In the years that have passed since Swallow the Sun’s ambitious triple-album Songs from the North I, II & III the group has been through a period of substantial change. Founding guitarist Juha Raivio has dealt with immense grief over the passing of Aleah Liane Stanbridge which resulted in one of the most powerful and emotional tracks the band ever recorded, the nearly fourteen-minute-long “Lumina Aurea”. Swallow the Sun has also found themselves with a new guitarist and keyboardist after longtime members Aleksi Munter and Markus Jämsen departed for other endeavors. The resulting album to come out of all this, When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light, feels like a natural progression for the group as it balances equal amounts of gloom and hopefulness through dynamic instrumentation that provides some of the mellowest moments to date without abandoning the explosive nature of past recordings. Although there are some passages that drag a bit over the course of the album, the band delivers a thoroughly engaging listen that draws you back time and time again.
The album’s title track kicks things off and right from the start it’s clear that Swallow the Sun is taking a dynamic approach to their writing. With a sweeping melody that expands outwards until it reaches a shimmering chorus, the build-up is reminiscent of the glory days of melodic death metal with even fuller instrumentation to support it. The way that this song is able to weave in between a warm, inviting atmosphere and crushing intensity suggests that the rest of the material might head in this direction, but instead the band shifts further away from the death side of the genre for much of the album. That’s not to say that there aren’t other sections where the tonality and volume recall some of the crushing moments from the past, but there’s an emphasis on softer melodies that are layered together in order to create a truly entrancing soundscape. When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light pulls from just about every end of the doom genre while also incorporating some riffs that give off some gothic rock style gloom. Admittedly with the focus on softer textures and airier melodies sometimes the songs do drag a bit, which is surprising given this is Swallow the Sun’s shortest full length to date. But even with this in mind, the strongest moments wash over you with so much emotion and energy that they prove infectious.
Mikko Kotamäki was previously handling all the vocal pitches himself, but this time he’s backed by new keyboardist Jaani Peuhu during some of the key moments. Longtime fans will notice that there’s more of an emphasis on singing than ever before, with Mikko’s high screams and low growls coming during key sections rather than taking the spotlight for the entire album. Thankfully this is the strongest that Swallow the Sun’s clean ranges have ever sounded, and when the two members harmonize together it makes for some verses that are able to bring just as much emotion as the harsher ones. Given the more dynamic and textured approach of the instrumentation, the ability for the vocals to be just as versatile works in the group’s favor. I do wish there were just a few more moments like on the title track where Mikko seamlessly transitions from high scream to low growl in a matter of seconds though, as it’s quite impressive.
Following up a triple-album couldn’t have been an easy task but Swallow the Sun has been able to craft a worthy successor that pushes out towards new horizons. With a larger emphasis on melodies and softer layers of atmospherics, When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light may prove to take a little bit longer to click for some compared to the group’s previous discography, but the effort is well worth it. Even after seven albums it’s clear that Swallow the Sun continues to evolve, and it will be interesting to see if they keep refining the softer elements or double back on the heaviness in the years to come. When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light is out now on Century Media Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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