Review: Swallow the Sun “20 Years of Gloom, Beauty and Despair: Live in Helsinki” [Century Media Records]

Review: Swallow the Sun “20 Years of Gloom, Beauty and Despair: Live in Helsinki” [Century Media Records]

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What a promising title. And Swallow the Sun deliver on that promise, by performing some of their nicest tracks with gloom and beauty.

Some description that might be needed: this is a three-disc live album, with acoustic versions of tracks from the Songs From the North album, followed by not acoustic versions of songs from The North and other albums. A pretty nice combination of tracks from their latest album and their older work.

The main way in which this live album works so well is that, even though I typically don’t enjoy listening to whole albums of acoustic versions of rock/metal songs, I still found myself enjoying the first disc. Swallow the Sun’s long, melancholic, keyboard and violin-laden songs work pretty well as acoustic tracks. There is a cold, profoundly sad beauty to them, from their sad and gloomy melodies, to Mikko Kotamäki’s low-pitched elegant vocals that may be quiet on Pray for the Winds to Come or pleading and heartbroken on Away. I must also credit Kaisa Vala’s beautiful chorus in Finish on Songs from the North. But on 66°50’N, 28°40’E, there are no vocals at all and the band have all the time to show their beautiful, melancholic instrumentation. If I may use a poetic comparison, I’d say these songs are definitely songs from the north, having the northern regions’ cold beauty and melancholy.

Then on the next discs, it’s nice to hear the band getting back some of their distortion and heaviness, without losing that sweetness and melancholy. This selection of tracks has all the best elements of doom metal: they’re heavy, macabre, desperate, sweet and melancholic all at once. They also show some pretty great vocal performances, with soft, clean singing, cavernous growls and ferocious shrieks. The always emotional delivery makes every vocal part sound more intense.

The greatest moments of the non-acoustic part would be the imposing and melancholic Lost and Catatonic, or the even heavier and furious Empires of Loneliness, the sinister bells and singing at the beginning of Cathedral Walls, and the equally sinister Plague of Butterflies. There are also other nice moments to be found on other tracks.

So what we have here is a very good compilation of doom metal tracks. It has the best elements of doom metal (beauty, melancholy, heaviness), but it really expands the limits of its chosen genres. This is the closest metal can ever get to classical and gothic music (I’m using those labels in their broadest possible meanings). This is a very nice mix of musical genres, where you can find a lot of emotion and beautiful music. It’s also a nice selection of tracks from Swallow the Sun, focused mainly on their more recent material, but also including some older tracks. I’d really recommend this one, both as an overview of all the 20 years of Swallow the Sun’s career, but also as a chance to listen to a really good live album.

Release date: July 30th, 2021

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