Dan Swanö on STEEL, the Short-Lived Supergroup With Members of Opeth and Edge of Sanity

Steel was a short-lived supergroup formed by members of Opeth and Edge of Sanity during the Morningrise sessions in early 1996. Eschewing both sides’ penchants for progressive death metal, Steel was an exercise in both traditional metal rippers and cock rock balladry. Featuring an unprecedented falsetto vocal performance by Dan Swanö and lighter-raising guitar wizardry by Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt (as well as stellar performances from rhythm section Peter Lindgren and Anders Nordin), Steel’s 1996 demo cassette was an underground rarity until it was finally released by Near Dark Productions as a picture disc 7-inch in 1998 under the name Heavy Metal Machine. We had Swanö sit down with us to tell the full Steel story.

The whole idea was born when me and the drummer from Opeth at the time [Anders Nordin] and Mikael [Åkerfeldt], we were in a pizzeria in Örebro where the album was recorded. We just finished what I thought might be the drum sounds for Morningrise and I just threw an idea that since we had four weeks, maybe we could take the time to record a bunch of rhythm guitars and bass on top of the drums to hear if they survive when there is a wall of sound thrown at them.

We discussed trying pieces of songs atop them, which would have made sense to record an actual Opeth song, but we were not sensible at the time, so we came up with the idea of recording something else for fun since we had the time. What should we do? I thought about this style of music that at the time of recording, which was 1996 in March or April. What is the most out style of music at the time? We started throwing stuff around and came to the conclusion that a heavy metal band that sounds a bit like a cross between [Accept’s] “Fast as a Shark” and [Judas Priest’s] “Freewheel Burning” – that is the most out style of music ever. You would probably get shot if you played that style at the time. We were laughing our brains out, like sneezing pizza out of our noses we were laughing so hard. Fuck, let’s form this band! We recorded a minute of a song called “Guitars and Metal” and I did this wailing style of singing. I remember the lyrics of the chorus being like “Guitars and metal, you’re going to die! We’re the soldiers of steel!” or something like that. What if we called the band Steel? That would be fun.

It was supposed to be a one-off, but for some reason we did a cassette copy, like a rough mix with guitars, bass, and my singing, and, of course, drums, and kind of forgot about it. Then we were invited to a party with some friends of Peter [Lindgren]’s, and for some reason that Steel song got played on the hostess’ hi-fi system. Everyone laughed their brains out because it was so out, like stuff they heard in 1986. It was funny to hear me sing Steeeeeeel! The more people got drunk, the more they listened to that fucking song. I must have heard it 500 times that evening. Of course, me and Mike and Anders felt we were onto something. Maybe we could do a full demo in this funny style, give people more or laugh about it. This is like Spinal Tap funny, after all.

We booked some studio time later that year. It’s on the Unisound homepage – we have the guestbook that you can download. There is the Steel recording and the Opeth recordings if you want to get the timeline correct to the month. We started recording the “Rock Tonite” song and Mike had that opening riff that sounded kind of like Judas Priest around Screaming for Vengeance. Then I think we wrote the ballad [“Say Goodbye (to Love)”] and that was more of a cock rock song, and then I wrote “Heavy Metal Machine” that was more like “Freewheel Burning” and “Fast as a Shark.” I secretly loved that stuff. I was going through a phase of Riot, Screaming…, and so on. I have no real trend limitations to what I like… I think the only time I liked what I liked when I liked it was the death metal thing, otherwise I was 10 years early or 10 years too late with stuff [laughs].

All said and done, we recorded these three songs and I will never forget how completely broken I was. My stomach hurt, my throat hurt, my brain hurt from this nonstop falsetto. I had done it a little bit on Diabolical Masquerade on the first album. It’s this kind of style, you know? Let’s just do that.

I mixed it and “the guys” were all there, and then we went to another party with that same crowd as before. We wanted to surprise them with the Steel demo.

“Remember the last time? Steel?”
STEEL!” everyone replied.

And we played it for everyone and the vibe died. We were laughing our asses off. Total musician humor. It was too good, it could have been a record from 1986. It wasn’t funny to them, but it was! It was Spinal Tap funny! Nobody did this type of music. That kind of died a little bit with the reception from that party crowd. After that, Steel was funny and we had our copies, and then HammerFall happened, and god forbid that anyone had thought we had heard HammerFall and thought, “This style is coming back! Let’s take the members of Opeth and Edge of Sanity and make a HammerFall style demo!” That just wasn’t going to happen, especially since in these days we couldn’t really say it wasn’t the case. There wasn’t the Internet or magazines who took interest in us so when the rumor spread, we couldn’t deny it in a good way, so we buried Steel for a very long time, at least until some Swedish label wanted to do a 7-inch picture disc. I thought “Oh, what the fuck, you know?” Who would care now? I finally have that one and it’s still on the wall in my office [laughs].

That’s it! That’s how Steel ended. There’s this Dutch label who has been trying to release it on vinyl for the past 10 years. I think Opeth’s management is pretty keen on burying it for some reason. It’s on YouTube! It’s out there! Then there is the idea that you should monetize it… I’ve been asked if I could put it on Bandcamp and… [grumbles]. You get into who wrote what or another. I could easily release Steel and donate all the money to cancer research or something, but that’s not the case. I don’t want to deal with contracts and money. Like I said, it’s on YouTube – listen to it there. It’s not like no one’s ever heard it. [Edit: It would appear that Vic Records will be reissuing the Heavy Metal Machine EP after all!]

I was in a lot of bands, but nothing which sounded anything like Heavy Metal Machine. Maybe the band Icarus I was in after the band Ghost [Writer’s note: not the Ghost you’re thinking of]. That melodic, hard rock, Swedish style. It was good to finally have done it once.

Dictated by Dan Swanö, transcribed by Jon Rosenthal