Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers – Album Review

Artist: Swallow The Sun

Album Title: Moonflowers

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 19 November 2021

My love affair with Swallow The Sun goes back many years. In fact, I can trace my history with the band right back to their debut album, ‘The Morning Never Came’ that they released in 2003. Over the years, I have interviewed the Finns a couple of times or more, sat in their tour bus, and even hung out with them in the press tent at Bloodstock Open Air. Their humour, warmth, and sense of fun was initially a surprise simply based on assumptions made about them because of the music they played. The tagline ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ summed up their sonic output perfectly, remaining entirely apt throughout their career. Whether it was a one-song epic EP, or a monumental three-disc album, you could always recognise this band’s music and their ability to caress one minute and then tear you apart the next.

Their 2015 triple album, ‘Songs From The North I, II & III’ was wonderful but, with hindsight, it was just a little too much; too many songs, too much music, too long. It has meant that it doesn’t get as many rotations in my playlist as it probably should. For some reason, despite hearing it, I never reviewed the 2019 follow-up, ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’. I don’t know why, because it was another better-than-solid release that sat at a much more manageable 52 minutes, full of the same crushing heaviness and poignant melody that we’ve all come to expect and love. ‘Moonflowers’ therefore, offers me the opportunity to get back on the horse, so to speak, and delve deeply into the sombre world of Swallow The Sun once more. And do you know what? Their world might be sombre, but it can be a stunning place to be.

Never ones to shy away from drawing upon personal experiences, it would appear that ‘Moonflowers’ takes things to a whole new level. Guitarist and principal songwriter Juha Raivio won’t go into the details of the events that gave birth to this record but of the album, he reveals the following: 

“I know well that I should not say this, but I deeply hate this album. I hate where it takes me, how it makes me feel, and what it stands for me. I wish it wouldn’t. But for all its honesty, I got no option than also [to] love it. That is all that matters to me with the music anyway. It doesn’t matter how

it makes me feel, as long as it does.”

When you then find out that the artwork is comprised of dried flowers collected by Raivio as well as his own blood, you realise just how personal this release truly is. This isn’t abstract agony or metaphorical misery, this is real. And as you listen to ‘Moonflowers’, this does become abundantly clear, perhaps more than any other record in their history.

The album opens with ‘Moonflowers Bloom In Misery’, but before I talk about the music itself, mention has to be made of the production which is arguably the most powerful, and assured of the Finns’ career to date. Produced by guitarist Juho Räihä and David Castillo in their separate studios, the album was then mixed by Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios. Together they have created something truly special. This opening track begins quietly, solemnly, before exploding into naked brutality but at each stage, the music is afforded the clarity and warmth to make it a beautiful listening experience. Even when vocalist Mikko Kotamäki switches from clean to throat-tearing screams and growls, accompanied by massive riffs, thunderous rhythms from drummer Juuso Raatikainen and bassist Matti Honkonen, the sense of melody and beauty is never lost, with the fragile strings continuing their gorgeous lament at the heart of the song. Those familiar with Swallow The Sun will be familiar with the drama that the clashes between quiet and savage material creates. But even so, this opening song is incredible; so poignant, so heartbreaking, but also so full of sad anger.

One of my favourite songs from the very beginning was ‘Enemy’, and this remains to the present day. It begins in confrontational fashion, but soon settles into that slow-to-mid-tempo that the band are so comfortable with, allowing them to lace the doom/death hybrid with emotional melodies, most pronounced within the chorus. The lead guitar melody is so fragile that it could break at any second, but it is achingly beautiful. There’s a hint or two of more recent My Dying Bride to be heard, especially when Kotamäki almost talks some of the lyrics to a relatively minimalist soundscape, dominated by subtle synths and rich strings, the latter playing an intense part in the rousing finale to the composition.

One thing I’ve always admired about the Swallow The Sun sound is their penchant for playing riffs that allow for the heavy chords to ring out and resonate; their not in a hurry to lace their music with unnecessary speed; they are happy to let the notes do the talking. Just listen to ‘Woven Into Sorrow’ for a great example, particularly at the outset. That being said, when a slightly quicker crushing riff is required, they can deliver here as well to fantastic effect, bulldozing everything in sight with sheer power. This track sounds so full of despair both lyrically and musically, it touches me deeply, threatening to raise wounds that I have spent much of this year coming to terms with and trying to heal. It isn’t the easiest listening experience, but make no mistake, I’d have it no other way because this is music of the most wonderful kind. So full of honesty, rawness and fragility.

‘Keep Your Heart Safe From Me’ injects a few new, interesting ingredients into the Swallow The Sun armoury, including acoustic guitars, lead guitar solos, and pronounced synth sounds that together with the construction of the song hint at a vaguely progressive feel. As such, it’s an intriguing composition that takes a bit more time to click, but it’s all the more rewarding when it does.

Elsewhere, ‘All Hallows’ Grieve’ features Oceans Of Slumber vocalist Cammie Gilbert, a perfect fit if ever there was one. Gilbert’s vocals are always full of melancholy and fragility, so her appearance is a welcome one, sending shivers up and down my spine when she duets with Kotamäki so effortlessly. It also helps that the melodies are so achingly beautiful they are almost painful, albeit in a good way. Arguably one of the songs of the year can be heard right here ladies and gentlemen.

I love the pulsating bass heard within ‘The Void’, not to mention the extended chorus that features a real grower of a melody or two. The acoustic guitars make a comeback within the delicate intro to ‘The Fight Of Your Life’, a song that expertly juxtaposes the extreme death/doom metal with elegant string arrangements that temper the onslaught just enough to deliver a scintillating melancholic listening experience.

To close, ‘This House Has No Name’ features Stam1na’s Antti Hyyrynen, and it’s a more than fitting, gloomy note upon which to end ‘Moonflowers’. Dabbling in some grim black metal speed and intensity, it is a striking composition too, especially when the blasts of savagery are replaced by something altogether more ponderous and mournful, complete with the tinkling of piano keys, more strings, and Kotamäki’s resonant but reluctant-sounding clean vocal delivery. As always, melody does feature, albeit less pronounced than on other songs on this record. Nevertheless, it’s a fabulous composition, capping off what is a fabulous album.

Without a doubt, Swallow The Sun have remained one of the most consistent and high quality bands for the better part of two decades. Their output has remained largely unchanged across that time, but reserved experimentation and boundary-pushing has taken place when required. The thing is, when the music that they create is as good as it is, where’s the benefit is drastically altering your approach? It is clear that Raivio has suffered over the past few years, but he and his fellow musicians within Swallow The Sun have channelled that suffering into one of the most heart wrenching albums that 2021 has heard. If ‘gloom, beauty, despair’ continues to sound this good, I never want it to end. The world would be a worse place without it.

The Score of Much Metal: 94%

Further reviews from 2021:

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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