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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