Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Long Hundred 010/100: Dan Swanö - Moontower which a Swedish death metal OG let his prog rock predilections run wild.

I had a bit of a Dan Swanö fixation when I was nineteen years old. Between Edge of Sanity, Nightingale, Pan-Thy-Monium and Infestdead, I probably spent more time investigating Swanö than any other songwriter. With his numerous projects that crossed from genre to genre - sometimes within a single band (or song!), he was a pioneer and visionary unlike any other in death metal.

Even then, there was a segment of the rapidly dwindling death metal scene who preferred their music to be as straight-forward and unchallenging (for both musician and listener) as possible. But Swanö, who had made a career out of bucking conventions, was clearly not one of those people; from the forty minute, single song concept album Crimson to the shameless goth/pop of "Black Tears", Swanö forced fans out of their comfort zone.

I loved Moontower when I first heard it, and still do. There's really nothing like it. A prog metal concept album that combines moog keyboards with guttural vocals shouldn't work, and yet this does.  And with Edge of Sanity splintering into separate factions, Moontower was a better follow-up to the ambitious Crimson album than its actual sequel, since it was written when Swanö was at his best as a songwriter.

Like Amorphis (who also dabbled in the moog and organs starting with Tales From The Thousand Lakes), when Swanö crossed into progressive and psychedelic music, he brought his fans along with him - including this one. Swanö provided as good an introduction to the eccentricities of prog as a death metal fan could get.

Of course, the biggest proponents of prog-metal in the late Nineties were fellow Swedes (and Swanö protégés) Opeth. Opeth, with their raspy vocals and folky riffs, appealed to black metal fans in a way that Swanö never did - and black metal was the "it" thing in those days. Death metal (especially the kind that Swanö helped pioneer) didn't have the same kind of cachet, and other than die-hard Edge of Sanity fans, Moontower was mostly overlooked.

It's worth noting that shortly after he released Moontower, Swanö helped found Bloodbath, inadvertently setting in motion the old school Swedish death metal revival. By the time that happened, though, it seemed Swanö was done with the style. He's been in a few metal bands since then, but is largely busy these days as a producer and engineer.

True innovators are hard to find in death metal; the vast majority of bands seem as content to recycle Death, Morbid Angel, and Entombed as I am to stick with the originals. I'm currently in the middle of a deep dive into prog and kraut rock, which has given me a new appreciation for Moontower. It's probably still too out there for most metalheads, and too heavy for fans of the Seventies prog that inspired it. As someone with a soft spot for challenging and idiosyncratic music, I couldn't have asked for a better example of progressive death metal, or a better stepping stone to the moog-obsessed world I'm exploring now.

In Empty Phrases

The Angelic Process -
Weighing Souls With Sand