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I'm a bit surprised Finland's Swallow the Sun isn't a better known band by this point. There was a fair amount of buzz surrounding them when they released their first couple albums, but the momentum has seemed to dwindle over the years. The band has always released solid efforts, melodic driving doom metal with a mix of blackish/death vocals and a lot of atmosphere to propel the bleak emotions into the listener.
New Moon is their 4th album, and offers little in the way of groundbreaking material, but it's yet another consistent album which should satisfy fans of the better produced melodic death/doom. Think Shape of Despair, but a little more up-tempo and exciting, with a use of clean and harsh vocals, acoustics and keyboards to create meandering forays into the night. Most of the tracks range from 5-7 minutes in length, and there is enough happening to avoid boredom, though the slow pace and simplicity of the melodies can begin to grate if you're not in the mood. A few of the tracks that stood out most to me were "Lights on the Lake", with its superb, restrained use of female vocals, and excellent use of melody; "Sleepless Swans", a glorious crusher with some simmering organs haunting just the edge of perception; and "Servant of Sorrow", a crushing doom cruise which recalls the best of a band like Yearning or Isole:
'Too late to leave, blinded by the last light
Too far, too late, too deep
To escape from the hands of this night
Winter has our hearts, it finally tore us apart'
New Moon boasts a steady, top of the line production standard and it's big, sad, stories should draw upon the strings of sorrow in any fan of the bands I mentioned elsewhere in this review, in addition to Opeth, mid-period Katatonia, and the like. It's a pleasant listen, though it fails to evoke any true feelings of despair and doom.
Highlights: Lights on the Lake, Sleepless swans, Servant of Sorrow
The best way of describing this album I have read (and I think it's in one of these reviews somewhere) is that it is 'less sinister'.. it's hard to explain. If the metaphorical hearse has been speeding up starting with the lumbering giant that was "Ghosts of Loss" it certainly has reached top speed on this album. The pace has certainly picked up and it carries on more in the vein of "Plague of Butterflies" than "Hope" or anything before it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just different. It's certainly not brooding like previous works, but just about every song can hold its own fairly well. There are no stand out tracks to batter you relentlessly with doom and death like "Doomed to Walk the Earth," and the songs don't quite have the epicly mournful feel of a song like "The Giant," but they are all at least decent.
It seems they are moving more towards an artistic dark feel at this point. There is more melodic with less death and less doom. They never really have done the same thing from CD to CD so this seems like a fairly logical progression from Hope, which the primary difference again being that New Moon is more lacking on the thick doom. For a new fan or a fan venturing over from a different genre other than doom this may likely be the most accessible CD in their discography to date. If you are looking for some more brooding, depressing doom I would say start on another title. As a long time fan this is definitely not a disappointing release or route for them to go, but I would be concerned if they ventured much further down this road on upcoming releases. Solid, but not their best.
Finnish melodic deathly doomsters Swallow the Sun come with album number four and no recent lack of promotional backing in an attempt to square their name alongside one of the legends of their (sub-)genre Katatonia who also have a new album out at almost exactly the same time. I'm reading that StS' new record does indeed share its' title with the new 'Twilight' movie but given I know nothing, and care even less, about that franchise I'm going to gloss over any potential similarities or coincidences that may or may not exist between the two products and go straight in for how well the more metal of the two comes across.
In what could also be construed as an excuse for lazy journalism "New Moon" is one of those albums that bears immediate and strong relation to it's influences and contemporaries right from the first listen, which from these a newbie to the world of Swallow the Sun could make a strong assumption of how the band sound without so much as hearing a note of music. The recipe of a more melodic and cleaner StS than ever before relies upon a mixture of Katatonia, Opeth, My Dying Bride, Paradise Lose and Novembers Doom - it's doomy and gloomy all right, but as would be noted by a fan of older albums like "Hope" and "Ghosts of Loss" not as sinister as the band once were.
"New Moon", aside from being an album with clear Katatonia-isms to it also takes StS down the same road the Swedes have travelled in recent years, just a few stops behind. Whilst however Katatonia have gone too far for my liking, StS nail the dual needs for 'melancholy' and 'heavy' well, shown in a number of songs like the "These Woods Breathe Evil", "...And Heavens Cried Blood" and the excellent "Lights On The Lake (Horror pt. III)". "Lights..." it is that shows the greatest experimentation in nature due to the incorporation of the gorgeously fragile vocals of a lady named only as Aleah and a more developed song structure than any other. Showing an Opeth-ian tendency for wandering vast territories "Lights..." mixes Aleah's gentle vocals against a backdrop of raging, screaming black metal terror before getting the return bus all the way home again in a tune that feels significantly greater than it's eight allotted minutes.
Mikko Kotamäki utilises his sophisticated downbeat clean vocal frequently in the chorus of the title-track among others, moments evidential of where StS are likely to head on future releases. I feel it is these sections that will be the making or breaking of the band in the catchy, rising-to-a-peak formula that is becoming a greater part of their writing tendency, which being the realist I am is a sign of the band looking to expand their sound to grab the growing audience for some of the other acts I've mentioned thus far. That said, such choruses do make for an infectious and largely enjoyable listen.
The overall package here is one of utmost competency and dedication and symptomatic of a band that are on the upwards curve. The artwork contained within is sumptuous, the production is clear, layered and distinctly audible and the performance of no individual member can be rightfully dismissed, yet however I feel it is because of all of everything mentioned rather than a truly great album in this instance that will see Swallow the Sun's profile continue to rise. After many listens I have grown to like a number of songs but I must ask myself, does the album as a whole feature quite the delicate balance of melancholy and riffage that have made certain My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost or Katatonia releases the classics that they are? And the answer to that sadly is just a little bit short of 'no'.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
At first I didn't make the connection. I am not one to follow trends, so I didn't know what the new Twilight movie was called. Yes, it's embarrassing to have a Death/Doom album named after the chick flick of the century, but it would be more embarrassing to ignore a great album based only on the fact that it has a ridiculous name (think carcass). That is all I will say about the 'New Moon' issue.
Now, onto the album. The first thing that needs to be said is that the sound is different. I choose to attribute this change of sound to new drummer Kai Hahto, who is now the main drummer in two of my favourite bands (ever heard of Wintersun?). With him, he brings his black metal-ish attitude into a Swallow the Sun that had only played with the idea. We must recall that Mikko Kotamäki is the lead singer in Alghazanth (a pretty epic melodic black metal band) and both Aleksi Munter and Matti Honkonen have been part of black metal bands. Yet it is with the addition of a prominent extreme metal drummer that this band finally dared to introduce their black metal influences in significant quantities. We are graced with dark, evil riffs, melodic yet unsettling, that create a tense atmosphere. Mikko also resorts to a much more regular use of his black metal screams, which are nothing but pure awesome. In the last track, Weight of the world, we even hear a blast beat introduced for a few moments.
After hearing the change between the obviously death metal oriented Hope to a much more doomy release in Plague of Butterflies, I'm sure many fans expected New Moon to be an album that continues to demonstrate Swallow the Sun's path to maturity. I think Swallow the Sun has finally managed to carve a niche for themselves in which they can claim to be the best. Previous albums showed a lack of creativity from the guitar parts and clean vocals that were merely acceptable. Both of these problems have been eliminated for the release. When it comes to guitars, riffs are abundant and varied, and will always keep you on your toes. How the guitarists were suddenly overcome with a wave of creativity, I don't know, but I say thank you anyway.
The vocals deserve a separate paragraph in and of themselves. First, I have to say that I have always considered Mikko's deep growls as one of the best in Death Metal. They manage to have brutality, but also passion. And they are so incredibly deep! As I mentioned above, Mikko's black metal vocals are top notch as well (please listen to Alghazanth, you'll thank me later). So what about the clean vocals? Has he finally been able to pull off the 'singing' part of this band? The answer is yes and no, but both in a good way. The yes is that, for the singing choruses, the vocals are miles ahead of what they were in Hope, and somewhat superior to Plague of Butterflies. I have had the chorus for New Moon stuck in my head for about a week now. The no part comes when we see that the singing is performed less often, and the growls have an even larger part in this album than before. I think this is a good choice - if something sounds good, keep doing it. But a last addition to the vocal performance is the female vocals that appear every now and then in the background. They add a refreshing melodic feeling to the band without making the sound any less heavy, and I hope they keep the female vocalist for future releases as well.
But the reason I give this album such a high review is not based on the individual performance of the members or on the comparison to previous releases. The reason I gave this album a high review is because it achieves something that very few albums can. This is the kind of album that you don't just listen to, you experience it. It surrounds you and you can lose yourself in it. Please listen to this album, it will make your day (maybe even your week).
Highlights: This is the kind of album that you need to listen to from beginning to end. Still, if I were to mention the tracks that really stand out, they would be: "These Woods Breathe Evil", "Falling World", "New Moon" and "Weight of the Dead". The rest of the album is just as good as these songs, but these were the ones that stood out to me most during my first listen.
So, Swallow the Sun has come back with a new album called New Moon. Firstly, I sincerely hope that the name, which is the same as the name of that piece of shit that is calling itself a movie, is a pure coincidence. But, be it so or not, the name of the album fits very well, since this really marks a new era in StS’s music.
There has been some changes in their music as well as in their lineup, as Pasanen quit on the drums and they recruited Hahto, who filled in during their US tour in 2007 due to Pasanen’s work problems. Hahto clearly is a skilled drummer (familiar from bands like Rotten Sound and Wintersun among others), so it was a pleasant surprise finding his name on the artist page.
The album kick starts with “These Woods Breathe Evil”, and one is instantly introduced to the new sound of StS. The biggest change is probably Kotamäki’s vocals, which has been diversified. Already on their Plague of Butterflies EP, we could hear hints of black metalish vocals from his side, but on New Moon, he really has given them space, which gives way to a much more varied listening experience. Also, you’ll notice pretty soon, that the vocals are not only death growls or black vocals, but Kotamäki’s also using clean vocals much more than on their earlier works.
I don’t know whether they’re trying to get on the lists or what (well, spot number ten on finnish charts), but songs like “Falling World” and “New Moon” really is a different StS than the one I came to love. With mostly clean vocals and midtempo, they remind me more and more of post-2000 Amorphis, namely Silent Waters and Skyforger, than of Hope-era Sts. While Kotamäki’s vocals sounds really good, it’s not what I was anticipating, at all. It’ll be interesting to see them live, to see how he manages those clean vocals on stage.
The most interesting song on the album is probably the third part of the Horror-saga, “Lights on the Lake”, a doom masterpiece clocking in at almost eight minutes. It has guest vocals performed by a woman named Aleah. Her voice suits the song perfectly, as she whispers in the beginning, bringing goosebumps all over me. This is the first song on the album that manages to capture the feeling I was waiting for. The song contains everything – beautiful guest vocals, death growls, black shrieks, awesome keyboard melodies and even blastbeating. There’s a really fast paced passage in the song, where Hahto shows his skills. It sounds stupid, being on a doom album, but it actually fits really the song really good. At times, it almost feels like you’re listening to Catamenia.
If I can judge correctly, the tempo has also changed slightly, if you compare this to earlier works of theirs – there’s no almost silent passages in songs, like those found on Hope. Hahto also doesn’t play as simple as he maybe should sometimes. The only really doomy song on the album is the last song, “Weight of the Dead”, which with it’s nine minutes compares nearly to their maybe best song ever, “Doomed to Walk the Earth” from Hope. The ending has been criticized on boards, but I kind of like it, I feel like a fading end would have been so much worse.
The lyrics hasn’t changed from earlier StS releases, they’re dealing with familiar topics, like death, killing and generally despair. I also have to comment on the artwork, which is by far the best I’ve seen this year. The front cover is awesome, and the same style continues inside the booklet, with a small picture for every song. The owl picture for “These Woods Breathe Evil” is probably my favourite, also reflecting to the lyrics in the song:
“The owls are not what they seem/they made me do it/am I a ghost among them?”
Overall, the album is good, solid doom/death album with black metal influences, but the biggest problem with it is probably unmemorable songs. After 20 listens, I can’t really recall much from songs 2-4 and 6-7. This is not saying it’s not a good album, for that it certainly is. I just don’t know whether (all) the changes they’ve done has been done in favor for them. I’d cut down on the clean vocals (“New Moon” only has two growled lines, the rest is clean!) and alter the tempo back to the slower one. This is not selling out yet, but if it continues to develop in this direction, the next album will probably be something Ari Koivunen would put his name on. Being what it is now, I’m almost ready to call it something new, like blackened death/doom metal. What a monster of genre.
Top songs to check out:
* These Woods Breathe Evil
* Lights on the Lake (Horror, part III)
* Weight of the Dead
I heard The Morning Never Came not long before Ghosts of Loss was released, and these two albums provided me with some much-appreciated mopey yet catchy Doom following the discovery of My Dying Bride and early Anathema. Swallow the Sun knew an infectious song idea when they heard one. Hope then turned me off the band, falling far short of its hype (aside from the excellent 'Doomed to Walk the Earth'), and despite the sterling Plague of Butterflies, it has taken until now for me to get properly reacquainted with them.
Despite the instrumental excellence of the band's first two albums, there was always one drawback - Mikko Kotamהki's growls. They sounded much too weird and soggy, and detracted from the songs. Six years after their debut however he is sounding far more authentic, switching between menacing croaks and a thoroughly enjoyable rasp. New recruit Kai Hahto, from Wintersun, proves a less innovative drummer than Pasi Pasonen, whose drum patterns were never as predictable as this, but he does a solid enough job filling in.
Guitar leads for Swallow the Sun are still a carefully measured weighting of melancholy and catchy twanging. Axemen Juha Raivio and Markus Jämsen seem to reach a level of emotion and longing not achieved before in the passionate leads of 'These Woods Breathe Evil.' This impression is most likely a result of the increased catchiness; listen to this disc alongside Across the Dark and it soon starts to sound like Swallow the Sun and Insomnium, both known for poe-faced but so-damned-hummable melodies, are starting to progress out of different origins and into a similiar sound.
'Falling World' shows a clear late-era Tiamat influence in its crooned chorus and repetitive driving melody, while 'Sleepless Swans' sees the band already gravitating towards the sound of Anathema's The Silent Enigma - and I say already because it was clear that album and all that came after it would begin to seep into Swallow the Sun at some stage. As if to prove my point, this album was promoted by an acoustic show in Finland. Expect some relaxing music from them a few years from now. The command of vocal melody on 'Sleepless Swans' shows an undeniable growth spurt in Mikko's singing talents that should not go to waste.
It's not all lighter-waving and singalongs though. Far from softening their music to widen their audience, Swallow the Sun unveil a Black Metal-inspired element of ferocity. Three minutes into 'Lights on the Lake', a tense clean break gives way to, of all things, a fucking tremolo riff, joined by blastbeats and full-on Black Metal rasps from Mikko. Tasty. The closer 'Weight of the Dead' is, and I never thought this word would apply to this band, crushing - the song trades between thumping riffs and keyboard-drenched atmosphere, before a little more tantalizing Black Metal riffing and a mournful ending with an almost choral grandeur that makes you feel as if you stand in a cathedral, looking up at the stained glass windows. These two songs should do wonders for attracting the Depressive Black Metal crowd. If only they had expanded on the use of tremolo riffs elsewhere on the album; they fit superbly with the band's sound. In their own right, they are highlights of the album and help tie it to the eclecticism of Plague of Butterflies.
New Moon is not a perfect album however; '...and Heavens Cried Blood' and the title track fit snugly alongside the other tracks and maintain a consistent feel, but individually they are weaker than the company they keep. Some might also be disappointed that, 'Lights on the Lake' and the closer excepted, the band haven't attempted to match the overblown conceptual vastness of last year's EP. The sound here has been tightened and concentrated to become more direct and more immediately engaging, but there is a proportion of Swallow the Sun's audience (myself among them) who have been led to them via other Doom acts rather than melodic bands like Amorphis and Insomnium, and to whom thirty-five-minute long songs are just dandy.
Conversely, it may be that in forsaking their Death/ Doom derived roots to some extent, this band of ambitious Finnish youngsters have freed themselves up to make the more energetic, colourful music they have always wanted to. Hence the staleness of Hope - the band were caught half way between doing what had made them a household name in their native country and between taking the opportunity to experiment. The result was half-baked, but this album is a hell of a lot more honest, less restricted and the beginning, for Swallow the Sun, of the brightest period in their career. More accessible, no less accomplished.