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Emerald Forest and the Blackbird is the fifth full length album from Finnish melodic death/doom metal band Swallow the Sun. There are 10 songs here, totaling about 67 minutes. It is an album that will surely divide fans, as overall this is quite the departure from previous works. Some will call this a sellout album, the songs are mainstream sounding, or something along those lines. But if you keep an open mind, there is plenty to enjoy. If you are like me, you may find this album to be just as epic as their other records.
This is the band’s most melodic outing. There are acoustic guitars, 3 songs with female vocals, and most songs contain a lot of clean/acoustic guitar playing with Mikko Kotamaki singing as opposed to growling/screaming. A prime example of the new sound is the ballad This Cut is the Deepest. That is not to say that the trademark heaviness is not to be found however. Even the black metal influences that first appeared on New Moon have returned, i.e.- Hate, Lead the Way. Overall the songs contain a mix of the two sounds, for instance Of Death and Corruption, a song with clean verses and heavy choruses (as a side note, that song contains a really ripping guitar solo).
Featured on two songs is Aleah Stanbridge, who previously sang on Lights on the Lake (she has a side project with Juha Raivio called Trees of Eternity. Good stuff, check it out). She provides a vocal melody for the opening song, which is the title track. In my opinion one of the best songs on the album, it flows from one section to another to create an epic masterpiece. The other is the fourth part in the Horror series, a song called Labyrinth of London. She sings the chorus with Mikko. It is quite different than the other parts of the saga, and is a very solid track. The other guest is Anette Olzon, of Nightwish. She provides the chorus on Cathedral Walls, the first single. She gives a beautiful performance. The song was an excellent choice, as it is a good example of all the elements found on the album.
In terms of the sound, the production is stellar, overall clean/bright sounding. Every instrument has a clear tone and a good place in the mix (one could argue the bass’ presence, but that is a debate for every album ever made). The guitars have their usual (by that I mean awesome) crunchy distortion and clean tones. The acoustic guitars have a rich sound. Kai Hahto uses his new Pearl Reference Pure drum kit, and it sounds superb, as do the cymbals. The keyboards are amongst the best sounding I’ve heard from Aleksi Munter.
For performances, everyone puts out their A game. The standout member being Mikko. His singing is really strong here. And of course his extreme vocals are as good as ever. Aleksi tries some new stuff with his keyboard work, and it sounds excellent.
The album cover and cd booklet art are good. I really dig the illustrations and colour schemes. There aren’t any pictures of the band members though.
To summarize, Swallow the Sun went in a new direction here and succeeded, thanks to the always genius songwriting and some really good performances. Metallica and Morbid Angel could learn a lesson from these guys. My only complaint with the album is that the lyrics aren’t quite as good as previous albums, but otherwise, this is brilliant stuff. I can’t stop listening to it.