The progression Finland?s Swallow the Sun have taken over the course of their now-four full-lengths seems to be one of abandoning many of the lush flourishes their songs contained in their earlier work — keeping the melody — in favor of tighter songwriting and more straightforward songs. Their last album, 2007?s Hope, was a leap in this direction from 2005?s Ghosts of Loss (they apparently like to work on the evens; see you in 2011, boys), and the latest output from the Jyv?skyl? six-pack, New Moon (Spinefarm), confirms the shift that seemed so sudden last time around.
Of course, there are still melodic/melancholic/melodancholic parts. It wouldn?t be Swallow the Sun without them, but as heard on opener ?These Woods Breathe Evil,? it?s much more about the structure of the song, and in this case the catchy chorus, than trading off between heaviness and atmospheric. The atmospheres have become part of the songs, to put it another way. We hear that in the Katatonia-esque ?Falling World,? and later in the title track, where vocalist Mikko Kotam?ki gives what might be his most accomplished performance yet, showing a melodic range and dynamism with his deathly growls that only speaks to the growth he?s undergone as a performer since the band started out.
What?s happening more than anything else on New Moon is that Swallow the Sun are coming into their own. They?ve toured Europe and the US, they?ve been around the world, they?re coming up on their first decade as a band, and they?re in a position where more and more people know who they are. For melodic death/doom, they might be the top name out of Europe today that hasn?t already been around for 20 years. Are they this generation?s My Dying Bride? Maybe, if you take away some of the gothic drama and consider the fact that while the seminal UK doom act had a full scene supporting them, with bands like Paradise Lost, Katatonia and Anathema to accompany, Swallow the Sun are pretty much doing this with zero companionship on their level. In a way, that makes it all the more admirable.
As with anything, some will bemoan the loss of the extended ambience, but just as many will delight in the chunky riffs of guitarists Juha Raivio and Markus J?msen, appreciating the more condensed Swallow the Sun approach. I say ?condensed? and mean it in terms of their songwriting. There still isn?t a song on the album under five minutes and synth-heavy closer ?Weight of the Dead? clocks in at a respectable 9:05. Certainly no one who heard last year?s Plague of Butterflies EP, which boasted a half-hour-long title track, could accuse the band of shortening their songs to gain commercial appeal. No one who isn?t an asshole, anyway.
?Weight of the Dead? might be my personal pick of the album, since it seems to contain so many of the elements that make Swallow the Sun a special act. Mikko Kotam?ki?s vocals range from shrill screeches to growls and sad melodicisms, while the song itself follows an agonizingly slow pace (yet somehow also features blast beats in its earlier moments) while seeming to touch on just about everything the band has in their arsenal, including some epic moments. Skip to six minutes in and find me another act on the world stage making music like this. Please.
But naturally there?s more to Swallow the Sun than wide distribution and a hectic touring life. I, for one, have been glad to follow them as they morph into themselves musically, and New Moon, as the latest episode of that process, is a more than satisfying listen. Anyone who?s followed European doom at all and not been exposed to these guys yet would do well to climb aboard the bandwagon before it gets even more out of hand.
Tags: Finland, Spinefarm, Swallow the Sun