Sometimes, there is an art to being miserable. Swallow the Sun‘s [whisper it] concept album “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” is another dark episode in their rich tapestry of doom metal, and is, as we critics are wont to say, amongst the best work this Finnish band of miserablists have yet produced. If you are a convert to their cause then this will be a very welcome addition to their enviable catalogue; agnostics and previous naysayers will also, I think, find something to get them to think again. If you don’t then you’re not listening hard enough.
Let’s not over egg the aural cake though. This is, resolutely, a doom metal record and it’s one that comes with all the bells and whistles that you would expect. Five albums in, Swallow the Sun have pretty much fashioned themselves a very particular, atmospheric sound and they are in no hurry (and why should they be) to give it up now. This is no Dylan goes electric, for example. There is, however, a lot more of, well, everything. More doom, more gloom, more riffs, more plaintive wailing. Just more.
Opening track, ‘Emerald Forest and the Blackbird,’ sets the bar high and the mood low with ten minutes of doom metal par excellence but it’s on second track ‘This Cut is the Deepest‘ that the ante is well and truly upped. Make no mistake, this is one of the most immediate, brilliant and captivating tracks that the band have yet produced. The opening acoustic bars giving way to a fabulously melodious tune, rich and, simultaneously, haunting. It is reminiscent of the brooding melancholia that Katatonia have excelled in for some time: doubtless they will be looking over their shoulder at what the band have done here.
They achieve a similar effect with the downbeat ‘Cathedral Walls,’ another doom nugget is enhanced by the ethereal vocal talents of Nightwish’s Anette Olzen who brings a lightness of touch and subtlety to the dark beauty of the band’s music. ‘Labyrinth of London (Horror Part IV)’ is, as they say, proper brilliant. It is by turns brutal, brooding, hard, heart filled and gloriously overblown.
I have always liked Swallow the Sun‘s unerring ability to create mood and atmosphere in their music- they have the ability to get the listener, much like Tool, to immerse themselves in the music, the lyrical themes and to linger with the material. They have achieved that effect here with “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” in abundance. I’m not a fan of the concept album, so don’t ask me whether the concept works or not- it scarcely matters. Its all about the vibe: rarely has being so sad felt so happy.