REVIEW: Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

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When it comes to exploring the dark side of our humanity, the grim underbelly of sorrow in particular that is essentially interwoven in the very fabric of life, I cannot think of a better band than the Finnish doomsters, SWALLOW THE SUN. Ever since their 2003 debut, “The Morning Never Came,” they have provided crushing-yet-beautiful glimpses into the void that is eating us all from the inside with a more or less hearty appetite every now and then. As confusing as it may sound to someone who was not born with an acquired taste for such overindulgent Slavic melancholy, listening to the band exposit at length about our dark shadows does not, in fact, feel like wallowing deep beneath the mire – not at all. The band is a downright genius of sadness. Thus, I felt happy like a dog with two tails to attend the pre-listening session of SWALLOW THE SUN‘s upcoming album “Moonflowers” at Sonic Pump Studios in Helsinki on September 17th, 2021.

Blasting from the studio’s high-end Genelec monitors, sorrow had never sounded – or looked – so heart-wrenchingly good. Each new song on the outing comes paired with a music video, created by Dronicon Films, and the attendees had the privilege of taking an all-encompassing audiovisual sneak-peek into the new album. “Moonflowers” is the band’s eighth full-length studio offering and it is due out on November 19th, 2021, via Century Media. It comes with a bonus disc featuring stripped-down, instrumental versions of the songs, performed by the string line-up, TRIO NOX, recorded at the Medieval Church in Sipoo, Finland. The metal versions of the songs also feature prominent string arrangements, performed by this classical orchestra.

Fans of gloom will be treated to a feast, again. The band’s 2015 monolith, “Songs from the North I, II & III,” comes to mind – it was an immersive triple album release brimming with haunting melancholy, crushing heaviness, and fragile beauty. The new outing is equally immersive and goes even a bit further into the heart of darkness, subtly implicating that real darkness has love for a face. The band’s grave music serves as a prism through which sadness is divided into its infinite spectrum, with each new song being a refraction of light in the dark. The release date set in November couldn’t possibly be more appropriate. This is perfect music for the lightless time of year: dark and heavy, yet strangely comforting – something to gain strength from in the depths of winter.

The somewhat titular track, “Moonflowers Bloom In Misery,” sets the slow grind of doom in motion with a delicate intro. The languid, arpeggiated guitar motif is layered with lush strings and stern, clean vocals. As Inferno’s editor-in-chief, Matti Riekki, aptly pointed out at Sonic Pump Studios during the pre-listening session, vocalist Mikko Kotamäki has become ever more convincing in terms of clean vocals with each new SWALLOW THE SUN album. Quitting smoking has evidently been a good decision: his growls sound as brutal as ever and the clean parts sound delicate to an almost other-worldly degree. The beauty of contrast is crushing, to say the very least, when the chorus kicks in with the ogre vocals and wall of distortion. The song, maybe the whole album even, practically had me at this point.

Some authors in the past, since the dawn of time really, have claimed rather adamantly that love can bridge the realms of the dead and that of the living. Watching the animated music videos of these new SWALLOW THE SUN songs felt almost as though there was a somewhat similar theme binding the tracks together – obviously layered with a particularly grave sense of loss. At its most piercing, the feeling is conveyed by the track, “All Hallow’s Grieve,” featuring guest vocals by Cammie Gilbert of OCEANS OF SLUMBER. It goes to show that a song is truly a potent storytelling vehicle that can transport the listeners on a collective journey into really dark places – and bring them back safely.

Some of the lighter moments on “Moonflowers” resonate with an almost subtle KATATONIA feel. Most notably, it occurs on tracks such as “The Fight Of Your Life” and “The Void.” Then again, it is hard not to invoke such a vibe when blending a dark, ethereal atmosphere with some harsh doom-metal moments. What sets SWALLOW THE SUN apart from all the other bands playing with these same building blocks is the signature touch of the songwriter-guitarist, Juha Raivio, with regard to the piercing melancholy of the melodic motifs. In a way, the band’s unique sound could be described as PARADISE LOST playing the schlagers of the Finnish “rautalanka”-band, AGENTS, with the fatalism of Russian troubadours… in half-tempo.

The album closes with nothing short of a gut punch. The track, “This House Has No Name,” throws in some black metal elements that nicely echo the grim atmosphere of one of the band’s most haunting songs, “Labyrinth of London (Horror pt. IV),” from their 2012 outing “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird.” The song steers you right into the storm where the clouds have no silver linings – to be consumed by the rain, the grief, the music. Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, to paraphrase the words of the author, William Faulkner, I would choose pain if it were anywhere near this beautiful.

SWALLOW THE SUN‘s new offering is not perhaps music for the coffeeshop laptop-crowd, although I would reckon that the world would be a remarkably better place if the trendy cafeterias started blasting music like this instead of the hipster-indie that has been trending since forever. “Moonflowers” is simultaneously a gentle and a harsh reminder of what it feels like to be human rather than a half-life flesh-skeleton going through the motions in a spiritual coma. The Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, had said something along the lines of, “If you feel pain, you’re alive. If you feel other people’s pain, you’re a human being.” SWALLOW THE SUN‘s new album is a good litmus test to find out.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Moonflowers Bloom In Misery
  2. Enemy
  3. Woven Into Sorrow
  4. Keep Your Heart Safe From Me
  5. All Hallow’s Grieve
  6. The Void
  7. The Fight Of Your Life
  8. This House Has No Name

Lineup

Juha Raivio – Guitars

Matti Honkonen – Bass

Mikko Kotamäki – Vocals

Juuso Raatikainen – Drums

Juho Räihä – Guitars

Label

Century Media

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