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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.