Written by: Loveloth
Unlike anger, sadness is a constant, lingering emotion that slowly overtakes every fiber of your being if not unleashed in some way. For me, this is what makes sad music so special, its honesty and intensity are unmatched--if done right, of course. The Finnish doom scene is famous for its gorgeous and heart-rending music and Swallow The Sun should immediately come to mind. As some of you may know, Juha Raivio, the band's mastermind, lost his longtime girlfriend and wonderful vocalist Aleah Standbrige due to cancer in 2016, and to alleviate his pain he created Hallatar, a titanic death-doom supergroup. Now, almost four years after their ambitious (and badly produced) triple album Songs From The North I, II & III, Swallow The Sun returns with When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light, which pays respect to Aleah in a different manner. Unlike their previous work and especially Hallatar, the band decided for a more restrained and spacious approach, and it works wonders. Impressive considering Juho Räihä and Jaani Peuhu (both live members of Hallatar) make their debut here, but they do this in a very memorable fashion.
Accompanied by two cellos, two violas, and a single piano, the record starts off beautifully with the excellent title track that, despite containing a lot of ideas, manages to realise them all successfully. Beautiful strings, melancholic and ethereal trem picking, acoustic strums, it all sounds great but as soon as I heard Mikko Kotamäki shriek in the chorus, I knew this would be something really special. After a soothing, evocative, and lengthy intro, "The Crimson Crown" blossoms into a majestic and subdued beast. This sense of growth and space is what made Swallow The Sun so special and the band simply expands their formula but take a more gothic, post-rock and even symphonic approach instead reminding me of Fields Of Nephilim, Anathema and Pardise Lost. The record feels more intimate and warm because of this and I am sure it reflects Raivio's current phase of mourning his lost love.
If the lack of metal sounds underwhelming, "Upon The Water" will definitely win some cold hearts with its plodding riffs, ghastly shrieks and sudden bursts of metallic fury. "Clouds On Your Side" behaves similarly but opts for guttural grows reminiscent of good ole' Nick Holmes when the heavier parts arrive. Now is a good time to mention the songwriting as I noticed a trend that isn't necessarily bad but it's still a trend on this record. Most of the choruses found here are sudden, explosive and it's perfect considering how the band lulls you in a false feeling of security with the gentle and moving soundscapes they oh so carefully crafted. All of this would be void if the production wasn't good and the sextet luckily delivers with a well mixed record whose layers give enough room to the wonderful string section to breathe. However, my favourite part of this record is Mikko, who definitely deserves more attention and praise. His varied and convincing performance continues what he established on Songs Of The North I, II & III, he alone is worth checking this record out.
With only one song under five minutes, When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light is still the band's shortest record that clocks in at "only" 53 minutes. to be frank, some songs could use a trim or two, but these are minor flaws of an otherwise very good record. Personal favourites are the title track, "Firelights", "Upon The Water" and "Here On The Black Earth" and all of them are perfect sadboi material. I didn't pay much attention to Swallow The Sun for a long time and this was a very convincing wake up call. I suggest you do the same because When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light may not be as immediate as their previous work but the amount of hidden details make repeated listens a must. This is a soundtrack of loss, pain and mourning and it's raw and cold as much as lush and gorgeous. Thank you Finland for providing among the best soundtracks for gloomy days, this sadboi appreciates greatly.
Swallow The Sun - When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light was released Jan. 25th from Century Media
A certain groggy-eyed, highfalutin' peasantry