Swallow the Sun – When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light
Having released the massive triple album “Songs From the North” in 2015, Finnish melodic death doom outfit Swallow the Sun anno 2019 has turned in a different direction. Where earlier releases have, for the most part, had a quite distinct sound of dark, gloomy but yet symphonic doom metal with deep growling vocals, “When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light” has mostly done away with that sound. Some traces of it remain, such as the drumming style and the odd guitar riff here and there, but the album as a whole has taken on more of a softer sort of goth metal sound. But there is a reason for that.
In 2016, guitarist and main songwriter of Swallow the Sun, Juha Raivio, lost his life partner Aleah Stanbridge (Trees of Eternity). As a response to this, he wrote an album based on Aleah’s lyrics and poems, which was named “No Stars Upon the Bridge,” and later released it under the band name Hallatar, together with Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) and Gas Lipstick (HIM). The themes of “When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light” are still influenced by this incident, and the album title is taken from one of Aleah’s Trees of Eternity lyrics.
So how does the band sound with their new style? My subjective answer to that is: pretty good. For me, much of the credit for that goes to vocalist Mikko Kotamäki. His performance on this album is incredible. He has shown before that he does both clean and harsh vocals very well, but for this album, the deep death metal growls have almost completely been replaced with higher pitched black metal-esque screams. He completely pulls it off, though most of the vocals on the album are clean, and his voice in both of these styles completely fits with the atmosphere of the music.
Swallow the Sun – ‘Firelights’ (if video doesn’t load, please click here)
The title track opens the album in a good way, but it’s the two following songs that really kick it off. ‘The Crimson Crown’ is beautiful. With the first couple of minutes consisting of a calm, ambient atmosphere and melancholic guitar work. This comes back a few times throughout the song, and the vocal lines are a joy to listen to. Third track ‘Firelights’ fits the same description, but also with an added part that could have come straight out of a black metal album. It adds up to a quite interesting listening experience.
‘Upon the Water’, for me, seems a bit forgettable. It’s not a song that will stick with me as one of the strongest of the album. Even though there are plenty of dynamics, I can’t help but feel that it falls a bit flat. But after that, ‘Stone Wings’ is there to pick it up again. It’s probably my favourite track. Starting off a lot like previous songs, with some gentle clean guitar picking, before Mikko’s vocals kick off into a beautiful chorus. The midsection sees the guitar intro return with some mellow vocals on top of it before the chorus returns again. But this time, it transitions into a stunning crescendo including the return of the good old deep growl vocals and the chorus to finish it off.
Swallow the Sun – ‘Upon the Water’ (if video doesn’t load, please click here)
‘Clouds on Your Side’ feels mostly the same as ‘Upon the Water,’ with the instrumentals being in a quite similar vein, but somehow sounds more interesting than the former. It also features another great vocal performance, including a touch of deep growls. The same can be said for the second to last track, ‘Here on the Black Earth’. The closing track ‘Never Left’ seems to find a great balance between soft melancholy and heaviness. The two seem to transition perfectly into each other. Although the song sounds a little one-dimensional, it seems a fitting end to the album as a whole.
All in all, “When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light” is not my favourite release by the Finns, but it has its great points. The first three songs, as well as fifth track ‘Stone Wings’, are examples of where Swallow the Sun does their new sound very well. Although some parts of the album can sound a little too one-dimensional for my taste at times, it never felt like an explicitly boring listen. It doesn’t always hit the mark but when it does, it does it well, much thanks to Mikko’s vocal performance. It’s an interesting, emotional listen that spans multiple genres, and one can only speculate if the band will keep this sound going forward. Either way, I wish Juha the best in moving on from the tragedy that inspired this album.
- When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light
- The Crimson Crown
- Upon the Water
- Stone Wings
- Clouds on Your Side
- Here on the Black Earth
- Never Left