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Nothing but Death Remains (1991)
 
 

Released by Black Mark Productions in July 1991, Nothing but Death Remains is the first L.P. from Sweden's Edge of Sanity. The music on this record is nothing more and nothing less than pure, horror-inspired Swedish Death Metal. It is often ignored in favour of such albums as Left Hand Path, Dark Recollections, Into the Grave and so on, but it definitely has a place amongst such classics and is an essential record.

There was a time when I, myself, fell into the same trap and disregarded this record after a few months of listening to it. The first track, "Tales...". was of course a staple of the Swedish Death Metal mix tape that I kept in my car (among many others), but I rarely came back to the album as a whole. Then, upon discovering The Spectral Sorrows, I wrote this one off for some time. It was only later that those more melodic elements wore thin and I found myself yearning for the pure death feeling of the first L.P. Nothing but Death Remains is characterized by a primitive approach and maintains a barbaric feeling throughout. The faster sections are played with intensity and a sense of urgency. These guys were definitely feeling it and not just phoning it in as so many bands have done. Just listen to the fast break near the beginning of "The Dead", for example. Here, one can really feel the forcefulness of the music making your heart feel as if it will burst from your chest. There is a variation in tempo that helps the songs come to life, with every part fitting together very well. Everything is influenced by the old school bands of the late '80s, such as Death, Pestilence and Morbid Angel. Still, there is also the more European tendency to include epic and evil doom riffs that do so well to create a darker atmosphere. As well, there is some tasteful use of synth during some of the slower parts, accentuating the feeling of horror, such as in "Maze of Existence" or the aforementioned monster of a song, "Tales...".

"You can't live forever,
But can you be dead forever?
No!!....."

Some have criticized Swanö's vocals for being generic, but he actually has a good sound on this record. He doesn't just seem like some guy puking on a mic, his growls are roaring and powerful at times, though somehow... undead, in a way. As if there is a level of decomposition that prevents him from always fully emitting the sounds that he is attempting, and it works perfectly with this material. The lyrics are obsessed with death and darkness, as one would expect, but with a very virulent hatred for humanity and Christian nonsense. Several of the tracks depict the hypocrisy of this religion of idiocy and express a good deal of anger toward the Great Lie.

Regarding the production aspect of this aspect, it leaves a bit to be desired. The guitars have a good sound, overall, but do not possess a similar tone to their peers. Only with the following releases would Edge of Sanity go on to adopt something more akin to the typical Sunlight guitar tone. And while there is no real problem with not sounding like the others, the job here was not necessarily so competent. There are times when the volume sort of drops out, something one would expect from a demo rather than a studio album. The bass frequencies are a bit overbearing, as well, which was something that was going on in a lot of Death Metal at the time, but just seems a little overdone.

Nothing but Death Remains is solid, old school Death Metal in its purest form. It is full of intensity and atmosphere and memorable riffs and vocals. Though there could be minor improvements, there really is no reason to dwell on them. This is the masterpiece of the Edge of Sanity discography, not the progressive and melodic pretentiousness that came later. I vomit upon the nostalgia that clouded my mind some years back, when reviewing The Spectral Sorrows. While it's a good record, this is the one true essential piece of music from this band. It is highly recommended!
 
(10 Feb. 2016)

 
 

Edge of Sanity's sophomore effort, Unorthodox, was released in July 1992 and is considered by Dan Swanö to be his masterpiece. While some of the material is quite strong, this album is definitely inferior to its predecessor. Its running time of nearly one hour is far too long for a Death Metal album, as well, making it a bit much to sink one's teeth into. It should not be dismissed, entirely, but do not approach this with high expectations.

First impressions are often very important and is the main reason why most bands want to start out their albums with one of the strongest tracks they have. However, Unorthodox does not put its best foot forward. Rather, Swanö chose to open the record with a criminal act for Death Metal. Not even a minute into the first proper song, "Enigma", everything calms down and there is this hideous segment with clean vocals. This brief part serves to kill the small bit of momentum that was building, as well as the goodwill from the previous album. For me, it was immensely off-putting and left me with less interest in the rest of the tracks. I don't care about the story or concept of the song, there is no excuse for a Death Metal album to feature some melodic voice singing, "God gives you shelter at heaven's shore, abandon your thoughts to the mighty"... Upon first hearing this, I began wondering if Swanö had converted to Christianity in the time since the last album. Though the rest of the song is quite good, it was just difficult to get back into things, following that atrocious detour.

As for the rest of the material, there is a small amount of decent songwriting on here. Right off, one will notice the 'improvement' in production, though it probably does more of a disservice to than anything. This time around, Tomas Skogberg was brought in to assist, and the music is a bit more powerful and less muddy. It actually borders on being a little too clear and well-produced. Songs like "In the Veins/Through the Black" and "Everlasting" stand out, slightly, but mostly for the melodic additions that were to be further explored on the following record. As well, the dark and barbaric feeling of Nothing but Death Remains is completely absent from such uplifting and optimistic-sounding riffs as can be found in "After Afterlife". Some of the tracks seem like pure filler, for the most part; "Nocturnal", "A Curfew for the Damned" and "Cold Sun", in particular. The latter was on the right path, until being derailed by unnecessary groove sections. Throughout the record, there are pretty good Death Metal riffs, along with some doomier ones, but they're often used to bridge one melodic section with the next, rather than being the prime focus of the compositions.

However, all is not lost. The more pure tracks are those like "Incipience to the Butchery" (despite the worthless breakdown in the middle), "Beyond the Unknown" and "The Day of Maturity". The latter two mix intense, fast-paced assaults with slower riffs that give rise to an eerie sensation. These, more or less, hearken back to the more primal feeling of the debut L.P. There are traces of synth, adding a kind of horror effect, as in the past. "Dead but Dreaming" is also a pretty good track, at least attempting to create a darker feel as the album reaches the end. In this case, the melodic ending works alright since it leads into the next song.

"When All Is Said" is the best track on this album, by far. It's slow, melancholic and possesses a similar vibe to some of the Death/Doom that was beginning to emerge concurrently. Had Swanö opted for this sort of style throughout, Unorthodox might have been a much better record. The sorrowful atmosphere created by this song would be very suitable as someone lay bleeding to death in the darkness. There is a sense of finality, appropriately enough. The riffs are oppressively crushing and there are bits of synth that accentuate the mournful vibe. It almost feels like a funeral procession, to an extent.

On the whole, Unorthodox is a tedious endeavour. The pure and crushing Death Metal of the previous album is here replaced with too many melodic and so-called progressive elements. It ends up turning into a convoluted mess, for the most part. Even the better tracks fail to match up to such songs as "Tales...", "Decepted by the Cross" and "The Dead". Nonetheless, "When All Is Said" is a brilliant track and is worth the trouble of obtaining this album.
 
(21 Feb. 2016)

 
 

Dan Swanö has created quite a musical legacy in the underground, over the past couple of decades, and it all goes back to Edge of Sanity. While not as well-known as some other Swedish Death Metal bands, such as Entombed, Dismember and Grave, Edge of Sanity still released some quality material in the early-'90s, before fading into mediocrity and then obscurity. The band's third studio effort, The Spectral Sorrows, was released in November 1993 and may be the true highlight of their discography.

This album eluded me for quite some time, not that I put that much effort into finding it. I had obtained the first Edge of Sanity album, Nothing But Death Remains, back in high school but it failed to make a great impression on me. It was a solid offering of old school Death Metal, yet it did not seem to draw me well enough to warrant seeking out more. Some years later, during my first visit to Sweden, I ran across Unorthodox and The Spectral Sorrows in a Stockholm record shop. The latter was, by far, the more impressive of the two and managed to spend a lot of time in my stereo, alongside Necrophobic's The Nocturnal Silence.

Recorded in Unisound / Hellspawn Studios, this was produced by Dan Swanö and shows that his skills are much more appropriate for Death Metal. Rather than the flimsy jobs given to Marduk and Dark Funeral, among others, this album has a strong production that suits the music quite well. It is odd to think that only two years separate this from the first record, as the sound quality has vastly improved. There are no random drops in volume and the instruments are quite clear and easy to follow, without being overdone and sterile. The guitar tone is fairly thick and heavy, capable of crushing your skull right in. The drums are a little lower in the mix than one might expect, at times, but this is a good thing and only serves to place more emphasis on the guitar riffs. The production also worked well to connect each song, remaining consistent enough for the varying material to be tied together, so to speak.

As for the songwriting, itself, there is a lot of variation present on The Spectral Sorrows. There is a solid foundation of old school Death Metal; however, Dan had worked with so many different bands that he was clearly becoming bored and it shows on this record. Though the core remains the same, this album is much more melodic than its predecessors, which can be heard in nearly every song. In most cases, this has to do with the guitar melodies, such as the tremolo riffs in "Darkday" and "The Masque". Even songs that seem more traditional and primitive progress to become more introspective and involved, such as the way "Livin' Hell" slows down and features riffs that are more akin to Doom than Death Metal. This continues on tracks like "Lost" and "Across the Fields of Forever", which are more slow-paced and expand on the sombre atmosphere touched on by other songs. "On the Other Side" takes this a step further with the inclusion of truly despondent clean vocals, near the end. Even the intro and outro carry a rather melancholy feeling. "Waiting to Die" feels a little generic, compared to the rest, but is still decent enough to earn its place among the rest. For the most part, this album does really well to mix all of these elements together in creating the band's masterpiece.

Unfortunately, there are some things that do not seem to fit in quite as well as the rest. They don't exactly drag the album down, all that much, but they may be a little difficult for some listeners to digest. The Manowar cover, "Blood of My Enemies", is done really well and is far more listenable than the original. Dan uses clean vocals for this song, which was probably the right choice once deciding to record it. Other than that, the song sort of fits in where it is, and doesn't possess an atmosphere that is really at odds with the surrounding songs. The song that is most shocking has to be "Sacrificed", which is a complete departure from Death Metal of any kind. This song sounds like Dan's tribute to Goth Rock like Sisters of Mercy or The Cure, and that is exactly what it sounds like. As crazy as it may sound, he pulls it off about as well as possible and it is atmospherically consistent with the rest of the album, as it maintains somewhat of a depressive feeling. "Feedin' the Charlatan" is probably the one tune that fits in the least, strangely enough, with terrible vocals by Andreas Axelsson (which is odd, considering that he did such a great job on Marduk's Dark Endless).

In the end, The Spectral Sorrows is a very solid album and is likely the best that Edge of Sanity ever recorded. There is a bit of experimentation, to be sure, but it is more than countered by the large amount of high quality material that is found here. It features a good balance, while not getting overly progressive as the band would later do. This is likely to appeal to fans of old school Swedish Death Metal just as much as to those that prefer a bit of a melodic edge to things. The dark and mournful atmosphere may even make this attractive to fans of Black and Doom Metal, and the multitude of memorable riffs will have you returning for countless repeat plays. This has easily stood the test of time and is far superior to most that have tried to follow suit with a similar style.
 
(3 Sept. 2012)
















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