The last handful of years hasn’t been that happy for Juha Raivio. In fact, while writing that triple-monolith later published with the name of Songs From The North, his father passed away; and after just a year after, the sad, premature passing of his beloved Aleah Stanbridge led to the release of Trees Of Eternity‘s posthumous debut together with the Norrman brothers (October Tide and former Katatonia members), which has then been followed by Hallatar‘s album, featuring Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) and Gas Lipstick (ex-HIM). One could argue that he dived into music in order not to lose his grip on reality, and yet he released three fantastic albums over three years.
2018 marked a turning point, as Swallow The Sun got in studio to record Raivio’s ideas composed almost two years before, over three weeks between the publication of Trees Of Eternity’s Hour Of The Nightingale and Hallatar’s No Stars Upon The Bridge. The first result of this process was the single-EP-short film Lumina Aurea, released at the end of the year, filmed by Vesa Ranta (ex-Sentenced) and featuring Einar Selvik (Wardruna) and The Foreshadowing’s singer Marco Benevento; after that, When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light finally came out, at the end of January, enriched with the illustrations of Fursy Teyssier (Les Discrets). As it was not enough, the band found itself in studio with both a new guitarist, Juho Räihä, and a new keyboardist, Jaani Peuhu (who’s been guesting on their records as musician and producer ever since Hope), after Markus Jämsen and Aleksi Munter, both of them part of the group from its very beginning, left.
What’s clear is that Swallow The Sun‘s album definitely needs to be framed and contextualised, considering the annihilating time during which it’s been written as well as the new elements included in the recording process; the result itself is, in fact, also pretty peculiar. First of all, the album is as light as a Finnish death-doom metal record composed between the loss of two important pieces of one’s family can be, since it doesn’t include all the burdening death metal and funeral doom elements featured in Songs From The North. Raivio and Räihä mostly rely on playing arpeggios, while the band’s old monolithic riffing is still present and important, but playing a different role: it strengthens an already solid structure, it’s no more its backbone; hence the more balanced of the whole lot of voices and instruments, each sounding more relevant, now. Mikko Kotamäki, on the other hand, is perfectly comfortable with switching from one vocal register to another; in fact, after the title track, he sings almost only with his clean voice. The most striking example of that is “Firelights”, the big, melodic and melancholic single, which only features a little screaming and blast beats, while having a huge, sing-along and yet painful chorus.
When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light doesn’t surprise for its shape: it’s overall quite direct, not an easy listening and definitely not unoriginal. What makes it so relevant, on the contrary, is its pervading intimism, proving that both the composing skills of Raivio – who’s tried to exorcise his demons the only way he knows – and his friends’ playing ability are huge. Swallow The Sun has once again proved to be a top-quality band, capable of combining in the most personal way one’s inner suffering with a rare accessibility, an approachability that’s tremendously uncommon among similar bands.