Album of the Week 27-2019: Swallow The Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light


Occasionally, there are rare instances in which the cliché that great misery inspires great art proves to be true. Swallow The Sun’s seventh album ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’ is one of those instances. Rhythm guitarist and main songwriter Juha Raivio lost his wife, South African singer Aleah Starbridge, to cancer at the much too young age of 39 and her absence is felt throughout the album. Being a Finnish doom/death metal band, Swallow The Sun was never the most cheerful bunch, but the beautiful melancholy on display here gives the album its unique character within the band’s discography.

Even without knowing the story behind the album, one thing stands out immediately and that is the profoundly sad gothic atmosphere that defines a large portion of the album. There are still outbursts of extreme metal, but tracks like ‘Upon The Water’ and the gorgeous ‘The Crimson Crown’ are so full of arpeggiated clean guitar chords that they feel stylistically closer to Fields Of The Nephilim’s masterpiece ‘Elizium’ than to anything Amorphis ever released. In a way, the album reverses the process of ‘Songs From The North’ (2015), on which the band gave different discs to each aspect of their sound.

Bringing those extremes back together has really done wonders for the dynamics on ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’. Mikko Kotomäki utilizes his deep, clean vocals for a majority of the album, but he is backed by electric guitars almost exclusively. These alternate between the aforementioned clean chord work and beefy doom riffs that are notably more spaciously produced than the guitars on the band’s earlier works. It helps that the riffs are significantly less chord heavy than on their previous albums; the single notes can really ring through with the intensity they should have.

While an album like ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’ is best listened to in its entirity to let the atmosphere carry you away, anyone into the darker spectrum of music needs to hear ‘Stone Wings’. The song is mainly carried by a Nephilim-esque eye-watering guitar part and has what is probably the most hauntingly beautiful chorus released this year. There is a more extreme middle section, but even that part of the song is quite melancholic. By comparison: the aggressive middle part of the otherwise sorrowful ‘Firelights’ is the closest the band has ever gotten to black metal. Elsewhere, ‘Here On Black Earth’ contains a surprisingly dynamic guitar arrangement.

No, ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into Night’ is not an easy record to listen to. It is in the sense that it’s probably the most accessible album Swallow The Sun has released thus far, but the feeling of loss hangs over the album like a pitch black cloud. As a result, the album is not for the faint of heart, but it is in fact the best record the Finns have released thus far. Its superior flow helps too; many of their earlier albums were difficult to listen to in one setting, but once the piano and string laden closer ‘Never Left’ extinguishes, I have been captivated for 52 straight minutes. One of the better metallic releases of 2019. Highly impressive.

Recommended tracks: ‘Stone Wings’, ‘The Crimson Crown’, ‘Never Left’

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