In February 2012, the Finnish poster-children of heart-wrenching doom, SWALLOW THE SUN, released their fifth studio album “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” via Spinefarm Records. The album was a gargantuan sonic offering of gloom with its 67-minute runtime. In fact, I have since encountered a few non-Finnish metal enthusiasts who seemed to think that such a marathon of melancholy is just too much to bear in one go. Back in the day, some online reviews even recommended everyone to listen to the album divided into two parts, half an hour each. In retrospect, I cannot avoid being slightly amused. When the album came out, it slapped so hard that I didn’t listen to anything else for weeks – and I put it on repeat just to listen through the brilliance of it over and over again for hours on end, whenever I had the chance. I just couldn’t get enough of it. Is it a must, then, that you really need be a Finn to find exquisite beauty in such a profound sense of misery and desolation conveyed by the music?
Upon its release, “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” resonated at once with all the hallmark elements of a future classic in the genre of melodic doom metal. Musically, it was another chapter in the stylistic trajectory that had started on the 2007 album, “Hope,” and developed further on the 2009 outing, “New Moon.” The lush soundscapes of crushing melancholy, characterized by the standard, discordant traits of doom, death, and black metal, are balanced with a hefty amount of clean vocals and acoustic guitars. One of the album’s most acoustic-driven songs, “This Cut Is the Deepest,” takes a deep nod towards KATATONIA, while the barbed and intense track, “Hate, Lead the Way!,” sidesteps into the realms of DIMMU BORGIR. At face value, the stylistic leap of this sort might sound a bit quirky but SWALLOW THE SUN make it work just perfectly.
The absolute stand-out track is the fourth chapter in the band’s Horror series, titled “Labyrinth of London (Horror pt. IV).” In one word, the song is epic. The song features a reading of William Blake’s poem London by Tom O’Bedlam and normally, I’m not a big fan of this sort of demeanor on music albums, but here it works like magic, charging the song with an additional layer of meaning. The gravitas of each spoken line supercharges the legato guitar motif so that even the somewhat clichéd element of church bells – chiming solemnly as the climax of this particular passage – sounds like the most natural thing to do.
Other haunting gems are the slow-paced and harrowing hymn, “Cathedral Walls,” featuring the NIGHTWISH vocalist of the time, Anette Olzon, and the funèbre memorial, “April 14th,” dedicated to the talismanic frontman of TYPE O NEGATIVE, Peter Steele, who had died on that day in 2010. Of course, with the selection being an album in the old-school sense of the word, rather than a random collection of songs, it works best when enjoyed in full, from start-to-finish, in one go. The album maintains an enormous standard throughout every second.
If there ever was music that could offer gratification from sorrow, without having to undergo the bereavement that normally precedes this sort of feeling, SWALLOW THE SUN would be the band to go to. A fine entry-level album could be their 2012 masterpiece “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird.” Deep beneath all the heavy layers of gloom, there is a faint glimmer of hope – a promise of light. In a world where hope is a scarce commodity, almost like a luxury reserved only for the brave, the foolhardy, or the criminally minded, you cannot really overindulge on the feeling. It is exactly what keeps us crawling our way out of hell, time and time again, through the labyrinths of the Londons inside our minds.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Emerald Forest and the Blackbird
- This Cut Is the Deepest
- Hate, Lead the Way!
- Cathedral Walls
- Hearts Wide Shut
- Silent Towers
- Labyrinth of London (Horror pt. IV)
- Of Death and Corruption
- April 14th
- Night Will Forgive Us
Mikko Kotamäki – vocals
Markus Jämsen – guitars
Juha Raivio – guitars
Aleksi Munter – keyboards
Matti Honkonen – bass
Kai Hahto – drums
Aleah Stanbridge – vocals on tracks 1 and 7
Anette Olzon – vocals on track 4