Spectral melodies and a tad of experimentation
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I’m not sure how well Edge of Sanity’s early records were received back in the early 90’s, but one thing should be rather obvious: Edge of Sanity never came close to the vigor aggression of early Entombed, Dismember and so on. While Nothing but Dead Remains was pretty much a so-so death metal effort, the aptly titled Unorthodox saw Edge of Sanity head towards a more progressive direction with mixed results. But by the time The Spectral Sorrows came out, things changed for the absolute best; this resulted in an adventurous album that maintained a healthy balance between Swedish death metal grit, pre-Gothenburg melodicism and a progressive approach to songwriting.
After an eerie introduction that sets the tone of the record, ‘’Darkday’’ immediately storms onward like a tornado with its forceful, yet melodic riffing. The break is intense and sees the eerie keys making their presence known around the cryptic guitar lines – it’s not until the last minute where one finally gets the chance to catch his/her breath. For a while it seems that The Spectral Sorrows completely lives up to its name, but I just wish it did entirely, as some tracks one stumbles upon later sound rather out of place. ‘’Blood on My Enemies’’ is a Manowar cover that isn’t exactly fun (why bother trying if you have to adjust the vocal lines?) while the catchy gothic rocker ‘’Sacrificed’’ at least features Swanö more in his element. Yet the worst surprise of all is ‘’Feedin’’ the Charlatan’’, which features some of the most horrible vocals that I can think of. They’re either a dry-throated shouts or angsty clean vocals that are just as awful. Clearly there’s a weird side to The Spectral Sorrows; these aforementioned tracks feel more like EP material.
Weird tracks aside – The Spectral Sorrows highly succeeds at blending early Swedish death metal with a (for the time at least) modern twist. Something like of ‘’The Masque’’ flirts with some Maiden-esque riffing and has its emphasis in some groove-y verses, yet you wouldn’t mistake this track for any death’n roll or a melodic death metal track; it’s still death metal at its core but definitely something more out of the box for its time. ‘’Jesus Cries’’ does come close to the melodic death metal territory with those humming leads presenting its chorus, yet the track still has an edge to it; let’s just say that it has more in common with Desultory than that of early In Flames. Only ”Waiting to Die” still vaguely resembles some of early Entombed‘s rhythmic groove and it’s just too much of a by-the-numbers kind of track. Not bad by all means… but hardly spectacular when compared to the more melodic and progressive numbers that appear on The Spectral Sorrows.
One of death metal’s great byproducts is its ability to stimulate one’s imagination and to me The Spectral Sorrows is yet one of albums that does this rather well. ‘’Across the Fields of Forever’’ resembles the abstract landscape of the cover artwork. It’s a fantastic song with an uncanny feeling to it and funny enough its uplifting guitar solo brings to mind the vocal melody of Uriah Heep’s ‘’July Morning’’ – out of all bands! The aforementioned ‘’Jesus Cries’’ is another vivid number; from the dramatic chorus roars to the upbeat march that resembles a gathering crowd to witness the horrors that unfolds during the tortured ending, it’s absolutely superb. While The Spectral Sorrows is obviously full of splendid guitar riffs, compositions also benefit from the occasional help of keys and guitar leads. ‘’On the other Side’’ becomes a bit more hopeful by the time those shimmering keys break the tension that was earlier presented through the busy riffing and that melancholy ending wouldn’t be as impressive if it weren’t for Swanö’s masculine croons and those Aeternus-esque folky leads.
The Spectral Sorrows might not be an ideal gateway record as far as Swedish death metal goes, but it should probably please who are already familiar with the Swedish essentials and yearn for something somewhat similar in style yet differently executed.
Release date: November 1993
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