When a Shadow is Forced into the Light by Swallow the Sun
Reviewed by Greg Bourne
One of the biggest bands in Death/Doom, Finnish group Swallow the Sun released their 7th album “When a Shadow is Forced into the Light” on January 25, 2019. For those of you who don’t know, Death/Doom is a hybrid of the aggressiveness of Death Metal, and the slow, bleak atmosphere of Doom Metal.
Now just to fully explain, Death/Doom lyrics usually focus of topics like nihilism, sadness, depression, and unsurprisingly death. Real, emotionally fueled lyrics that this time around, are sadly very personal and hit close to home. This is the first album following the death of founding member and guitarist Juha Raivio’s long time life and creative partner, Aleah Starbridge who passed away after losing her fight with cancer in 2016. She had been featured on previous Swallow the Sun albums, and the two even had their own side project, Trees of Eternity. Without giving too much away you can feel the anguish, and sorrow leak through this album. It even sounds like the instruments carry a heavy burden. At the same time, the album is beautiful and contains genuine, struggling emotion. The album is dedicated to Aleah Starbridge.
The title track, and the opening track of the album, “When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light” opens this massive sounding album perfectly. Everything Swallow The Sun has done previously is on display in this track – emotion, depth and waves of rich textures. From clean guitars to monstrous bass and drums to distorted guitars, harsh vocals and an array of vocal harmonies. This song is about everything the band can pull off that can push the genre to its extremes. Of course, this opening track is sort of a template as to what to expect from rest of the album, like a teaser.
Skipping ahead to the fourth track of the album (and my personal favorite) “Upon the Water”, carries with it the totality of all the baggage generated by the first half of the album. The lyrics “Upon the water, some of the birds still echo silent, Low tide is gone, forever, forever, forever” sung in the deepest, clean vocals on the album are haunting and will rumble even the highest quality set of headphones. This song is a reminder of the seriousness that created this album to begin with.
The vocals are the band’s game changer. Clean vocals can be extremely polarizing in the metal world as there is a fine line between moody and whiny, sorrowful and over-indulgent, etc. Mikko Kotamäki has a full, rounded-out voice steeped with emotion that invites the listener to join in as an active participant. Extreme vocals are used wisely to put a particularly dark or even fierce emphasis on specific sections. Also, female vocals work in synergy with the other’s creating a larger soundscape overall as if the borders were expanded musically.
The guitar performance by Juha Raivio and Juho Räihä showcases intelligent playing and inventive arrangement along with catchy melodies. The clean tones specifically are exceptional as they are crystal clear and bright without becoming tinny sounding. That isn’t to say that the distorted tones are weak or lacking, because they are massive and comparable to those of other bands in the genre.There are only a few solos weaved into the album, but this is not tragic as the band has admitted a preference for quality and adheres to their own strict standard of what is deemed necessary to the successful completion of a song.
Greg is an FM DJ at WFNP. Catch his show (WFNP’s heaviest block of music) “The Pit” every Tuesday night from 10-12 PM, and follow his show’s page at facebook.com/wfnpthepit!