Released: 2009, Spinefarm
I am of the humble opinion that Swallow the Sun went backwards after their superb debut album THE MORNING NEVER CAME. HOPE in 2007, their third, was a soggy unimaginative mess completely devoid of the melody and catchiness that made their first album so memorable and so touching. Their second album GHOSTS OF LOSS wasn’t too bad but still wasn’t a patch on THE MORNING…So what do we get with NEW MOON?
It’s different. Many reviewers will already have pointed out the definite movement towards the direction of black metal, both in the vocal and riffing department. In fact, it’s quite a surprise that it’s taken this long for them to give this newfound direction a sustained and concerted shot. Mikko Kotamaki is the vocalist for Alghazanth, a melodic black metal band (whose 2008 album WREATH OF THEVETAT earned some good ratings in the metal underground), and both he and Aleksi Munter are members of another lesser known melodic black metal band Empyrean Bane.
I’m not in favour of this new slant Swallow the Sun has taken. For one, I don’t believe that they have effectively moulded a coherent sound from their various influences (new and old) while remaining true to what they’ve been playing so far. NEW MOON is terribly schizophrenic and jarringly inconsistent. There are tracks where the black metal just screams out in your face, there are tracks where they’ve reverted to their tried-and-true sound circa GHOSTS OF LOSS, there are some few tracks where they’ve tried to meld both, but there’s not one where I believe they’ve successfully incorporated their new direction into the old sound. Unsurprisingly, the best song for me is ‘Falling World’, simply for having that Swallow the Sun formula of coming up with a main melodic line that sticks in your mind, which is then taken through a number of variations on the theme. Mikko’s beautiful clean voice weaves in and out of the twin guitar harmonies in a way that will stay with you for days, the same way ‘Through Her Silvery Body’ haunted my mind for weeks. No messing about with black metal here, it’s a through-and-through Swallow the Sun song.
Secondly, I am not sure that Swallow the Sun and its members can do the black metal thing. I’m not liking Mikko’s black metal rasps, when compared to his deep emotional growls. They sound vaguely akin to Immortal’s vocals and that’s really off-putting. The black metal riffing on ‘These Woods Breathe Evil’, for example, sound very forced, and again very reminiscent of Moonsorrow’s style of riffing. And the blast beats on ‘Weight of the Dead’! Just doesn’t sit right for me.
I’m definitely over-stating the case here, as the black metal moments are relatively minimal in the context of the whole album. And that’s the problem. The Finns are balanced on the horns of their traditional melodic death/doom with gothic elements and black metal dilemma. They don’t give the black metal enough airtime for it to acquire a sound of its own, and thus it comes off sounding derivative. At the same time, the moments are jarring enough, due to being poorly incorporated, so that people are made aware of them, and for the fans, inevitable comparisons arise to their earlier albums. Speaking of earlier albums, I think HOPE and NEW MOON should have swapped album titles. HOPE would have been more aptly titled NEW MOON, as it was weak and insipid, its faint light swallowed and engulfed in a sky of black, but with the promise of so much more. Whereas NEW MOON is definitely a beginning of sorts for Swallow the Sun, where they take it in the future will be really interesting. Best of luck to them.