SWALLOW THE SUN have not been playing with their full lineup in Helsinki for a couple of years now; we had the chance to see them play an acoustic show in August 2020, but of course the gig at Tavastia that was held on June 1st, 2022, was very different, and we were really eager for this to happen. It is worth mentioning that the band had released a new album, “Moonflowers,” in November 2021, so we were also quite curious to listen to the new songs in a live setting. The album’s cover artwork as a backdrop and “The Fight of your Life” as a background provided the ideal atmosphere for the five band members to take the stage.
Singer Mikko Kotamäki approached the stage like a ghost and then the magic began: “Enemy” as an opener turned out to be absolutely perfect, due to its heavy riffing and multifaceted vocals, since there is a well-balanced mixture of growls and clean vocals that, especially during a live show, did really highlight the frontman’s versatility and ability to convey strong emotions through his voice. We cannot help noticing their unmatched quality as performers too: many Finnish bands are deeply inspired by a certain way to express melancholy, but SWALLOW THE SUN happens to be some of the absolute masters in this matter. Their live shows are always hauntingly beautiful, as much as their albums.
The second tune was an older one, taken from their triple album “Songs from the North,” released back in 2015. “Rooms and Shadows” totally sounded like a well appreciated blast from the past, as much as “Falling World” and “The Justice of Suffering,” respectively taken from “New Moon” and “Hope,” which were played right afterwards. It is always interesting to see how a band that has evolved so much plays their older songs, and this time SWALLOW THE SUN went for a longer trip down memory lane with us, since most of the songs they have played were taken from older releases.
A more recent tune, “Stone Wings,” from their previous album, “When a Shadow is Forced into the Light” (2019), followed right after, and it was even better than we remembered – its magical vibe filled the venue and every word reached us on a deeper level. Guitarist, lyricist, and main composer Juha Raivio’s ability to explore dark and heavy feelings of loss and loneliness knows no rival, just like his absolutely stunning and magnetic presence on stage. We were singing along to the songs they played and also noticed some people so overwhelmed with emotions that they were literally in tears! This is what SWALLOW THE SUN’s music is capable of live, and we have been missing it so much! Guitarist Juho Räihä’s backing vocals (mainly screams) added some extra flavor to the whole thing, and his playful attitude on stage did not go unnoticed – the way he roused the crowd always gets straight to the point.
The sixth song in the setlist was a new one: “The Void,” whose chorus has, in our opinion, one of the most addictive melodies ever written. Its ‘80s vibe made it particularly intense and unusual, compared to the band’s typical sound, and the result in a live setting was great. The massive bassline provided by Matti Honkonen made it even more special. “New Moon,” as a song they pretty much always include in their setlists, is always a certainty, and being an older tune, gave us an idea of how much they have evolved as a band, while keeping their trademark sound “visible.” “Firelights,” from their previous album, followed and it felt like we were in an alternate dimension due to its dream-like vibe. This song is another striking example of SWALLOW THE SUN’s music has the ability to portray both darkness and light as interlinked features of each one of us.
Two songs from their new album were the next in line: “Woven into Sorrow,” as solemn as it could be, surprised us because it turned out better than expected live. Its pattern and length make it quite complex, but we are glad to say that the band managed to perform this little masterpiece perfectly. Mikko’s clean vocals were top-notch, while the massive doom features, enhanced by Juuso Raatikainen’s skillful drum technique, made this tune one of the highlights of the entire gig. The tremble in Mikko’s voice was really touching: “I’m blind, but still, you love…”
Speaking of, it’s no secret that Mikko Kotamäki started his career as a singer in a black metal band, FUNERIS NOCTURNUM, so it is nice to hear, every now and then, some evidence of his skills in that area – “This House Has No Home” worked perfectly. High-pitched screams, along with blast-beats and furious fast-paced riffs, balanced with more melodic, slower, sweeter parts, did really create an unforgettable piece of art. Juha Raivio raised his right hand as some sort of a blessing, then a long, heartfelt applause from the audience followed, and they left the stage.
They came back after a few seconds and delighted us with two older songs, “Descending Winters,” from their second album, “Ghosts of Loss,” and the closing “Swallow (Horror pt. I)” from their debut album. Swinging from the present to the past while delivering powerful melodies and intense lyrics, this is the precious gift the band gave us. We left the venue around 22:00 – the sun had not gone completely down yet, but even if summer is clearly approaching, SWALLOW THE SUN managed to bring us a little bit of that typical winter vibe we surely love.
Written by Licia Mapelli
Photos by Mirko Luparelli
- Rooms and Shadows
- Falling World
- The Justice of Suffering
- Stone Wings
- The Void
- New Moon
- Woven into Sorrow
- This House has no Home
- Descending Winters
- Swallow (Horror pt. 1)