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Disappointment? A subject that doom metal bands may write about, but it shouldn’t be felt by the listener about the music itself. But that’s exactly what happened when I first listened to Swallow the Sun’s fifth album. More specifically I thought ‘what happened?’
Just to make it clear, I don’t think this album is a complete flop it’s just not as good as albums they’ve put out before. My main concern is that it’s just too damn soft in places. Take the second song on the album ‘This Cut Is The Deepest’ for example. Clean vocals only, acoustic guitars and a melodic, flowing, heavy-ish kind of atmosphere. It sounds a bit like where they were going with the ‘New Moon’ song from the last album, but where that song had a strong, catchy and emotional chorus this song just floats around never really going anywhere with no hooks to speak of. This is similar to the opening epic title track that is a bit of a formless mess; its quiet moments mixed with heaviness just don’t seem to hit home like this band’s prior songs. Opening with two duds is a serious problem for this album, and the cause of my initial concern on first listen.
Luckily the third track picks things up: Hate, Lead the Way is a vicious song, with black metal style vocals and a churning melodic structure mixed with heavy guitars – a classic STS track basically and the best song on the album. Interestingly the shorter songs seem to be the best on this album – maybe STS want to head in a Katatonia type direction and make their sound more accessible. A song like ‘Cathedral Walls’ with its additional vocals from the Nightwish singer could suggest this, but I don’t know how well STS would fare without their heavy doom moments, stripped down to rock song type structures and vocals. Not well, I think. The track ‘Labyrinth of London’ proves that STS can still write brilliant mini-epics, equal parts extreme and lushly melodic, showing that in writing this type of song is where their strengths really lie.
Additionally, the vocals of Mikko Kotamaki are brilliant, as usual. He has always been one of STS’s key assets due to his mastery of multiple styles and voices; he alternatively uses monstrous death vocals, raspy black ones and clean singing and in doing so adds a lot of unique characters to the songs. The guitars, bass and drums are all fine and well played, creating the cavernous heaviness, but it’s the keyboards that really push things forward, making the songs sound huge with STS’s trademark melodic doom sound.
It pains me to have to give a Swallow the Sun album a less than amazing score, because I am a huge fan, but ‘Emerald Forest and the Blackbird’ just isn’t up there with their best work. It has some good songs and some poor ones but overall it is their slightly softer and more ethereal sound that trips them up. That’s a matter of opinion of course, some will love it, but to someone new to the band I would say forget this album and look to their back catalogue for some much better stuff. I personally will hope for some greater work from this normally amazing band in the future.
Originally written for: http://hauntingtheobscure.blogspot.co.uk/