I have heard so many good things about Swallow the Sun over the years but somehow always managed to miss them when they played live. It’s redemption time now as “Songs from the North” is a triple album, each transmitting a different ambience.
I immediately got the reason why they are so acclaimed. “Gloom, beauty and despair” is what they are known for. “With You Came The Whole of the World’s Tears” isn’t just a doom track but a series of powerful and vivid moments of melancholy – a world in itself. The echoing vocals and moody heaviness of “10 Silver Bullets” remind me a little of Katatonia. It’s the mixture which is so impressive – it rumbles along at a fair pace with both heavy and delicate touches, and harmonies. The world which Swallow the Sun depicts comprises a combination of light and dark, delicacy and heaviness. “The Memory of Light” struck a particular chord with its shattering emotions, its whispering and mystical sounds, all in a tone which recalled Green Carnation. The control is immaculate. “Lost and Catatonic” is majestic and powerful but not overpowering, entering in reflective mode and reaching the heights through doom. Traditional doom is just part of it as this imaginative and gloomy world is played out. Orchestral accompaniment brings “From Happiness to Dust” and the first part to an end.
The second album is more reflective and acoustic, comprising eight melancholy songs and moods. Of them “Pray for the Winds to Come” captures best the magic and hypnosis that these songs induce. Beginning with a beautiful piano piece, each song is slow, calming and regretful. “Autumn Fire” caught me up in its delicacy and catchy chorus. “Killer moments” are not what this section is about. Instead it is one to enjoy, absorb, relax to and appreciate. Nevertheless I have the singer’s sad and final drawn out line “before the summer dies …” ringing through my head as I write. I could picture the autumnal leaves dying and falling off the trees. It is all enhanced by the majesty of the delicate musical patterns which capture the scene and encapsulate the words. Through the music and words there is mysticism.
And then came the third … “The Gathering of Black Moths” plunges us into pungent doom, breaking down into ominous quiet before resuming its relentless march. Through the deep growls there are funereal tones. This is more than crashing doom. Melancholic vibes and darkly spoken lyrics add expanse to the monstrous “7 Hours Late”. “Empires of Loneliness” takes another tragic course, while “Abandoned by the Light” piles on the remorseless agony in its exotic and beautiful way. “The Clouds Prepare for Battle” again combines the ferocity and sadness of the previous four slabs of doom. There’s a constant threat. A church choir and bells interrupt it and bring calm. An explosion breaks it up, and there is a volley of powerful doom before a reflective metal passage with a sultry spoken section breaks through the dark clouds. The wordsmith speaks of “the stillness before the storm”. There is a melancholic and eerie air and suggestions of that storm as the wind blows and brings this atmospheric track to a close.
Three albums show us three sides of Swallow the Sun. They are all impressive. Personally I liked the shadowy variations of the first group of “Songs from the North” but you can take your pick.
(8.5/10 Andrew Doherty)