Swallow The Sun - Songs from the North
Century Media
Melodic Death Doom / Ambient / Funeral Doom
Disc 1: 8 songs (59'15") Disc 2: 8 songs (42'33") Disc 3: 5 songs (51'57")
Release year: 0
Swallow The Sun, Century Media
Reviewed by Alex
Album of the month

Consider my recent run of reviews for shorter releases, singles and EPs, to be a preparation to cover this monster of an album. I wanted to write about Songs from the North ever since catching Swallow the Sun on their tour with Dark Tranquillity in November. Both bands on Century Media now, that touring package was a delight to attend.

When one reads the title like Songs from the North and sees three discs 21 song long release, it is very natural to think that this is the best of collection, especially considering Swallow the Sun has released five full-lengths in their discography reaching to the early 2000s. There is plenty of material there to choose from, and I, for one, would know having covered the Finns’ first three albums when they saw the light of day. I could possibly think Songs from the North were a collection myself, having missed out on the review of the last album Emerald Forest and the Blackbird. Yet, the answer to this supposition is a defiant “no”, since Songs from the North are not only 21 songs of all original material, it is a defining career statement, an opus after which, frankly, I am not sure where Swallow the Sun can take it from here.

As a metal band you have got to have courage to put out something along this nature, but Swallow the Sun has been on something like a creative spurt, so they went for it. Kudos to Century Media for not shying away from Songs from the North either and, truthfully, if Disc 3 – Despair – was the only music Swallow the Sun released, it would have been a candidate for an Album of the Month, or more. Going to the early beginnings of their career, Despair is a return to the full-on funeral doom. Only five compositions long Despair is slow and foreboding – why rush, the grave can wait – and is an instant classic of the genre. Carried by emotional vomitous vocals – not a clean note to be found here - the disc is a sound of complete self-abandonment, frozen in space and time by Alexi Munter’s keys, tied up by impenetrable knots, melody floating alongside and dissolving onto stagnating chords (7 Hours Late). Full with pregnant pauses – something worse is still to come as the mid-section of The Gathering of Black Moths might suggest – the compositions allow some cleaner acoustic breaks (The Gathering of Black Moths, Empires of Loneliness), yet the mood is that of a man trapped and lost, periodically bouncing off the walls seeking escape in an unexpected outburst in the form of a blackened tremolo on Empires of Loneliness. Keyboards play an extremely important role on Despair. They help to resolve dissonant and chaotic pile at the beginning of Abandoned by the Light, then shifting to play very low bass notes all the way to the left on the keyboard. Playing in a whispery darkness, piano plots a final attempt to escape which is coming in the form of the rare double bass melodic ending. From discordant to clean, keyboards also help to stage the battle at the top of a roofless cathedral, helping to portray a moment of rage amidst the plodding dreadful landscape, which is the majority of the disc. Playing unusual instruments, like bass clarinet or bassoon on The Gathering of Black Moths, provides for an additional funeral flavor making the notes like the one at about 6.5 min mark of that composition particularly sad. As some of you know, Swallow the Sun guitarist and main songwriter Juha Raivio recently lost his life partner Aleah Stanbridge, and while Despair may not have been conceived as a requiem, I have been listening to the music through the lens of that heartbreaking circumstance, thinking how a young talented life has been so unfortunately cut short.Disc 1 – Gloom – is a lot more about self-pity than self-loathing. It is abundantly heavy in spots too, and there are plenty of solid memorable riffs to throw around as well (With You Came the Whole of the World’s Tears, 10 Silver Bullets, Silhouettes). Gloom maintains fantastic balance between harshness and that sweetly brood, the mood Swallow the Sun has been going for mostly on its last pair of albums. The vocals shift to dual, with clean singing by Mikko Kotamaki having improved tremendously since the early days. Involved in duets with a pair of female singers (Rooms and Shadows, Heartstrings Shattering), just like vocal lines, the songs go through multiple valleys and crescendos, dramatic Karmina Burana opening of Lost & Catatonic contrasting with closing whispery loneliness (note, Despair was about whispery darkness). Harmonies mostly prevail on Gloom, and there are a number of interesting percussion patterns, melody and rhythmic pattern of Rooms and Shadows reminding me of Katatonia on The Last Fair Deal Gone Down before the Swedes completely mellowed out. Gloom, just like Despair, is guitar driven music, however in the case of the former we are moving somewhere, there is a flow, not deathly paralyzing stasis.

If there is a weakness on the album, I would call it the middle Disc titled Beauty. On it Swallow the Sun mostly goes for ethereal acoustic strums, Pray for the Winds to Come and Before the Summer Dies not being out of place on Lake of Tears Forever Autumn. Instrumental 66o50’N, 28o40’E is something Weather Channel would kill for, and a lot of these compositions play better on a sunny warm fall day, when you just know that gloom of winter is eventually coming. The Finns know the cold winter is inevitable too and preface this with a dark piano piece reminiscent of what Andy Winter would do with Winds. In stark contrast with the rest of the disc, The Womb of Winter still offers a small glimmer of hope that spring and life can survive … but never mind, Despair Disc 3 will take care of that.

There are so many ways to listen to Songs from the North. You can pick your favorite discs and just play them (guilty as charged). You can play them as a whole album, probably what Swallow the Sun intended, but can dial moods up or down, based on whatever your soul desires at the moment. The band very cleverly decided not to mix 21 songs in a random order, creating variety just for the sake of it. Whichever listening method you end up with, the impact of Songs from the North will be undeniably profound and long lasting.

Killing Songs :
With You Came the Whole of the World’s Tears, Rooms and Shadows, Heartstrings Shattering, The Womb of Winter, Pray for the Winds to Come, the whole of Despair
Alex quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Swallow The Sun that we have reviewed:
Swallow The Sun - Emerald Forest and the Blackbird reviewed by Khelek and quoted 73 / 100
Swallow The Sun - New Moon reviewed by Alex and quoted 83 / 100
Swallow The Sun - Hope reviewed by Alex and quoted 91 / 100
Swallow The Sun - Ghosts of Loss reviewed by Alex and quoted 83 / 100
Swallow The Sun - The Morning Never Came reviewed by Alex and quoted 92 / 100
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