Getting signed to a major label like Century Media seems like the perfect time to do something bold, and what could be more bold than releasing a TRIPLE album? It does not get much more epic than that. Finland’s Swallow the Sun are a band with the courage to do something that daring. A triple album is a potentially career-defining moment and Swallow the Sun has delivered.
Up until now, Swallow the Sun have been vastly underrated and overlooked. Chief songwriter Juha Raivio is one of the best when it comes to crafting heavy but very melodic songs with great hooks. With “Songs from the North I, II & III,” Raivio has the room and space to explore all facets of Swallow the Sun’s sound. He takes full advantage of the opportunity to craft some of his best songs to date.
The first disc of the triple album picks up where their last album, “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird,” left off: very melodic death/doom metal with an epic prog-metal feel. The first thing I noticed is that lead vocalist Mikko Kotamäki sounds better than ever. He has three basic styles: a death vocal, a black metal vocal and a clean vocal. He has always been great at the first two but now his clean vocals sound better than ever and exceptionally strong. Prime examples are “10 Silver Bullets” and “Rooms and Shadows,” which are two of the best songs on the entire album, let alone the first disc. Both songs also feature some of the best riffs Raivio has created.
“Heartstrings Shattering” features additional vocals from Aleah Stanbridge, who makes a nice counterpoint to Kotamäki’s improved clean vocals. Another track I really enjoy is the dark and atmospheric “Lost & Catatonic.” Swallow the Sun have always had such a FULL sound, and this track has the main elements that make up their trademark: darkness and melody. “From Happiness to Dust” is a great transition song to close out disc one because it is slow but very melodic, which is what disc two is all about.
The other two discs allow the band to separate those two elements and create songs specifically for each side of their sound. Disc two is the melodic, mostly acoustic side of the band. I like this disc the most, primarily because it showcases what a great songwriter that Juha Raivio is. It’s also the most prog-sounding disc of the three. It starts with a beautiful piano piece called “The Womb of Winter,” which allows the great Aleksi Munter to shine. “The Heart of a Cold White Land” is so bare sounding that it pushes Mikko Kotamäki into the spotlight, and this is where you notice just how great his clean vocals have become. Once the strings come in on this track, it’s lush and beautiful. Just amazing.
“Pray for the Winds to Come” is a gentle, elegant track with one of my favorite riffs on the album, but this time it’s on an acoustic guitar. The title track is another favorite. It reminds me of the mellow sections of “Cathedral Walls” from their last album. “66°50´N,28°40´E” is another stellar instrumental. The song is so gorgeous and absolutely glides from the speakers. It has one of the best guitar solos Swallow the Sun have ever recorded. “Autumn Fire” is another track on disc two that is easily one of the best songs that this band has ever done, very melodic and a great chorus.
Last but not least is the super heavy disc three, which has been billed as Swallow the Sun doing funeral doom. That’s only partially true. “The Gathering of Black Moths” and “7 Hours Late” are definitely funeral doom. They are quite slow, to the point where they don’t actually feel like they are going anywhere at all. However, by the time we get to “Empires of Loneliness,” it feels more like classic Swallow the Sun from their first album, “The Morning Never Came.” The last three tracks would not seem out of place on that album or even their second album “Ghosts of Loss.”
This album is also the debut of new drummer Juuso Raatikainen, who was added to the band because Kai Hahto is filling in with Nightwish. Having to replace a great drummer like Hahto is no easy task and to top that off, Raatikainen gets to play on a triple album. His drumming is amazing throughout “Songs from the North I, II & III” and he is clearly the right drummer for the job.
While I don’t like the third disc as much as the first two, it does not take away at all from them. The third disc is strictly value added. Sure, I would have loved “Plague of Butterflies, Part II,” but that’s just me nitpicking. As I said, a triple album needs to be a career-defining moment and “Songs from the North I, II & III” is exactly what Swallow the Sun needed to do. It is a grand statement from a band out to prove they are one of the best (and most overlooked) acts in all of metal.
1. With You Came the Whole of the World’s Tears
2. 10 Silver Bullets
3. Rooms and Shadows
4. Heartstrings Shattering
6. The Memory of Light
7. Lost & Catatonic
8. From Happiness to Dust
1. The Womb of Winter
2. The Heart of a Cold White Land
4. Pray for the Winds to Come
5. Songs from the North
7. Autumn Fire
8. Before the Summer Dies
1. The Gathering of Black Moths
2. 7 Hours Late
3. Empires of Loneliness
4. Abandoned by the Light
5. The Clouds Prepare for Battle