Album Review: Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Swallow The Sun

Album Review: Swallow The Sun - Moonflowers
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings

It was impossible not to be captivated by Swallow the Sun’s 2019 release ‘When A Shadow is Forced into the Light’. Their eighth album and one that rightly earned the Finnish misery merchants plaudits worldwide. Their beautiful live release ‘20 Years of Gloom, Beauty and Despair - Live in Helsinki’ that arrived a mere three months ago was a further reminder, if one was needed, of their quality.

‘Moonflowers’ is the band’s ninth full length release, and once again the Finns have excelled themselves with an enchanting record that is delivered in their classic style. Downhearted, dark, and miserable, yet simultaneously uplifting, with soaring string sections and heartfelt gothic melodies that counter the crushingly heavy doom-laden riffs, it is an album that is both instantaneous and demanding of investment.

Primary songwriter Juha Raivio once again shoulders the burden of creation but as has always been the case, he manages to blend the band’s trusted style with various tweaks and slight deviations from previous releases. This results in dramatic, sweeping movements that summon up monumental slabs of emotion. This is an album that is so sentimentally heavy you’ll have trouble lifting it up.

It’s evident that this is a raw and personal record. “… I deeply hate this album” Raivio says. “I hate where it takes me, how it makes me feel, and what it stands for me. I wish it wouldn’t. But for all its honesty, I got no option than also [to] love it. That is all that matters to me with the music anyway. It doesn’t matter how it makes me feel, as long as it does”. With a comment like that, you might expect ‘Moonflowers’ to be challenging. It’s not. Despite the dark lyrical content and melancholic feel, it’s an enjoyable and stunning musical journey and possibly one of the most accessible the band have made. But the emotion is raw throughout.

Album Review: Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Vocalist Mikko Kotamäki contributes hugely to Swallow the Sun’s integral sound, the combination of sorrowful clean vocals mixes with roaring growls, intermingling with the delicate interplay and instrumental passages. There seems to be more focus on the smoother, semi-croon on this album as well, although the gruffer elements work as well as ever. It’s an album that impresses from the start. The explosive ‘Moonflowers Bloom in Misery’ sees flowing orchestral elements mix and follow blisteringly heavy passages. The driving semi-death metal flourishes at the start of ‘Keep Your Heart Safe From Me’ soon give way to a harrowing, gothic flavour, haunting echoes and lyrics build the atmosphere, seismic eruptions of riffs explode, countered by clean singing and eerily echoing, shimmering soundscapes. Then there’s the delicate ‘All Hallow’s Grieve’ features Oceans of Slumber’s Cammie Gilbert in a fabulous duet, whilst the ‘The Void’ is a pensive, emotive track that could penetrate the coldest heart. The harrowing ‘The Fight of Your Life’ is reminiscent of ‘Gothic’ era Paradise Lost and the dark, grim ‘This House Has No Home’ (feat. Stam1na’s Antti Hyyrynen) provides a startling, snarling and fitting conclusion.

Whilst we weren’t party to the bonus material for this review, it promises to be worth shelling out the extra money to get hold of it. Performed by Finnish string outfit Trio NOX at a Medieval church in Sipoo, Finland, with guitarist Juho Räihä taking over the helm on death vocals, guitars, bass, and strings whilst producer David Castillo handled drums and clean vocals at Ghost Ward (Leprous, Katatonia) before being shipped off to Jens Bogren to mix and Tony Lindgren to master at Fascination Street Studios. The album artwork was created by Raivio using dried flowers he had collected as well as his own blood to paint the moon that adorns the starkly graceful cover. There is no such thing as a bad Swallow the Sun album and ‘Moonflowers’ is destined to rank alongside their best.

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