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Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers Award winner

Swallow The Sun
by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 29 November 2021, 6:32 AM

SWALLOW THE SUN is a doom metal band from Finland, who formed in 2000.  “Moonflowers,” is their eight full length studio album, in addition to an EP released in 2008 and their also recently released live album.  Their debut demo saw gloomy light of day in 2003. “Moonflowers" is one of the most dark, depressing, and hopeless albums of 2021.  Considering their genre and their ability to infuse their songs with stark and morose atmospheres, it obviously isn't much of a surprise how much the album dives into the abyss. Furthermore, SWALLOW THE SUN, in general, and guitarist Juha Raivio, in particular have experienced their own abyss.  His beloved partner, Aleah, died in 2016.  Not too long after, the world stopped and the band, along with much of the world, was thrown into isolation.

Why do I mention all this? Because of Juha and his struggle to come to terms with all that has happened. "When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light," was also bleak but it also had slivers of hope. Upon Listening to that album, I had the feeling that Juha was slowly but surely recovering. He will, of course, never get over his loss but that album had me believing he was coming as close as one can to accepting such a tragedy. After experiencing "Moonflowers" I am legitimately worried for his mental and emotional health. The pain he is still in is very real and I was shocked by just how much of it flows through the album. I obviously don't know him but I feel like pieces of his pain have been transferred to me from the band's music.  And I feel as if Juha has lost his progress over the years and has slipped back into a dark place.

It isn’t just the lyrics that are on the edge of being lost but the music also features the end extremes of the core SWALLOW THE SUN sound, especially compared to the previous release.  On the eight track, 56 minute run time, the heavier parts of the album are more intense than “When A Shadow...” and the lighter parts are more delicate this time too.  As a result, we get a musical tapestry of everything STS is. The opening track, “Moonflowers Bloom In Misery,” sets the stage for what the listener can expect from the album, more or less.   It is quite an effective way to begin the album due in no large part of the opening line of “Will you die in misery?” but the cold and clean guitars, tragic keys, and the tortured death growls and blackened screams certainly help give the song the impact it does. Mikko’s clean vocals continue to gain new ground and dimensions but all his vocal prowess has improved—his extreme style is even more vicious than in the past.   The song alternates between cleaner passages and a suffocating chorus.  By the time the song is over, you will feel like you have been nearly drained.

Enemy,” is more immediate in tone and structure, being that it begins with heavy guitars, foreboding keys and extreme vocals. The whole song sounds desperate and hellish in its terrible realization of the enemy.  The mid section is clean, with Mikko’s displaying a deeper vocal tone, almost spoken word.  The keys/symphonic are particularly engaging as is the double bass which keeps the entire song firm even though the emotions threaten to knock it all down. “Woven Into Sorrow,” cuts deep with a long, doomy intro built into the song’s fabric.  The tone in the riffs is just filthy and will appeal to those who prefer some of the band’s older albums.  The keys work well with the riffs, both complimenting the dark areas of the song yet lifting up the other parts.  Around the 5:05 mark, the song doubles down on the crushing riffs for one of the band’s most intense moments in their career.  Mikko’s accompanying performance is all consuming and hits right in the feels, with the anger, frustration, and sadness just pulsating out.

Keep Your Heart Safe From Me," is riff based in the beginning, a steady undercurrent of double bass holding the song up until it enters a clean passage of gentle vocals, melodic bass and a melancholic backdrop. The pre chorus is growled and the chorus is sang clean, showing off Mikko's ability to switch styles with ease. The keys/symphonic perfectly echo the sentiments of the song. Around the five minute mark, the guitars create a lush but brilliant melodic bridge, with a guitar solo weaving in and out. "All Hallows' Grieve," features Oceans of Slumber's Cammie Gilbert giving one of the best vocal performances of her career. She captures the band's sorrow with her own unique vocal tale that is fragile yet commands presence. Mikko and her trade off lines and their voices couldn't be more perfect together. Musically, the song caters to their performances by filling the song with heavy but smooth flowing riffs.

"The Void," is a simple but highly engaging song. Matti's bass is center stage here, providing a steady rhythm for the song's skeletal structure.  Despite the song's dark nature, the chorus is catchy but the ultra thick riffs that coat the song afterwards will also stay with you for days. "The Fight Of Your Life," is an emotional wreck of a song that is one part clean acoustic and another part vicious melodic death/doom. The keys add extra weight to the breezy, melancholic passages but when the sky turns black and the bottom falls out, a monstrous hell awakens. The final screams of Mikko are chilling.

"This House Has No Home" begins with a splattering of surprisingly whimsical note and tones before blackened doom over takes the song and makes it one of the most potent in all their catalog. "Moonflowers" is an exhausting and draining experience but one that any fan of the band or doom in general must take. There can be beauty in even the darkest places and even when they shouldn't, flowers can bloom. I don't know if Juha will even read this review and, if he does, I hope he doesn't take offense to anything I have said or assumed.  I also hope he understands that his fans around the world are rooting for him. And that through tragedy he and the rest of the band have released incredibly potent, sincere and powerful music.

That is no small thing and I've no doubt "Moonflowers" (and their other albums) have helped may fans through their own hard times. I know Juha has said he both loves and hates this album but even through these difficult times, he should hold his head up and be proud of it as well.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

1. Moonflowers Bloom in Misery
2. Enemy
3. Woven into Sorrow
4. Keep Your Heart Safe from Me
5. All Hallow's Grieve
6. The Void
7. The Fight of Your Life
8. This House Has No Home
Jaani Peuhu - Vocals (Backing)
Juha Raivio - Guitars, Keyboards, Songwriting, Lyrics
Matti Honkonen - Bass
Mikko Kotamäki - Vocals
Juuso Raatikainen - Drums
Juho Räihä – Guitars
Record Label: Century Media Records


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