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Dan Swanö – Moontower (1998)

After Edge of Sanity’s albums and work on recording other bands’ albums in his studio, Dan Swanö made a solo album that he apparently described as “If Rush played death metal in the 1970s” (Wikipedia). This album Moontower is a unique creation. It’s a progressive fest filled with interesting riffs and passages, oozing of Dan Swanö’s creative mind. The albums starts with a synth heavy riff, accompanied by a groovy guitar riff. This really sets the mood of the album from the start. For the uninitiated I think Moontower is a very puzzling album, there are so many things you don’t really hear in combination.

A lot of synths and harsh vocals are not something you hear on every metal album. Therefore it’s probably that can put people off, those who don’t like growl or the metalhead that doesn’t want synth based songs. For those who can tolerate or even appreciate this unlikely combination, will hear an unique album that keeps on engaging the listener throughout the album.

I can’t understate how unique this album is. The songs are unique but cohesive. I have been listening to Moontower for well over 10 years, and it’s one of those albums that I always go back to. I can’t really describe why, but the energy and grooviness of all songs are so gripping. The melodic aspects incorporated in the songs absolutely one of the more noteworthy aspects of the album, ranging to excited to absolutely stunningly beautiful.

The album is a mix of death metal, 70’s progressive rock (Rush, Yes, Genesis), and 80’s rock guitar solos. Something that only Dan Swanö can weave together into an masterpiece. With Swanö playing all instruments himself makes everything have its own calculated place in each song.

I can’t really rank the tracks, since the albums should be experienced in order. I recommend it with all of heart. It’s very influential in my own perception of music, possibly making me picky when it comes to what I like and don’t. It scratches my progressive music itch as well as my death metal itch.

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Entombed – Wolverine Blues (1993)

There are few albums that have done so much for a genre than Wolverine Blues. It redefined what death metal could be, just a few years after its inception. With LG Petrov (R.I.P) back on vocals, the album is generally slower than Left Hand Path. It also changed a lot of other aspects than just the tempo of the songs. I would explain Wolverine Blues as a groovy album, especially the titular track.

For me the standout tracks are Eyemaster, Rotten Soil, Wolverine Blues, Demon, Blood Song and Out of Hand. They define what Entombed are going forward, heavy, groovy without losing anything from their legacy from Left Hand Path, just building on it. This being said, there are many more strong tracks.

LG Petrov’s less guttural vocals introduced in Wolverine Blues became a Entombed staple. It gives the songs a personality that a lot of other death metal bands miss since the voice is more distorted. No one can hear Petrov’s vocals and not hear it’s him and Entombed.

The heaviness in tthe tracks are elevated by the drumming, that varies from very heavy to more fleeting ride heavy sections, which adds to the grooviness in the album. They also let the music breathe, and not making a wall of sound for 30 minutes like some black metal bands from around the same time, creating a dynamic sound unique for the time. This said, they accomplish this without sacrificing anything from their past.

Wolverine Blues is so iconic and so versatile that you hear ingredients for other genres that Entombed don’t identify as. This is what the album is doing so well, making something that is so clearly death metal, but not alienating people that don’t see themselves solely as death metal heads. There is something so everyone, bluesy riffs and solos, heavy slow riffs for the doom enthusiast etc. As a progressive metal fan I hear riff that could’ve been found in songs by Dan Swanö, like the opening riff in Blood Song.

I can’t do anything but to recommend this album for pretty much anyone that wants a solid listen and a lesson in Swedish death metal history.

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Motoi Sakuraba – Gikyokuonsou (1991)

If anyone said that my most listened album the first half of 2020 would be japanese keyboard-based progressive rock with a lot of jazz influences I would’ve scoffed and continued with my day. The reality is however that, Motoi Sakuraba’s album Gikyokuonsou has been my steady companion to and from work a lot this year.

Motoi Sakurba being my favourite video game composer after enthralling me with the music for game franchises like Golden Sun, Star Ocean and Tales of. His unique style that always flirts with progressive rock has always caught my ear since it always challenges the listener. Having playing some of the games that he has composed for gives me an interesting insight in his “newer” stuff, making this record even more appealing since it’s older than any of the OST’s of his that I have listened to. Being released in 1990 it’s evident that he writes music that he likes even in the games he composes for. There are a lot of similar ideas and phrases on Gikyokuonsou and the games.

Starting with the positive sounding and bouncy Humpty Dumpty which opens like it would be an epic sci-fi theme. That illusion is quickly over and the main theme is presented. Quirkier theme is hard to find, but it’s son catchy and the track cements Gikyokuonsou as a progressive rock album. There are also some very dramatic parts, and a solo that reminds me of solos of the swedish prog movement during the seventies. The following part does however throw that likness out the windows and continues on with more traditional prog rock.

Following the quirky Humpty Dumpty, we have the rockier Tone Access, which almost sounds a bit like Deep Purple meet oriental notes. This can probably be argued to be the heaviest of the eight tracks. Most of the tracks all have a very serious sounding atmosphere that get resolved into something more playful. A solid track. The main theme is by far my favorite part of the song.

The next track Byzantium, reminds me more of solos by prog keyboard virtuosos like Jordan Rudess and Rick Wakeman, followed by a lots of chromaticism. The solos are accompanied by playful drums and the very heavy bass that can also be found in many themes in the Golden Sun games. Every song is an adventures of there own, being extremely varied, but still coherent. The way Motoi plays with chords being suspended then resolved into a new chord is very pleasant to listen to.

Motion is the albums marathon track, clocking in at over 8 minutes. It is some of the more jazzy-sounding songs, with a large portions of the song in a more traditional trio setting, grand piano, bass and drums, instead of synths. With parts that reminds me of bossa nova and other parts that rely heavy of chromaticism this makes for a very entertaining track. Unfortunately for me, it is also the track that contains the most keyboard masturbation solos, where it’s mostly show-off passages, that to be is less interesting than the more jammy nature of the rest of the songs. The catchy parts of the song are very catchy and it’s worth multiple listens. It it however, not one of my favourite track.

That title is earned, but not one, not two, but three tracks in a row, making the later half of the record my favourite. The trio of song are Paradigm, Narratage and Scrap and Build. The opening song of these three is the track that I would say sound the most like a possible video game song, possibly a fighting theme, with great energy in the more active parts. There is also a pretty weird, but cool slower solo part. It’s a bit out of place. It does however very contrast the main theme perfectly giving it extra impact when reintroducing the main bit, making the slower part a great addition to the song.

Narratage is a beautiful track, the introreminds me of ballads by power metalband like Sonata Arctica, it does however transition to a beautiful piano piece with a very nice active bass that complements the piano perfectly. Narratage does, like Paradigm, also have a clear video game music quality, which in my ears are a always welcome. The bass has some very nice descending parts, which makes this an outstanding tunes. The theme that’s introducing in the latter part of the song, is a very simple but extremely effective piano line, which surprised me a bit the first time. One of my favourite tracks for sure.

Now to the track that made me react so much that I had to send it to my father to listen to (he never listened to it though). As a bass player this is a very awesome track. The bass doesn’t just complement the rest of the song, it lives in a parallel world as the drums and the keyboard and creates a tension to the other instruments without feeling out of place. As with the two latest tracks, this also has the video game quality to it. Again boss music vibes. With tempo changes, polyrhythm and signature changes, this is the most progressive song of the bunch. There are also very jazz-inspired sections in Scrap and Build.

Closing the album is Drama Composition, a track with a lot of synth action going on. The heavy bass that I know Sakaruba for is also present, very rythmic and accent heavy. The atmosphere in Drama Composition is a very good way to end the album. The main theme of the song really benefits from its use of octave notes that really elevated the theme. The end is very abrupt, which is a bit sad, but it’s quite effective.