Finland has some great and well known bands these days and one of my favorites is Swallow the Sun. I discovered them back during the album cycle for their last release ‘New Moon’ based on the comparisons they were receiving with Opeth. I could see that to some extent but they definitely had their own style. The songs weren’t as long with the exception of the track 34 minute three part track Plague of Butterflies from the EP of the same name. STS was tagged with the genre name of melodic death metal but the genre they have put on themselves is actually epic doom/death and that’s a much more fitting description.Now New Moon was not one of my favorite full lengths by them. I preferred earlier releases and it was mainly due to the stylistic change to a more hardcore style of vocals from the guttural roars and the music itself wasn’t as dense and progressive as before. So now we come to the newest release ‘Emerald Forest and the Blackbird’ which I was hoping would be a return to the style that got me enraptured with them in the first place. At the time of this writing I’m still listening to it and trying to decide where it falls and how much I like it.
I suppose I have to commend the guys for keeping things new and fresh. There is this fine line we as music listeners cross where we want something new but are resistant to change at the same time. I’ve listened to this album a half dozen times and it’s growing on me but at first I didn’t like it. The first half of EFATBB is more of a gothic doom style reminiscent of My Dying Bride and the second half is something between a cross of old STS and New Moon. So you can understand why it’s taking me awhile to really absorb what we have here. Vocalist Mikko Kotamäki broadens his vocals on this album to include almost a blackened style which is hard for me to enjoy. Only a few bands can pull off the blackened tone and have me enjoy it, Agalloch being the best example. But the more I listen to the album the more I discover new things and the greater my appreciation for it becomes. EFATBB in a nutshell will test your ability to appreciate and absorb the wide amount of styles and moods. If you thought depressive was just a linear mood then this album will change that viewpoint for you.
A couple of other things I’d like to mention about this album is the amount of clean vocals present. Almost every song has extended passages with Mikko’s clean vocals which aren’t amazing but are pleasant and distinctive partially due to the obvious Finnish accent. I’ve touched on this on previous articles but Annette Olzon of Nightwish also makes a guest appearance on the track Cathedral Walls and actually that is probably my favorite track on this album based on simplicity and melodies compared to the other tracks. If Annette ever wants to shirk the pop rock and symphonic metal gigs she can definitely fit well in a Gothic death doom band.
In closing even though it took me awhile to warm up to this album (and I still am) there is no denying that once again Swallow the Sun has put together a masterpiece of musicality. If you’re a fan of Swallow the Sun even you might be tested on this but this is what music should be. Testing and pushing the boundaries every time where the listener must listen more then once to catch all of the changes and nuances. Emerald Forest and the Blackbird should definitely be on year end lists even if it’s only February and we have a long time to go. Keep your ears out for Mikko’s other project Barren Earth because we may be in for a definite one two punch in the progressive/melodeath/gothic/doom genre. Here is the video for Cathedral Walls if you haven’t already seen it.