WORDS: James Weaver & Perran Helyes
Finnish melodic death/doom act SWALLOW THE SUN have never quite reached the same commercial success in comparison to some of their fellow countrymen. Whilst the band have consistently stuck to their blend of melodic death metal and doom, it has resulted in the Finnish sextet being cherished in metal’s global underground network. 2015 marks the band’s most ambitious musical endeavour to date, with the band opting for a triple album to truly offer their dynamic sound across one epic listening experience. With such an ambitious aim, room for error is not affordable, is this triple album by SWALLOW THE SUN worth the time?
Songs From The North I is very much an overall display of the sound SWALLOW THE SUN have been fine tuning across their 15 year career. Opening with With You Came the Whole of the World’s Tears is perfectly titled to demonstrate the emotive force of the band. Huge doom driven riffs pound the ear drums whilst Mikko Kotamäki‘s bellowing growls acutely display enough sorrow combined with aggression it keeps to the band’s traditional musical style. Whilst the majority of doom metal bands opt for sheer intensity with their musical execution, SWALLOW THE SUN blend a transition of power to melody with absolute ease. Easily the standout moment of the first record is Heartstrings Shattering, a track that features an isolated guitar, subtle orchestration from Aleksi Munter and soft female vocals before roaring into a chorus that truly pulls on the heartstrings. A fitting title for the track indeed.
From the punch of Silhouettes to the acoustic and soft spoken vocals of The Memory of Light, Songs From The North I is an overall display of what this band aim to do with their music. With the first record in the Songs of the North trilogy clocking in at around an hour, it is perhaps surprising that the record doesn’t drag. With a sheer variety of musical elements taking centre stage throughout the record’s duration, it sets the trilogy off in fine tradition with a record that truly captures what the band’s message is. A musical experience jam-packed with despair and laced with melody. It’s a difficult trait to accomplish but with such precision and quality, Songs From The North I is a fine entry into the chapter of records from SWALLOW THE SUN.
From the atmospheric closure of From Happiness to Dust, Songs From The North II shifts the sound in quite dynamic fashion. The second entry in the trilogy from SWALLOW THE SUN bears host to the band’s acoustic experience with an almost entirely unplugged album. With such a shift in sound, one would assume that the shift would rupture the transition but in fact, Songs From The North II does the complete opposite. The transition From Happiness to Dust into opening track The Womb of Winter is so smooth, you’d assume it is the same track. The opener sets the emotive mood from the first strikes of the piano, solemn and alone. This second record is emotionally overwhelming with the band taking a huge focus towards isolated bass, piano and the subtle cleans of Mikko Kotamäki.
Away swings with melody with soft drumming from Kai Hahto and intricate rhythm that entangles you in the sorrow of the band’s music, Pray For The Winds To Come demonstrates some of Juha Raivio and Markus Jämsen‘s most emotionally powerful guitar playing to date. It’s an incredibly moving track that really captures the band’s vision for displaying sorrow and isolation through music. It’s quite astonishing really just how powerful Songs From The North II is without the reliance on heavy guitars and harsh vocals. By the time the record passes the half way mark and the title track of the trilogy unfolds, you will be emotionally drained. With Songs From The North I balancing the melody and power on a fine scale, Songs From The North II does not hold back with it’s soul-sapping energy. It’s a very dark album with lyrical themes of true human loss and tragedy, balanced with such beauty that it really makes it to difficult to put into words. With each record of the Songs From The North trilogy focusing on contrasting musical aspects of SWALLOW THE SUN, Songs From The North II is perhaps the biggest surprise. It is a record of astonishingly powerful and emotive characteristics that will move you from the first note to the last closing melody.
Much like the previous disc, the third chapter of Songs From The North sees SWALLOW THE SUN pushing one aspect of their usual sound to the utmost extreme. Where II indulges their mellow acoustic side, III plunges them the furthest into snail’s pace happiness-swallowing funeral doom they’ve ever gone. It’s always accounted for parts of what they’ve made their trade and it is after all a Finnish musical tradition, from SHAPE OF DESPAIR back to SKEPTICISM right through to THERGOTHON’s genre-pioneering Stream from the Heavens, and in a year which has seen the former two of those bands return to critical acclaim along with modern torch-bearers such as AHAB, SWALLOW THE SUN’s foray is a strong stab at standing out. Fitting just five tracks into over fifty minutes it’s obvious that SWALLOW THE SUN are really going for it with their love letter to all things despondent, the shortest song of the five still longer than all but a single track from the preceding two discs. It is indeed tremendously weighty.
The Gathering of Black Moths spews forth like molten rock, a genuine seismic shift of a track with Kotamäki at his most inhuman. The tremolo melodies exhibited on tracks like Silhouettes on the first disc are retained here but tortuously stretched and contorted to fill the upper echelons (see the vastly powerful climax of Empires of Loneliness as the painstaking work the band have put into building the song pays off with these leads suddenly erupting out of the gloom tearing past above booming double bass on one of the faster moments of the record) along with a range of extra instrumentation such as horns while the oppressive riffing dominates the lower range and allows every strummed chord to impact deep in the gut.
As always with doom of this type it’s the bleak emptiness between each cascade of hopeless anguish that often proves essential, which on a track like 7 Hours Late SWALLOW THE SUN seem to have mastered, and for chord progressions so slow they accomplish the difficult task of making them memorable like the forceful rhythms of closer The Clouds Prepare for Battle. The aforementioned shortest track Abandoned by the Light coming in at a mere eight minutes fourty-eight seconds(!) proves a highlight, still having more than enough room for the misery within to be fleshed out as some of the most heart-wrenching melodies on the whole triple album segue into delicate piano sections before Kotamäki’s roar returns to snuff out any light that may have been allowed to bloom. Perhaps even more so than the previous disc III works on its own as a single release, as SWALLOW THE SUN’s ability to brew up a vast environment easy to lose yourself within its caverns doesn’t falter.
Songs From The North I, II, III is out now via Century Media Records.