REVIEW: SWALLOW THE SUN – “Songs From The North (I, II & III)”
Swallow the Sun is notorious for displaying a sound that is emotional, yet aggressive. Since its inception in 2000, the band always stayed true to their formula, thus gathering a considerable amount of fans and mainly good reviews for their albums, so a new effort by these finnish guys always cause some sort of ruckus in the mainstream metal community. Although not my style, I have to give credit where credit is due: In the doom/death department, Swallow the Sun dictates the rhythm alongside fellow giants My Dying Bride, Draconian, November’s Doom and Katatonia, and have always released quality albums. ‘Songs From the North’, 6th full length by the group, is divided into 3 parts and is set to be released in its entirety on November 13th. It is by far their most daring work to date, resting at almost 155 minutes and 21 songs. For review purposes, I will try to separate the 3 parts, as they are somewhat different music-wise, but the album was clearly meant to be heard non-stop.
With that being said, let’s get to it: ‘Songs From the North I’ is the most balanced part of the 3, the one that resembles the most what Swallow the Sun is used to do. Resting in the shoulders of a very talented Mikko Kotamäki, who can easily switch between clean and guttural vocals, the band delivers a mix of slow-paced songs with a few glimpses of aggressiveness here and there, but this first entry serves somewhat as a bridge to the more homogeneous sound of the other two CD’s. As pointed out, you will find here a classic Swallow the Sun: very few double-pedals, heavy, toned-down guitar work, a good sound mix that gives the bass a more prominent role (and a very welcomed one), all combining into a wonderful atmosphere that manages to captivate and thrill the listener. Every song here can translate some kind of feeling and will have its part in telling the story, from balanced tunes like the opener “With You Came the Whole World’s Tears” to the calmer, soothing sounds like in “Lost & Catatonic”.
This balanced display gives room to ‘Songs From the North II’, the middle part of the opus, featuring slower songs filled with piano melodies and darker notes. My favorite one from this CD is “The Heart of a Cold White Land”, a depressive song masterfully crafted to ensure that the listener understands the concept of the work. However, this is actually where the album kind of loses its way, because the excessive use of slow songs makes this particular part bland, pale and weaker than the other two. In fact, if you are not completely immersed in the whole concept (sad, dark, depressive), you will most definitely drag your way into the final CD, or just skip this one entirely. I understand that this was made to be this way, but these guys have enough talent to do better. Besides “The Heart of a Cold White Land”, it feels to me that only “Songs From the North” and “66°50´N,28°40´E” would be enough to keep the album dynamic and on full-steam.
Which leads us to the final part of the opus, ‘Songs From the North III’ and, in my opinion, the best one by far. This is where the band is in its best form, delivering strong if not perfect performances by all members, meaningful lyrics and very dense and emotional passages. You will see in this final part clever songwriting, aggressive vocals and beautiful sound effects in the background, resulting in the darker visualization of the opus so far. It is not until almost the end that we finally see a truly epic song, though, which comes in the form of “Empires of Loneliness”. In fact, the final 30 minutes of the album is the epitome of epic. “Empires of Loneliness”, along with “Abandoned by Light” and “The Clouds Prepare for Battle” forge a perfect ending to an album that was desperately needing it.
I can’t help but to think that ‘Songs From the North I, II & III’ was meant to be shown as Swallow the Sun’s masterpiece. If this is really the case than the album does not deliver to its promise, because it is not even the best work by the band, as ‘Hope’ and ‘New Moon’ are superior efforts. Nevertheless, it is definitely an above-average album with crystal clear production and splendid performances, which will probably receive appraisal from the media because of its grandiose and poetic songwriting. What is certain, though, is that these guys are striding through the competition and have reached maturity far earlier than most bands, and the only reason that I mentioned this is not their best album is because the standard for this band is high. If you are a fan of the doom/death genre, this should be a nice addition to your music library.