Music is meant to move you. Its intended purpose is to make you feel and experience the sensation of emotion. Some music achieves this by providing matching music to a cathartic scene. Other music gets you there via the sheer sound created by a series of notes carefully chosen to elicit a response. Still other songs tell a story on their own and convey meaning through words. Rarely, though, music can do all three things at once. The music conveys a feeling on its own while also backing up sung words that can also be a scene of itself. Swallow the Sun is just such music and achieves this on every track of When a Shadow Is Forced Into the Light.
For the uninitiated, Swallow the Sun is a Finnish melodic death doom six piece. They create heavily emotional music, eschewing the normal heavy metal aural theatrics for a much more atmospheric sound. It completely wraps you up so that nothing you experience is outside of this music. In some ways, it makes me think of Obsequiae. Both bands create a sense of chamber music as if you’re listening to them perform in a small room in front of a handful of people so that you’re completely surrounded by the music. Swallow the Sun’s sound is much bigger, of course, but the end result is the same.
One hallmark of their sound is that Swallow the Sun lets their songs breathe. These tracks need time to develop and evolve to get you where they want you to go. The shortest song, “Clouds On Your Side,” is 4:46. Over half the songs on this album are over 6 minutes long. Each of the lengths on this album are absolutely necessary. Some doom bands just stretch their songs out with unnecessary riff droning because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do. Swallow the Sun writes their songs with heft and length because that’s what’s necessary to express their ideas and emotions. It wouldn’t be the first time a band like this was compared to red wine, but the clichéd comparison is nonetheless true.
The record’s debut single, “Upon the Water,” is the absolute perfect example of what this band is capable of. Bands can’t always rely on just blowing everyone away with huge distorted guitars and thunderous bass, and that is how Swallow the Sun views it, too. There is an emphasis on building up songs and seeing the value in going quiet as necessary to serve the song. It’s much more atmospheric than your average doom band, a lot of that coming from the songwriting and trying to build the song up through melody and cleaner styles of guitars and vocals. That’s not to say they don’t dabble in distorting, but they use those elements more as a scalpel than as a broadsword. Swallow the Sun is keenly aware of how music can convey emotion and When a Shadow Is Forced Into the Light is their masterclass.
Anything a musician sets out to do with their work is achieved by Swallow the Sun. This record really makes you feel in ways music lately rarely does. Your emotions will be raised and dropped through the record though it’s a lot of different shades of melancholy. “Doom” is the perfect term for this sound. It isn’t sad for the sake of it, but it’s perfectly designed to illicit those kinds of feelings. Swallow the Sun’s melodic and atmospheric take on doom absolutely encompasses what sadness can feel like. It is songwriting perfection, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we return to this record at the end of the year.