Friday, October 16, 2015

Swallow the Sun : "Songs From the North I, II & IIi"

In today's iPod shuffling and add culture, a double album is ambitious, and even becoming obscure as more artists are reluctant to invest in more than an ep with today's diminishing record sales.Swallow the Sun is taking a step in an even bolder direction by putting out a triple album. It takes a couple minutes for the nine minute opener to take off. They blend clean and harsh vocals. The clean vocals as layered and harmonized. Followed by an even more elaborately composed "Ten Sliver Bullets". In the last minute they find a chug that gives me a little head nod, but this is really elaborate and takes a few listens to be fully consumed. They have the kinda chug that Katatonia used once they crossed over into more of a mainstream metal sound on the intro to "Rooms and Shadows" . They find a doomier yet Enslaved like balance between the vocal exchange. The vocals are almost to precise giving them an almost power metal or prog quality. I am also not sure these guys are funereal doom either. Things are a little too upbeat. The keys work their way around the guitar lines well it never feels like they are stepping on each others toes.

One "Heart Strings Shattered" weave together a pretty lush melody that flows really well, though is not much harder than Katatonia or My Dying Bride. A female voice comes in mid way into the song and is a good effect. When the vocals shift into more of a death metal growl they are much heavier than the music they roar over. "Silhouettes" has more drive to it and the growl is the dominant force. There is some interesting layers of guitar employed , but much like the bulk of this album there is a lot being thrown at you in this symphony of gloom. "Memory of Light" gives a broad swathes of atmosphere and melody to things, with the clean vocals taking center stage. "Lost and Catatonic" has a more sweeping symphonic feel at the onset, dropping down into a more looming stacatto before the smooth chorus. The death metal vocals return making the music a more haunting backdrop than what you would typically hear that paired up with. There is enough melancholy in the chord progression to "From Happiness to Dusk" to be convincing. The vocals are more subdued and Pink Floyd like with some beautiful guitar work coming in behind them.

The Second album opens with the dark piano chords of the intro piece called "Womb of Winter". "Heart of a White Cold Land" is a more subdued ballad that still carries the hints of Pink Floyd that remind me of Tiamat's 'Wild Honey" album with it's chilly glaze of psychedelia. Once the clean guitar tones of "Away" echo in that I resign myself to the fact that this album is going to be more of an Anathema like thing. The clean vocals are much more honest here not taking on the kinda of prog metal pageantry they hinted at on the album before. Sure you can draw comparisons to Opeth's "Damnation" album or Katatonia's acoustic re-imaginings of their own work, but there is a deeper sonic emoting going on. If you were to say this disc is just the band going acoustic it would be overly simplifying things as the first song that really has the more organic sound is "Pray For the Winds to Come". There is a similar acoustic feel to the title track which finds female vocals joining in a call and response. This gives it an almost Gathering like feel. While the instrumental that follows it well played it feels like an extension of the previous song that is just being jammed out in a more languid direction. Things darken for "Autumn Fire". It is more of a power ballad in the direction of someone like Katatonia or A Perfect Circle. Things spiral out into a more proggy place that Porcupine Tree would be proud to find themselves in on "Before the Summer Dies".

Put the bong away by the time you get to the third disc because things get heavier than even the first. Midway into this 13 minute monster they even hit a guttural Morbid Angel like style of death metal. While coming closer to funereal doom "7 Hours Late" drips out of the previous song and really doesn't distinguish itself until the more ambient middle section that it swells out of . There is more melo-death movement to "Empires of Loneliness" that features a grim spoken word narrative. Here things begin to get a little murky. Its another song that clocks in at over ten minutes after having already digested two albums of down trodden proggy metal. A more oppressive doom crunches down on "Abandoned By Light" to actually touch on funereal doom. The vocals take on a higher black metal rasp, which is not surprising as their singer has had a one -man black metal side project going for sometime.

It all comes to a close with " the Clouds Prepare For Battle" which plods along a similar deathly doom path until it drifts off into Gregorian chants at the mid way point.  They don't linger on this for too long before throwing themselves into a more blackened doom. These albums take commitment to make it through all three. If you are a fan then you will eat up every ounce of melancholy extravagance. I'll give it an 8 as some of the songs drew me in .  Perhaps a triple album with 12 minute songs is a little much and much like "Use Your Illusion" could have been condensed into one killer album.

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