Swallow The Sun: "Hope" - impressions from the premiere
Swallow The Sun
Listening Session at Spinefarm Records
Helsinki, Finland. 21.10.2006
Release date: 07.02.2007
2. These Hours Of Despair
3. Justice Of Suffering
4. Don't Fall Asleep (Horror Pt.2)
5. Too Cold For Tears
6. Empty Skies
7. No Light, No Hope
8. Doomed To Walk the Earth
9. These Low Lands (bonus - will be released on the first single only!)
(total running time: 57.47)
I wonder if those musicians are themselves aware of what haunting effect their music has? Or has it become so normal for them to cause such deep feelings and leave their listeners so totally mesmerized, enchanted, "hanging-in-there" after each play? Judging by the look of the vocalist throughout the session, how calm and quiet he was, like "Oh, what magic? I am just one shy Mikko-the-singer…"
Seriously, if you have already been under their spell before, Swallow The Sun only advanced further and with "Hope" the scope of their mystical, sorry, musical proficiency only grew. I just pity the limited English language for not having enough adjectives and fairy metaphors to fully describe the emotion of their new album…
Musically "Hope" is more symphonic and melodic, yet STS are just as content, gloomy and beautifully despaired as they were when you heard them the first time - you will never confuse them with anything else. Many would be relieved to see that the band, having just recently being signed by the leading Finnish record label Spinefarm (Nightwish, Children Of Bodom, Moonsorrow, Norther, etc.), has preserved their own unique sound. Unlike many other doom formations, STS has a very neat balance between lyrical and musical components, so you listen to those songs breathlessly, afraid to make the slightest noise and disturb those six northern magicians during their fine craft. In some places Mikko is not even singing, but whispering and speaking slowly, hopelessly, touchingly cold and deeply indifferent, but at the same time so extremely entrancing.
The title speaks for itself, although surprising at first - since when is there anything hopeful (read: "optimistic" as another synonym) in doom?! Likewise, why would there be a word "sun" in a decent doom band's title, but it is precisely those small unfitting details, paradoxes if you like, that makes this band so memorable and so… right.
The sound is three-dimensional, voluminous, more up-tempo (word "heavier" just does not belong here) and swallows everything on its way. You can hear them experimenting, but it is all reasonably within the band's original sound-palette. Noticeably, the gap between "Hope" and "Morning Never Came" is clearly there, but already comparing to "Ghosts Of Loss," "Hope" is only a natural course a of strong band's professional progress. It is very difficult to judge this new album from one play only, the first impression is so overwhelming and at first I cannot think of any critique!
The drummer Pasi Pasanen, singer Mikko Kotamäki and the master wizard of it all, Juha Raivio were there to premiere their "Hope." Only Juha himself did not step into the room even once, when everyone else was most of the time there - was it so difficult for him to bear the tension, anticipation and critical whispering among the first audience, or was he just escaping the unnecessary attention, this side of Finnish shy behavior is still a major mystery to me…
These Hours Of Despair
After the opening track first put everyone into half-day-dreaming-half-hypnotic state and took away my ability to express anything clearly, the following one shook all this off and awoke the small crowded room. It started so unexpectedly soon after the "Hope" ended - it is like being at the greatest Wizard's fingertips who can manipulate all the emotions synchronically at the same time. [Even my pen skipped when I was just finishing the notes from the first track and going onto the next…]
These hours of despair are coming strongly in waves: depressed and incredibly motivated at the same time, when melancholy and despair are much more pleasant, serene and encouraging emotions to make you really, well, "hopeful" is the word and so we start feeling the mood of the album: it is all there, in the title and song names. When there are no vocal parts, the despair is vividly reinforced with the keyboards especially and so the magic is woven further until the song ends very light and symphonic, just drifting somewhere high and away…
[Looking around, I see everyone in the room is so seriously deep in thought, only some heads gently nodding along or feet tapping, but most are with their eyes glaring into great-dark-somewhere, just like being on the verge of discovering life's greatest meaning…]
Still having the will to resist at least a little bit to be entwined completely, I felt perhaps this song is a little too up-tempo for this band, but if it is "Hope's" only such piece, it gives it only more spiritual capacity, volume and soul. I can already picture how "These Hours Of Despair" will become many headbangers' very heavy neck-ache days after this song will be performed live!.
Justice Of Suffering
The pace from "The Hours" slowed down and slipped into more steady and STS -like melancholic flow. This one is not easy to follow and demands your undivided attention, the rhythm is constantly changing and it is very difficult to comprehend it wholly from only one play.
[Why are there still almost four month before the release?! This is just the perfect sound accompaniment to lengthy, dark, cold winter, when the snow is floating in the air, the skies are clear black and all the usual daydreaming becomes my absolute reality…]
Don't Fall Asleep (Horror pt.2)
[Where is part 1?] The first song I could recognize from last night's concert, which from the band's own words, was one of the worst shows they have done this year. This piece will make a very powerful single next year and a tempting taste of "Hope." Again, rather fast rhythm for a work of doom, but all is still within the Swallow The Sun style and their individuality is unchanged. Perhaps so far, the deepest growling in so much hopelessness, it pierces through the air, your skin - however incomprehensible are the lyrics, the overall sound conveys all the emotions and inner state of the artist. It feels like he is talking to you, from behind an obstacle, begging and convincing you not to sleep, but to listen and hear… And again more whispers, low-voiced speaking and I am gone, this is the absolute lullaby to your long Scandinavian insomnia.
The song ends very melodically, hopelessly, just fading away swiftly. This is not even falling asleep, this is passing out into somewhere far-far beyond understandable…
Too Cold For Tears
On "Hope" this is the most representative song of the band's earlier style, so much beloved when you heard "Through Her Silvery Body" for the first time, with the band's immediately recognizable sensual slowness.
[Was it an intuitive organizers' move to keep the windows open and let the late October evening drift chill the journalists, keep them awake or sober, but the atmosphere for this music could not have been better, if only maybe enhanced with some candlelight…]
It really is piercing cold, I am physically shivering and my hands are ice-cold and shaking… Can depression really be so wonderful, as STS makes it be? In this interpretation it is the most beautiful state and if so, I never ever want to smile again.
Yet again comes an up-tempo song.
[At this point my media colleagues are whispering that this album is much better than yesterday's concert, but here I cannot be objective to compare - with THIS kind of music, how expressive the STS sound is that it triggers my imagination into all things dark, doom and beautiful, how can I be anything else but positively impressed?!]
This music should be heard either at a lower volume, so this quietness is comforting, like being accompanied and talking to your best friend, or at a much louder volume, so it fills everything within: for me - the music to soothe a broken heart, to fill everything that is empty, hollow and hurtful. Whom or what was Juha thinking when composing this, it genuinely feels like he knows his listener entirely, crafting every single note just perfectly in tact with raising heartbeat, so compassionately.
No Light, No Hope
The growling comes in so harmonically and smoothly, like I have always been listening to it, already know it note by note and it lures me so much… Although the band chose it as one of the three new tracks for their setlist previous night at Spinefeast, I am unconvinced it is the best choice to do live, but something I will be listening to when need reassurance, tranquility and sanctuary, it creates all this atmosphere and I am at peace, regardless of how gloomy the lyrics are.
Doomed To Walk the Earth
Throughout the album melodies flow slowly-swiftly one into another, as if "knitting" one continuous charm-spell, not leaving any chance to catch my sense of reality back, when I have suddenly sadly realized that it is already the last song of "Hope." It was just so natural to expect this not to end, become another song, another something entwining and mystical. Evident from the song's title, the band will be among us for a lengthy while, so the end to this heavenly record is not as death-like as its two predecessors. This is a lot more of a complex composition than other Swallow The Sun's works: on top of mixing growling with clean vocals (as well as whispers and speaks), beautiful keyboards and lasting melodic parts, now there is also very touching female soprano vocals and a completely unfitting, but still so magically twinkling noise [at first I thought someone's Nokia was going off, but then realized it was intended so by the artist] - adds this childishness and thus, so unarguably believable fairy effect, as if glitter dust is falling onto me and I am enchanted wholly now…
[What was very disturbing (read: "disrespectful") from some of the other media representatives is their chatting, playing with their phones, waiting out the time and not paying attention, forcing normally very shy and introvert Mikko Kotamäki to raise his voice (!!!) to silence the room (quote: "You can go and have sex later, but now you listen!") and concentrate on coming up most critical part of the album.]
The ending to "Doomed To Walk The Earth" is really immaculate, beauty in doom and later on this track was agreed to be one of the most memorable and powerful pieces of the album.
PS: These Low Lands
The STS's interpretation of Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus' song "These Low Lands" will only be released as an extra in addition to band's own "Don't Fall Asleep" early next year as a debut single from the new label and the new album. For a bonus off-album song it is listenable, but is not as impressive as the actual full-length "Hope." But at this point I already do not care what they are covering, let it even be Lordi's "Hard Rock Hallelujah," the Finnish national hymn or Moomins' theme song, whatever it is - as long as it is as doom as this Sun's works are and Kotamäki is growling it, I give in…
…Where exactly was I during the past hour, just about then, when I was pulled down back to reality by the applause and someone switching the stereo off? The room suddenly moved, looked around…and awoke? Maybe. Everything within the reach of the stereo's vibes shook off the remaining magic glitter, put the 'cool dude' face back on and went out for a smoke. I could not move, my hands and knees were trembling, teeth clattering, heart racing…
I think I am in love…
Author: Marina Sidyakina
Photographer: Julia Sheremetyeva
Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
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