Swallow the Sun – 20 Years of Gloom, Beauty and Despair – Live in Helsinki: Album Review

Swallow The Sun release an incredible career spanning live album, covering all musical sides of this towering metal band.

Release date: 30th July 2021

Label: Century Media

Format: Ltd. 2CD+DVD Digipak / Gatefold 3LP+DVD / Digital

Finland has produced a remarkable sequence of great metal bands, across all the metal genres. Including, bands such as  Amorphis, Nightwish, Wintersun, and the much missed melodic doom/death metallers, Ghost Brigade.

Swallow The Sun, though, must surely rank amongst the finest metal bands Finland has produced. Formed in 2000, they describe their music, on their Facebook page, as “Heavy melancholic metal from the darkest corners of Finland.” A very apt description of this great band’s sweeping musical sound.

In 2020, the band had planned to celebrate their 20th anniversary with tours in Europe and North America, however after 10 gigs, the advent of the pandemic saw all these shows cancelled. The new live album is taken from a gig they recorded and filmed in Helsinki, on that first leg of the tour.

The performance was in two parts. An acoustic performance, with a string quartet, of the whole of Songs From The North II, from the triple album, Songs From The North I, II & III, followed by a fan voted setlist. The Womb Of Winter opens the the Songs from the North II set, with a series of haunting piano chords, that reverberate majestically, before being joined by the beautiful playing of the string quartet. It drifts out with the sounds of winter winds and what sounds like the cries of wolves.  A breathtaking beginning to this fine acoustic set.

The Heart Of A Cold White Land, with its gently strummed acoustic guitar and harmony vocals, and glacial waves of strings and keyboards, evokes the harsh snowy winters that flow across Finland.

Remarkably, Autumn Fire is a track that seamlessly combines Leonard Cohen and the Cocteau Twins in an ambient, yet doom laden, musical sequence. Before the Summer Dies that follows, and closes the first set of songs, has a gothic post punk feel, with washes of keyboards and strings, flowing through the sorrowful vocals. This is an immersive and graceful performance of this more folk tinged set of songs.

Lost And Catatonic that opens the fan voted setlist, is a sudden awakening into the heavy doom metal and growled vocals side of the band. The clean vocals and soaring chorus add a contrasting edge, to a finely nuanced song, full of melodic flourishes, alongside the heaviness.

There are many other highlights on this second set. Empires Of Loneliness, from Songs From The North III, turns up the doom metal dial, as the guitars reverberate distortion and denseness. With the spoken word and and choral background introduction, creating an eerie sense of foreboding. The deep growl of the vocals, and thunderous nature of the guitars and drums, creates an epic live sound.

Falling World from the 2009 New Moon album (this reviewers introduction to the band) has a lovely melodic flow, underpinned by cinematic keyboards, and some intricate and soaring guitar work. I wish the fans had also voted for, from the same album, the stunning Lights on the Lake (Horror, Pt. III), featuring the wonderful vocals of Aleah Stanbridge, on the album version.

Plague Of Butterflies, Pt. II, from the Plague Of Butterflies EP, opens with a shimmering piano phase, before launching into a full on blast beat driven sonic attack on the ears. It also has intertwined in the song’s structure, a jazz swing, which really comes across in the live setting, further enhanced by a great undulating guitar led mid-section. The live playing on this musically complex track is just astonishing.

Swallow (Horror, Pt. I), from The Morning Never Came album, near the end of the set, has a suitably anthemic feel, sledgehammer riffs, and the finest and most unsettling growled vocals, to be heard across the songs on this live album. Here the band completely let loose to devastating effect. 

This is a fabulous live capturing of all the musical sides of Swallow The Sun, at a moment when the world was about to change, and live music for a lengthy period would disappear. It is a magnificent achievement by a great metal band.

You can watch Don’t Fall Asleep Horror – Pt. II (Live in Helsinki) below.

Swallow The Sun: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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