Reviewed: February 2019
Released: 2019, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
I haven’t properly listened to Swallow the Sun since their melodic death-doom debut, so this will be something of an update and education. I have read about their works though: I know that Songs From the North was a triple album with differing styles represented on each disc. I also know their last release, Lumina Aurea, was a very experimental single, an ambient, droning piece.
For anyone who might have taken that as an indication of things to come, be relieved/disappointed (delete as appropriate) to learn this isn’t the case. Lumina Aurea is not included on here, and instead When A Shadow represents a much more straightforward musical endeavour.
It appears that time has mellowed Swallow the Sun somewhat. This may not come as so much of a surprise to those who have followed the band more closely over the years, but they have shed a fair bit of their harsher side, though not completely. That aspect is certainly represented from time to time, both in the occasional harsh vocals and other heavier moments. But those are more used as accents to the music as a whole, which follows a bit more of a Katatonia/The Foreshadowing template: melodic, gothic doom, oddly capable of being both unrelentingly gloomy and yet at the same time somehow uplifting.
The exemplars of this style are “Firelights”, “Never Left” and the title track. “Firelights” hits that perfect sweet spot of soulful yet inspiring. It’s smooth and soft in the verses, then surges up like a current to sweep the listener away during the choruses. It makes use of sprinkled harsher elements as backdrops during certain parts (as does “Clouds on Your Side”), but never as a focus. The same occurs in the title track too, though this one takes on a more ominous atmosphere, especially as the song goes on. “Never Left” makes beautiful use of its melodies to present a sorrowful feeling and convey loss with the barest hints of hope. It calls to mind some of the finest purveyors of this approach: Paradise Lost, While Heaven Wept, Novembers Doom. The rising force of the closing few minutes is especially potent.
The band has stated that, in contrast to Lumina Aurea, When A Shadow is Forced Into the Light is meant as a more positive, uplifting piece of music, and it’s impressive how well they pull this off even while playing gothic death-doom. This is music which seems by its very nature to be morose and depressive. Yet it’s this gloomy side that makes it all the more effective.
In keeping with the album title, this is dark and shadowy music being pulled into a brighter frame. Rather than feeling out of place, the music and its message are strengthened and elevated. Even in the darkest of times, there is hope; a light in the darkness, a shadow in the light.
1.) When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light
2.) The Crimson Crown
4.) Upon the Water
5.) Stone Wings
6.) Clouds on Your Side
7.) Here on the Black Earth
8.) Never Left
Juha Raivio – Guitars, keyboards
Matti Honkonen – Bass
Mikko Kotamäki – Vocals
Juuso Raatikainen – Drums
Juho Räihä – Guitars
Jaani Peuhu – Keyboards, vocals