Album Review: Swollow The Sun - 20 Years of Gloom, Beauty and Despair – Live in Helsinki
Reviewed by Richard Oliver
Of late there have been a plethora of live album releases but these have generally been recordings of live streams done without an audience. Whilst these are enjoyable in their own right they all lack the spark and electricity of a good live album where you can hear the band working off the energy and appreciation of the audience and vice versa. Thankfully there are still a handful of ‘proper’ live albums trickling out that were recorded just before live music was shut down globally.
One such live album comes from Finnish gloom merchants Swallow The Sun who at the start of 2020 were touring to celebrate 20 years of the band. A handful of these shows were completed before the tour was cancelled thanks to the pandemic but thankfully one of these shows was recorded and has been released as 20 Year Of Gloom, Beauty And Despair - Live In Helsinki. It also happens to be the first ever live release from Swallow The Sun. It is very much a live album of two halves with the first half of the show being the entirety of Songs Of The North II: Beauty being played acoustically in its entirety with the band backed by a string quartet. It shows Swallow The Sun in a very stripped down, minimalistic and intimate manner and sounds absolutely fantastic as well as very morose. Songs such as Away and Autumn Fire are very sombre but the heartstrings are very much tugged during the title track when the pre-recorded vocals of the late Aleah Starbridge are heard.
The second half of the show is Swallow The Sun at their full plugged in might with a setlist voted for by the fans on social media so there are some of the popular Swallow The Sun songs such as Falling World, Cathedral Walls, Plague Of Butterflies, Don’t Fall Asleep and Sorrow but these are accompanied by some deeper cuts and more recent songs such as The Giant, Stone Wings and Here On The Black Earth. The band perform immaculately with the luscious keys of Jaani Peuhi mixing well with the guitars of Juha Raivio and Juho Räihä and the rhythm section of Matti Honkonen on bass and Juuso Raatikainen on drums. The vocals by Mikko Kotamäki fit in well with this gloomy style of music though he does sound like he struggled with his clean vocals at times but his ferocious roar sounds as devastating as ever.
With this gloomy, downbeat and melancholic style of music the interaction with the audience is kept to a minimum and the audience respectfully cheer and clap when necessary but keep quiet the rest of the time. When it comes to gloomy metal music then the Finnish are the absolute best at it and Swallow The Sun are one of the top bands who play this melodic death doom style of metal. Whilst it was not recorded to be absolutely intended as a live release it is lucky that it was as it does a great job in capturing the essence of the band and their live shows. For you other miserable bastards like myself who love heartbreaking melancholy in their music then this live release is well worth your time.