Swallow the Sun
Emerald Forest And the Blackbird

I’m gonna say this right out the gate – I’m typically no fan of softer areas of possibility in my metal; even when it fits into the particular painting I happen to stumble upon. That being said, when I approached this Swallow the Sun album, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to get into it for the simple reason that I expected one astonishingly linear delivery of down-tempo mournings to the point of getting stomach churns of complaint and an increasingly physical need to jump to an entirely different stack of records on the other side of the planet. Thus, when I saw that Emerald Forest And the Blackbird was being described as a collection of elements that never overshadow each other, I kinked an eyebrow – something, according to that, had evolved into a much, much better place for this genre to be in (and I’m not bashing the entirety of the funeral doom scene; I know noteworthy acts into this sphere that I’ve learned to adopt and love, albeit it took some time and multiple spins of select records).

Firsthand, you gotta know that some of these tracks contain some majorly gripping series of arrangements and shifts in mood that are well-entwined and skillfully thought-out; that leads to uber long tracks (often reaching around 9 minutes) feeling like they’re just under the four-minute span. Also, some passages are into such an opposite stylistic voicing, they make it sound like this ain’t the same album no more and we’re talking about a different band – and in some cases, this can be a major no-no and indicate a lack of focus; here, it’s refreshing, entertaining, and showing that these guys can do a lot more than stick to one single comfort zone. These are the major chunks of awesome that make this record one that’s cool to listen to; that being said, it’s easy to identify the flat avenues, and compare them with the climaxes that hit truly hard in a memorable manner. Like in pretty much any recipe where there are daring blends of ingredients, some tricks are absolute failures, whilst others are truly noteworthy and awing.

The title-track is one of the two largest pieces of work at hand, and it does go through its multiple phases of visionary ideals and whilst not all of those work in this wooden frame, it’s still pretty damned impressive to sit and count them out, and for what it is, it’s a daring track progression and meshing of patterns and shades of grey. There’s already interesting character to the introductory string work, and the huge emphasis on ambiance is one that’s emotionally disturbing. The production is incredibly vast and suits this genre as well as can be. It’s spotless and roomy as it gets. In the beginning, it’s an incredibly smooth taunter, taking all the time it needs to develop, albeit I can say for damned sure that 2.50 is one imposing slam in the back of the neck. The slicing guitar sound is warmly appreciated on this end. Even the touch of keyboards seems to utilize the most appropriate sounds. I’m also loving the dirtier, thicker doom riffs that make a few appearances here and there. There seems to be a good balance between rough and soft in this picture, which is, no questions asked, a pretty stellar skill to have and bring forth. There’s a nicely done violin patterning in the second verse. This being all well and good, 4.39 is a part I have a lot of trouble comprehending. Whilst it’s still reasonably haunting, it seems to interrupt the whole flow of the tune, thrown in the can at an awkward angle, at absolute random, like a recycled piece. It’s very protuberant and should’ve been tossed out IMO. It gets a touch more contemplative afterward and builds up into one unexpectedly tempestuous part around 5.58 that feels brutal, even though the instrumentation isn’t necessarily fast or aggressive; it’s the meshing of that one passage with smoother laywork preceding it, and also the grit of the riffs, delivery of the vocals, and precision of the production’s emphasis on each and every element that strongly helps bring out the fucking essence of this sound ’til bled black. There’s no way in hell this tune feels like it’s ten whole minutes long – it passes by incredibly fast, with its wealth of variation. It’s seasoned and original, for better or worse.

”This Cut is the Deepest” doesn’t sit quite right with me. Still, the clean vocal and main acoustic riff in the first verse is mildly appealing. It all seems to begin to drag far too quickly though. It’s not an entirely bad song – it just gets very tame on quite the steady roll not that far down the line. The chorus seems to try and grasp to reach deeper around its middle part; and terribly fails to hit the mark. I’m more moved by the doomier part around 2.57 with its phantomatic leads sprinkled atop somewhat symphonic arrangements; this one type of hat fits this band better no doubt. Following this kind of twist in pace, the softer approach sounds a tad more efficient – the balancing truly makes all the difference in the world and gives a better, more striking impact to otherwise slightly laggy bits and pieces of these creations. That’s a bit of a fix-up right there, but this tune sure ain’t up to par with its predecessor. It’s an entirely different type of cat. That being said, ”Hate, Lead the Way” is the main moment on this record where it feels like a new band is taking center stage. Huge drums and a raspy, high-register vocal make for a venomous entrance into the matter; it’s definitely a lot more violent than anything I’d come to expect from these guys. I’m loving the sound of the guitars going into the first verse – I’m hearing great, ancient-sounding riffs atop a steady, mid-tempo march that has a blackened feel, without mistake. It’s a completely different turn for these guys – still, they do nail this style to bits. 3.54 is a cinematic all of its own with various layers of sounds topping each other – it definitely sounds much heavier than anything else on the disc this far. It’s a helluva sweet tune – it’s simple, but houses a mid-section that showcases a lot of this band’s best talents. The pattern shifts in the drumming (around the track wrap-up) are quite creative and explosive.

”Cathedral Walls” goes straight back to the downtempo valleys. Still, there’s a lot of calculating genius to the FX filters laid upon the guitars all through this record, and in the case of this track, in the verses, the feel of the riffs is incredibly desolate, in part because of that one layer alone – each note sounds a lot thicker, for a neat affect back to back with the downtempo stroll, making the whole sound a lot darker very easily. From the moment the piano crawls in with the female vocal and the acoustic though, things get a lot more accessible and easygoing; it ain’t bad for what it is, but simply meh and, again, absolutely not what this band does best. I’m preferring the depth of the verses over the very common, déjà-vu light-headedness of the choruses. 3.39, to my utter enjoyment, is a massively fucking heavy part that seems to be a monstrous buildup, with fast drumming and a good agencing with the symphonic elements again, eventually going into mid-tempo and very effective doom riffs, to then head straight back onto the fast drum roll – that’s also a pretty epic part. This shifts as easily back into the chorus with the soft female vocal – it’s certainly a skillful way to mesh both opposite moods of this song – gotta hand ’em that. The doomy riffs in this second half of the tune are definitely my favorite on this whole record. ”Hearts Wide Shut” is direct proof that the smooth endeavors sure aren’t these guys’ best bet in the context of this record. It all just breezes past, getting quickly forgotten and buried. It ain’t that it sucks ass – it just doesn’t happen to be particularly and especially interesting. Luckily, the chorus is heavier, with genuinely memorable string work underneath the steel. It’s a direct evolution of the riffage utilized in the verses – which ain’t a bad idea, really. There’s a bit of a Daylight Dies mindset going on here, even more noticeably so than on other, softer tracks in this one batch. It’s quite desolate. The second verse has a bit more of a bold acoustic sound which takes my attention a touch more, but nonetheless, it’s still slightly sleep worthy. Even the spoken part over piano doesn’t hit the mark at all. The growled part following it, though, is a lot more epic and fitting, the vocal is more insistent, the guitar’s a lot more slicing and forceful, even going higher in key, with a neat descending doomy riff in the back. The down tempo section afterward with the drum kick is really great; it’s actually definitely an improvement for this song.

”Silent Towers” has somewhat of an engrossing intro followed by yet another soft verse. It’s still well-balanced with heavier sounds, which makes it an okay song, albeit not quite stacking up there with the great ones. Even the chorus, in spite of having some alright leads and fine riffs, is not all that powerful. It’s another tune that breezes by, so far, doing absolutely nothing more. 2.30 is the predictable heavy-hitter part; still, it seems to hold a lot less water than in the previous tune, considering the lame overall package. Still, I’m liking the creativity in the background lead flourishes. This all seems to have more of a dark alternative penchant than the other tunes, making it much more accessible by the same token. ‘’Labyrinth of London (Horror, Pt. 4)’’, on the other hand, is about as breath-taking as the title-track; it’s a big, ginormous chunk of arrangement-succession. It starts with a very different vocal approach for this one fron tman, bathing into a stylistic direction that’s a touch hard to put into a slot. There’s a nice evolution to the riffage here. The slightly progressive main section develops as what sort of feels like a Viking-metal type of vibe. It’s even slightly Amon Amarth’esque, and I gotta straight up admit it’s the last thing I expected from this record. Then, it goes into this completely unlinked and doomy clean-vocal-driven chorus, for a pretty good affect, surprisingly enough. There’s a lot of different stylistic touches to this one tune, dazzling ones at that. It’s a nice balance between types of impact. 3.49 is a nice, down-tempo doom section – a very classic-sounding bit that gets lower in key as it progresses. The spoken part afterwards is very engrossing – it’s very tale telling atop of a smooth, smooooth background. The slightly Opeth‘esque section following it goes into heavy drumming in a very prog and intuitive manner. The riffage is quite atonal and libertine, which makes for a very cool affect. It’s varied enough to keep interest on board, with constantly evolving leads. By the end, that chorus I used to find sub-par is quite shiver-inducing. It’s a really huge track.

”Of Death and Corruption” doesn’t exactly follow that lead. A very typically smooth verse goes into a heavier, growled chorus. This band wins more major points when they aren’t predictable at all. This accessible packaging is lame, and they can do better. That being said, the chorus is good for what it is, but it’s like even all those riffs are somewhat stale compared to what they can pull when they get more impulsive.  The ascension at 3.43 is interesting to say the least – it’s a major increase in aggressiveness that works well here, with a cool drumming technique I’m adamantly digging, and some flourishing in the leads that turns into a neat solo – that, right there, is a great form of entertainment that is far too quick to dive back into a chorus that I just don’t manage to like, main lick included. Nevertheless, I’m loving the bassline and the ambiance leading the way into ”April 14th”. This band knows how to make the *feel* of a track seem heavy, even without the use of drums or loud guitars, when the slow-evolving pace of things doesn’t include the typical acoustic and dreamy keys. The clean-sung chorus is, for once, a team player I would think actually qualifies here. It sinks in nicely, with a clear sense of direction instead of pointless and really half-hearted, directionless bleak for the sake of bleak. The down tempo march with the spoken vocal following it is definitely attention-grabbing; this is a classic funeral doom track from beginning to end, and stellar for exactly what it is. The section around 5.19 is, by far, the most entrancing ambient part on this whole record to me. It’s no less than beautiful. Again, this roomy production really helps this. The piano part underneath the spoken lyrics is equally impactful, and leads into a huge funeral doom passageway that really feels very stampede and crushing.

”Night Will Forgive Us” has a way of reminding me of Amorphis somehow. I’m digging the shift in the drumming pace of the chorus. It goes into a progressive section with a clean-sung vocal, both parts being tightly-knit and well-entwined. The main lick in the verses is dark and appealing. It’s a good tune, with a nice catchiness all around. It rounds out the album quite well. Still, the growled, and significantly heavier ending (around the 5.20 something’s) doesn’t seem to work well here, but it doesn’t last too long. The main patternings of the song are definitely more interesting.

There’s a fucking lot to explore about Swallow the Sun on this record alone – heck, they cover the gamut of all they can touch on whilst still making sense all the while. That being said, it doesn’t mean that flatness doesn’t overshadow many parts of this release, which is unfortunate. Nonetheless, for the sole reason that there’s a ton to sink your teeth into, it’s definitely worth its fair shake. I never expected to hear this band go through that many stylistic reshapings on one single disc. It’s intriguing and can be very enchanting. I like the way they dare step forth – that’s a great quality all of its own, and this sure ain’t the linear fella you want to forget about.

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Noch
September 26th, 2012

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