Tuesday 14 December 2021

Swallow the Sun - Moonflowers (2021)

Country: Finland
Style: Melodic Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Nov 2021
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I have no idea why I didn't review Swallow the Sun's previous album, When a Shadow is Forced in to the Light, but it slipped away from me. My only excuse is that it saw release in January 2019, which was the month I started Apocalypse Later Music. At least I'm here for this one, their eighth studio album, each one released this millennium as the band was founded in 2000. Guitarist Juha Raivio is the only remaining member dating that far back but vocalist Mikko Kotamäki and bassist Matti Honkonen joined only a year later and Swallow the Sun has never had anyone else in those roles.

I liked it from the outset, as the opening title track of sorts, Moonflowers Bloom is Misery, builds magnificently. Initially, it's soft and plodding melodic guitar that a melancholy voice joins with an aching refrain. "Will you die in misery?" it asks over and over, as a string section joins the guitar. A couple of minutes in, it repeats again with insane emphasis, heavying up massively, before dropping back to the initial mode. I don't know what time signature it uses, but it feels like a slow waltz, a hypnotic sort of dance. I found it difficult not to sway to this one, even sitting in my office chair.

If Moonflowers Bloom in Misery works primarily as a set of variations on a theme, Enemy is more of a traditional doom/death song and Woven into Sorrow follows suit at greater length, elevating itself with a glorious riff early in its second half. The genre lends itself to songs that breathe and Swallow the Sun benefit from that, all eight tracks here exceeding five and a half minutes. What I see they have no interest in is conjuring up anything epic, with the longest three songs only in the seven minute range.

My favourite song opens up the second half and that's All Hallows' Grieve. I dug the album prior to that, the opener haunting me and Enemy getting better with every listen, but All Hallow's Grieve has two things to elevate it and both elevate it substantially. The first is the presence of Oceans of Slumber vocalist Cammie Gilbert; she leads the song out and duets beautifully with Kotamäki on its chorus. I still haven't heard her primary band on anything but videos but she impressed me on the recent Ison album, Aurora, and she impresses me even more here. The other is that chorus, as it's heartbreakingly beautiful, drenched in loss and grief. I felt this one deep inside.

I didn't feel anything else as deeply, but I enjoyed other tracks like The Void and The Fight of Your Life too, keeping the second half strong. I can't quite connect with Keep Your Heart Safe from Me and I'm still coming to terms with This House Has No Home, which I think is a highlight, but is still strange, shifting from pizzicato strings into a full on black metal wall of sound without warning. It caught me out when that happened the first time and, even though I knew full well it was coming on repeat listens, it still kind of catches me out each time anyway.

I can't remember which Swallow the Sun album I listened to last. I'm certainly quite a few behind, at least a decade, but this reminds me how good they are and how much I ought to check out the others. After all, their debut and their most recent album before this are both maintaining 90%+ averages at Metal Archives. Contributors don't give those out like candy and neither do I. I don't think this is that good, but it's a solid and reliable album with a number of standout tracks, a few of which I'm sure will become earworms. Let's see whether it's the refrain of Moonflowers Bloom in Misery or the sweep of the chorus in All Hallows' Grieve that dominates.

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