Swallow The Sun – “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” – Cary G.
For the past few years, Finnish Doom/Death purveyors, Swallow The Sun; have been creeping up my list of favorite bands. It is always a scary proposition when one of your go to bands puts out a new album. It could go either way: a masterpiece, or as some bands have gone a crapterpiece. Us Americans are finally able to purchase an album that has already been available for longer than six months. It has been three years since the last release in 2009 of “New Moon” which is truthfully one of my favorite albums of the last 5 years, and I am happy to say that the new album from Swallow The Sun has become one of my top albums of the year, but that is not to say that I don’t have problems with it. The band really tried to step out of the tried and true Death/Doom shoes, and blends some new forms into their sound.
Swallow The Sun have delved into some Black Metal influences, as well as some Gothic metal tinges. It almost seems that the sound is toned down a bit compared to previous releases. I’m not sure if that has to do with the songwriting for this album, or just a conscious decision to really take the sound in a different direction. This album will really divide longtime fans of the band. It seems there is always an underlying theme on their albums about the television show, Twin Peaks, and “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” is no different.
The trademark Swallow The Sun sound is definitely still here, as there are plenty of quiet interludes, piano ladened passages, that quickly transform into blistering dark and heavy sections. I would go out on a limb and say that this is one of the most melodic albums they have done in their career. The alternating and contrasting vocal style of Mikko Kotamaki add amazing depth to the songs, and I am partial to his deep guttaral vocals. I wish they were used more on this album as I am not a huge fan of some the higher pitched Black Metal vocals spattered throughout. His clean vocal style really shines through and has all the emotion you would expect. The keyboards really do shine through on this album, and are never used as just background noise, but really come forward as an integral part of the music. Truthfully, the production is quite stellar. All the musicians involved on the album, have their time to shine through on this album. The bass can get lost in the mix sometimes but really shines through during some of the more quiet times on the album. The drums are well performed and are well placed during the back and forth emotions of the song. Whether they need to be subdued for a quiet part or blistering ahead with amazing double bass patterns during the heavy and more brutal segments, Kai Hahto places each hit with precise placement.
Swallow The Sun just know how to write a quality song. Swallow The Sun really have crafting both beautiful and extreme pieces down to a science. One of the most beautiful and significant pieces on this album is the song from the first single and music video, “Cathedral Walls”. The emotional distraught pores out of the guitar lines, and the vocals from both Mikko, and Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon, whom I actually enjoy on this track, blend well together and elicit a dark and brooding overall tone to the song. When the track really kicks into heavy mode, at about the four minute mark, the deep and guttural vocals are a perfect complement to the subdued vocals earlier in the song, and then return to the female vocal chorus. I cannot stop listening to this track, no matter how many times I have. It is for me, one of the most stand out tracks on the album, and from this year. I think it is the most indicative cut on the album of the band’s complete style, as it runs the gamut. “This Cut is The Deepest” is another track that I really enjoy. It is one of the least heavy tracks, yet extremely catchy and maintains a poignant melancholy throughout. Another favorite track is “Labyrinth of London (Horror Pt. IV)”, where as you can tell from the title is the fourth installment of the Horror saga they started on 2008’s “Plague Of Butterflies”. The track is another perfect example of all the styles included through their music, as it ranges from hauntingly memorable vocals, spoken word segments, brutal dark passages, intricate guitar work, and some perfectly placed keyboard lines.
I will have to admit that this is not one of my favorite albums from Swallow The Sun, even though there are a few songs that I can personally consider to be some of their best written songs. I just wish the rest of the album was just as strong. If you have never heard the band before, you would have a great time listening to this release, although keep in mind, some of their previous albums are better examples of their true sound. I have seen a lot of negative reviews on the internet for this album, and while I can agree with a few of the points, “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” is still a quality release from a band that is just continuing to get better and expand their sound, if you agree with it or not. Bands have to grow and expand as musicians, or else it all gets stagnant.