avatar. Now that’s some cult stuff!

  • basshole

    Stone cold classic. New metal? Lol, rather spin this again for the 2,343rd time.

  • jersey devil

    I never listened to this before! Outstanding.

  • Axel Cholewa

    Saw them live in Hamburg on the Crimson tour. It was awesome how they split up Crimson, mixing it in with their other material and still creating the feeling of one big whole! They played a medley with parts of Crimson, Purgatory, Spectral Sorrow and Unothrodox… it was a blast!

  • I remember buying this at Hegewisch Records in Calumet City, IL my senior year of high school. I bought it because the album art looked cool and I liked the name. There was no internet back then to turn me onto this stuff. I randomly bought a CD and it ended up being this! And who says you can’t judge a book by it’s cover?!?! I realize that this Crimson is considered a classic, but I liked the followup, nearly as much!

  • Sacrifist

    I had the same experience with Opeth’s ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’. I was just adjusting to In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and the like, and I had seen Opeth mentioned many times on metal sites and in IRC chats.

    At first the album seemed like an ordeal, but it wasn’t long before I was craving more. We all have our watershed (pun not intended) moment.