January 21, 2019 Swallow the Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light (Album Review)
Laying a foundation nearly two decades ago, Finland’s Swallow the Sun have become a leader in the Metal sub-genre of Death-Doom. Building their legacy brick by brick, their sound has often been ominous in nature, dark in subject matter, yet undeniably melodic and beautiful in the same breath.
Founded by Guitarist Juha Raivio, they have sustained the strong lineup of Mikko Kotamäki on vocals and Matti Honkonen on bass for many years, while adding the talents of Juuso Raatikainen on drums in 2014, along with most recent additions, Juho Räihä on guitar as well as Jaani Peuhu on keyboards in the last year.
That all in mind, it has been a couple of years of silence since the band released 2015’s Songs from the North – an mega triple album consisting of over 2 1/2 hours of music. A massive undertaking, that no doubt drained a great deal of emotional energy from the musicians involved, recharged, Swallow the Sun are set to return with the highly anticipated follow-up record, When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light, on Friday, January 25, 2019 via Century Media.
Reflecting back on a 2017 interview with Kotamäki, when asked about the prospect of new music from Swallow the Sun, he told Cryptic Rock, “I don’t know about the future, we will have to see.” At the time wrapping up the North America leg of a tour with Amorphis, and already having spent 1 1/2 years consistently on the road, the wear on the band was evident, but collectively they remained in high spirits. Furthermore, they were also still processing the tragic death of longtime friend and collaborator Aleah Starbridge, most often known simply as Aleah.
Aleah, at only 39 years of age, was sadly succumbed by cancer in 2016, no doubt leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of many, especially Swallow the Sun. You see, Aleah’s story with the band runs far and deep, dating back to 2009. Since that time, she worked with the band on various occasions, including 2009’s New Moon, 2012’s Emerald Forest and the Blackbird, and 2015’s Songs from the North, where she not only provided vocals, but also worked on the band’s photo shoot and cover art for the album. Making a massive impact on the lives of the band members, it stands to reason that When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light is directly inspired by her.
In fact, Raivio states the album “is about my own battle since she passed. The album title, When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light, comes from Aleah’s own words, ‘When a shadow is forced into the light.’ That was exactly what I needed to do. To push myself out from the shadows. I’ve been pretty much a hermit in the woods for two and a half years. Gathering my life to write this album. That’s also why the subject is very personal and therefore hard for me to talk about. I’d rather leave it all to the music and words on When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light to tell the story. It’s all there.”
Anyone who has dealt with lose can most certainly relate to Raivo’s explanation quite well, so well that some may even come to tears when reading it. Do not despair though, we are all in a similar boat paddling the same waters, so take a deep breath and let us dive into the cathartic release that is When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light.
Consisting of 8 songs, do not let the single digital track number confuse you, because the album runs for over 50 minutes, leaving no shortage of material to indulge in. True to form as previous Swallow the Sun outputs, the concept of time restriction when putting down a song is non-applicable – it is more about the music will resolve itself when it is finished. Subscribing to this sentiment from the very first song, the title-track engulfs you in a sea of sorrow from the moment it fades in. Deeply emotional, it sets up the entrance of Kotamäki’s clean singing voice. Welcomed clarity, the explosive change into harsher vocals strikes you like a fury of hurt and frustration.
An epic and nearly flawless opening, the darkened tunnel takes you deeper underground with the gloomy “The Crimson Crown” with over 2 minutes of instrumentation prior to any vocal introduction. More stripped back out of the gate, “Firelights” is no less intense, creating the imagery of trekking through a darkened forest searching for some sort of light to guide your way out. Brighter in relation to the prior the first quarter of the record, the album’s first single, “Upon The Water,” is a lively cut that moves you with various vocal inflections along with guitars that build and release with heavier distortion. Then, acting as the first beacon of hope, “Stone Wings” provides a momentary exhale with a beautiful melody that sticks to the psyche in a haunting matter.
Then opting for a shorter format in track duration, songs like “Clouds On Your Side” work as a connecting bridge, bringing the entire album together. Subtly layered with instrumentation and multi-vocal tracks, its words are really what drive home a message of feeling hopeless, but remembering that there is something worth living for beyond the shadows. This is all while “Here On The Black Earth” stands out as perhaps the most Doom Metal vibed tracks of all, complete with funeral-inspired keys and signature drum beat. However, in contrast, vocally, it is anything by standard Doom Metal cliché – evoking a much more dynamic style that peaks and dips at will. Finally, and fittingly, “Never Left” concludes the journey in a colorful display of guitar and strings as if to say, we all have faced our losses, and while it may feel daunting to carry on, we must.
An outcry not to be denied, When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light will no doubt resonate in the heart of anyone who listens. Musically the record is deep, intense, and undeniably personal. For some, expressing their feelings is near impossible, but Swallow the Sun has certainly mastered the art in an extraordinary way. That said, the album cannot be pieced apart to truly grasp its intention. Much like previous bodies of work from Swallow the Sun, it must be listened to in its entirety. A therapeutic freeing, it is as much introspective as it is extrospective. That is why Cryptic Rock give When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light 5 out of 5 stars.