Talk of Finland's SWALLOW THE SUN being heirs to the throne of, depending on who you ask, MY DYING BRIDE or KATATONIA (well, the early material anyway) is not hyperbole. "Hope", the band's third release, is the sound of a band hitting its stride and exuding confidence in the majestic, European doom/death for which it is known. Dark, churning riffs, melancholy melodies, and soul-crushing moments of pure heaviness define "Hope", an album that will surely make many a critic's year-end list.It is fitting that the band chose SWALLOW THE SUN as its name. The feeling one gets from the album's first notes is an icy cold one, the atmosphere in the room immediately turning from light to dreary. Creating that type of vibe sets the imitators apart from the masters and on "Hope" SWALLOW THE SUN has opened the door to those transcendent feelings of isolation and bleakness, making the album title that much more ironic. The title track is in many ways the quintessential SWALLOW THE SUN composition, moving from light picking and soft, clean vocals (ala KATATONIA) into the deep growls and suffocating heaviness of a MY DYING BRIDE or perhaps DAYLIGHT DIES; you'll hear OPETH-esque flourishes as well. The track is one of many to feature fluid melodic leads that push the arrangements from mere despair-ridden crunch into obsidian beauty. "These Hours of Despair" features a superb rolling melody, the strangely alluring mix of melancholia and sweetness making it a highlight as well. The light keys heard here and throughout the album are a nice touch. Most appropriately, KATATONIA's Jonas Renske contributes a guest vocal spot on "The Justice of Suffering" and it simply sounds perfect. On songs like "Too Cold for Tears", "Don't Fall Asleep (Horror Part 2)", and the aptly titled "No Light, No Hope", the band's skill at weaving together relatively diverse, yet seamlessly fitting, elements becomes immediately apparent. From light to heavy, growls to screams to clean vocals (kudos to vocalist Mikko Kotamäki), fat riffing to chilling harmonies, everything is assembled wonderfully. And it is not as though SWALLOW THE SUN is the first European doom/death band to do it, only that they do it so well. Assuming you can make it through one sitting of "Hope" without, well, losing hope, you'll be amazed at the depth of these compositions. The vibe is gloom and doom from start to finish, but SWALLOW THE SUN pieces everything together so splendidly that the arrangements seemingly become bigger each time through, the songs revealing previously undetected layers of dynamic songwriting with each spin. "Hope" is a mammoth release from a band that gets (the ever illusive) "it" in creating these tales of painful despair. Those suffering from bi-polar disorder are advised to approach with caution.
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