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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.