Welcome to the penultimate post in my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown. If you’re new to this series and have missed my previous choices, be sure to check out the links at the bottom of this post.
And to the regulars who have stuck with me from the start of this epic endeavour, thank you.
And now to the main event…
It’s a rather big statement to make, but it’s true: Swallow The Sun are, without doubt my very favourite band from Finland. It is a love affair that began over a decade ago when I heard the band’s debut album, ‘The Morning Never Came’. Ever since then, I have followed the sextet closely and I can honestly say that they have simply got better and better over the years. Have they ever released an album that’s substandard or even anything less than excellent? Don’t be silly, it’s Swallow the Sun after all, a bona fide leader of their particular genre of symphonic and melodic dark doom metal. It might have been a self-coined phrase but the strapline of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ hits the nail on the head and describes the musical output of the band perfectly.
It’s always a positive sign when the period between releases drags on and, in the case of Swallow The Sun, the three years that has passed since the release of the last studio album, the sublime ‘The Emerald Forest And The Blackbird’ has felt twice as long. But finally, our patience has been well and truly rewarded because ‘Songs From The North’, album number xx is not just a studio album. It’s not even a double album. That’s right, ‘Songs From The North’ is a triple-disc release. Something so ambitious shouldn’t really surprise fans of Swallow The Sun though, because attention to detail, professionalism and offering fans the very best is what the band have been about ever since their inception.
The opening disc contains the most familiar Swallow The Sun sounds, namely expertly-crafted melodic doom metal that really deserves the aforementioned ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ description. Disc two then changes tack rather markedly by delivering a moodier, more atmospheric and calm acoustic side of the band before the final disc bludgeons the listener with a monstrous and crushing slab of epic funeral doom metal.
The triple disc offering is always something that divides opinion; there are those who think that such a thing is too much whilst others welcome the generous fare, lapping it up with gusto. I’ll admit that ‘Songs From The North’ contains a lot of music to plough through, but plough I have and what an immensely gratifying and enjoyable experience is has been too. To begin with, I have to admit that the first disc containing the more ‘classic’ Swallow The Sun music was my favourite of the three but less and less so the more I have listened, to the point where I genuinely enjoy all three discs almost equally. If my life depended on it, I’d still pick the opening disc but by not very much at all; in fact it’d take a threat of physical violence to be perpetrated upon me to even jump off the fence in any meaningful direction.
In true Swallow The Sun style, disc one is nothing short of a masterpiece, a tour-de-force of extreme metal. Chock full of crushingly heavy riffs, sublime melodies and the dual clean/gruff vocals that have become such an important part of the band’s sound, Swallow The Sun have arguably never sounded so elegant, sorrowful and powerful. And, in keeping with the Finn’s subtle evolution, there’s a reintroduction and even an increase in some of the newer elements explored on the predecessor including acoustic guitars and an increase in female vocals. Every composition delivers something wonderful but the likes of ‘Heartstrings Shattering’, ‘Lost And Catatonic’ and ‘From Happiness To Dust’ are utterly glorious in every way, sending shivers down my spine every time I listen.
Then we’re confronted with the acoustic disc and, after a few minor misgivings, has blossomed beautifully. The eight compositions are each full of subtlety and elegance as well as a more sombre, thought-provoking and haunting atmosphere. Disc two also has a very poignant and sensitive feel to it as if the hearts of the band themselves are laid bare. The melodies come to the fore on this disc, executed in the main by expertly-played acoustic guitars and piano. The drums, bass and keys remain integral features but in a much more reserved manner. Vocalist Mikko Kotamäki abandons the growls and allows his clean delivery to soar. Tracks such as ‘The Heart Of A Cold White Land’ or ‘Away’ are beautiful and are vaguely reminiscent of another of my favourites, Katatonia.
And then disc three, comprised of five tracks all nearing or in excess of ten minutes each, are a sheer masterclass in crushing and uncompromising funeral doom metal. As many of you will know, this more uncompromising form of doom metal is not normally a favourite of mine but Swallow The Sun work their magic here. The pace is slowed, the heaviness is increased and you’re left battered and bruised by an intense but immensely satisfying extreme metal pummelling. And yet, for all that, even at their most uncompromising, Swallow The Sun allow a hint of their melodious intent to seep into their output. The result is tracks like the breath taking ‘7 Hours Late’ which presses all my buttons or ‘The Clouds Prepare For Battle’ which closes the whole release in about as stirring and powerful a manner as it’s possible to achieve.
If there was any doubt about the near-genius of Swallow The Sun, ‘Songs From The North’ eradicates them in a heartbeat. Swallow The Sun are on fire here, proving once again that they are, in my humble opinion, the masters of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’. Sublime, peerless and untouchable.
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 3Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 4
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 6
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 7
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30
And from previous years: