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The title of Swallow the Sun's third studio offering is a paradox. The album, titled Hope, is anything but hopeful. It is an album of despair, melancholy and ache; a piece so emotional it may very well cause emotional people to tear up. This may not be the Finnish band's heaviest record to date, but what it lacks in pure heaviness it certainly more than makes up for in melody and sheer beauty. Do not be fooled, Hope is a very heavy record, but just like Swedish progressive metal masters Opeth, Swallow the Sun manages to be heavy and at the same time produce melodies that range from captivating to touching.
The album starts out in a pretty similar fashion to Ghosts of Loss. Hope is a song that starts out with clean guitars accompanying Mikko Kotamaki's clean vocals and then going into a heavier riff accented by his deep growl. The entire song keeps recreating the pace of the band's previous offering, which might misguide first-time listeners to feel a sense of Déjà vu, even though the song sounds considerably different and is much shorter than the appropriately-named The Giant. This feeling is immediately mitigated by the following tune, These Hours of Despair, which marks the shift towards the more melodic emotional impact that's the theme of this album. The beginning might lead you to think this is a relatively fast-paced song as it starts with a pretty intense riff and double-bass drumming which might remind listeners of Novembers Doom's latest, The Novella Reservoir. However, the song swiftly surprises us with a hypnotizing guitar riff so brilliantly simple the mind boggles; it's just one palm-muted note repeated several times in a rhythmic fashion, accented by the drums and excellent keyboard work – the entire song has a sort of hypnotic feel to it. From here on, the album just keeps getting more melancholic and impressive. The Justice of Suffering incorporates Katatonia leadman Johan Renkse's clean vocals in another chorus that encourages the eyes to close and the mind to lose itself in this sea of beauty. While Renkse's vocals are indeed excellent, they also overshadow Kotamaki's clean vocals, which often sound a little off-key.
These three opening tracks set the stage and once they're done listeners should know they're in for quite a ride. Hope isn't much of an album made of entire memorable songs, it's more of an album that consists of really memorable moments. Each and every song on it is spectacularly, marvelously moving with just enough of the emotional impact that a melodic doom/death band should create. However, it's the small moments that make each song memorable on its own. For example, on the album closer, Doomed to Walk the Earth, there are very subtle-yet-powerful female operatic vocals in the background of what is quite possibly the band's darkest song to date. Another good example of it is a song called The Empty Skies. This song, in my humble opinion, is the band's best, most-versatile song ever. The main melody in this song is moving to the point where it might interrupt whatever you might be doing while listening to it. As amazing as it is, it's not the main melody that gives the song such a punch. It's not even the ever-changing, almost progressive feel it creates with some excellent vocals and riffing. It's a moment of buildup where the song prepares the listeners, as if telling them to look out for the emotional punch it is about to deliver. And it does deliver. This portion of the song, played between the 04:10 and the 05:58 marks is one of my favorite musical moments of all time. It's really that powerful, words cannot really describe it.
The production on this masterpiece is excellent. The band has developed a certain sound that's instantly recognizable and fixed some of the problems that were apparent on previous albums, like a deep, unbalanced sound that understates the music. This time the instruments are well-balanced and none of them overshadow the others. Whether it's the drums, guitars, keyboards, bass or Kotamaki's vocals, everything is given exactly the accent it needs and the entire sound of the album benefits as a result. Speaking of Kotamaki's vocals, thankfully his varied growl is put to awesome use on Hope. One of the things that bothered me on the band's two previous outings is that the growls were pretty monotonous and there was a sort of squeak to them that occasionally turned me off. These problems were addressed here – he uses both his deep, menacing gurgle and his high-pitched, almost black-metal-ish screams, sometimes at the same time to create a powerful, demonic menace. There's no squeaking at all and the lyrics are easy enough to make out. As stated above, his clean vocals are still a bit off, though this isn't bothersome one bit.
Once the album is done and the room fills with silence, it's hard to fault Hope for anything, really. It's an album at least as powerful as a well-made drama, packed with emotional moments that will have the listener, as said, hypnotized for 57 minutes and even longer if you decide to purchase the special edition, which includes a Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus cover called These Low Lands [originally Alavilla mailla]) that comes with a complete translation to English. Either way, Hope is a marvelous record that should be owned by any fan of doom metal or melodic metal in general. This is definitely one of the, if not the, best doom metal album of 2007 and a successful step forward for the band that also marks its best creation so far. This album really has me pumped up for whatever material the band will release in the future, but they're going to have their work cut out for them – this titan is going to be a true challenge to surpass.