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Thursday 18 November 2021

Reviews: Swallow The Sun, Darkwoods My Betrothed, Pathology, Temperance (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers (Century Media)

There’s always a part of you that feels comfortable with a new Swallow The Sun album. You know that you aren’t going to get bright breezy melodies, electronica, silly lyrics or even outright brutality. No with any album from the Finnish masters of misery, you will be getting only the saddest, emotionally taxing music around, a delicate balance of Gothic, brooding atmospherics and cathartic heavy passages Swallow The Sun have been delivering doom and gloom for years now and as such are probably the most deft at it. 

Moonflowers is especially sorrowful as an entry to their discography so much so that founding member Juha Raivio has admitted that he hates this record, to the point of not even wanting to discuss it. This highlights how immensely personal Swallow The Sun’s music is, while also being so broad that it can be interpreted by the listener. The hatred of and inspiration for this album came from Raivio spending long lonely nights at home in lockdown, with no option other than to craft his feelings of isolation and dread into this record.

Much of power from these songs is due to the scope of their music, the usage of strings on Moonflowers being particularly effective. There is even an instrumental version of the record composed for strings and recorded at Sipoo Church by Trio Nox. This onus on strings is possibly due to the lack of keys from Jaani Peuhu, who due to Covid had to focus on Mercury Circle rather than Swallow The Sun as both can’t tour simultaneously. 

His loss, for this album cycle at least, makes Moonflowers seem a bit harder edged, on tracks such as Woven Into Sorrow the riffs are a bit meatier, the grooves lower and the flourishes in the background either coming from strings or layered guitars rather than large synths. There are some pieces that are outright nasty on this record, you can feel the frustration come through, channeled through the mournful vocal of Mikko Kotamäki, his echoed croon creating an unsettling feeling on Keep Your Heart Safe From Me before unleashing his growls. 

He is also joined by Cammie Gilbert of Oceans Of Slumber on All Hallows Grieve where both bring a dark romanticism that dissipates with the much heavier tracks that come later on the record. Closing it out with full on despair and desperation, the powerfully dense rhythms of drummer Juuso Raatikainen and bassist Matti Honkonen, awaken some primal forces for the guitars of Juha and Juho Räihä to capture a more ethereal feeling along with distorted riffs. A record that has both fragility and intensity Moonflowers opens up to darkness and reveals beauty within. 9/10

Darkwoods My Betrothed – Angel Of Carnage Unleashed (Napalm Records)

Nope. Me either. When I saw this album in the review pile I assumed they were a new band as I’d never heard of them. However in a damming indictment of my cvlt status it turns out that Darkwoods My Betrothed are a cult Finnish black metal band that formed in 1994 (after being a band with a much worse name for a year) they release their last album in 1998 before splitting only to reform for a year in 2004 (with new members) then split again. 

However it seems that they are now well and truly back producing their first album in 23 years, the founding trio of Pasi Kankkunen (vocals), Jouni Mikkonen (guitar) and Teemu Kautonen (bass) have reformed the band once again adding to their ranks former session keyboard player Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish), as the fully fledged fourth member adding a lot of creative input to this record which is only the bands fourth. 

Despite this it’s their most well rounded and epic sounding offering, Holopainen’s influence making a pronounced impact on a tracks such as Your Bitter Source Of Sorrow where the blistering black metal assault segues into an orchestral middle section, having had the orchestrations throughout filling out the song, on Where We Dwell too his little piano riffs and choirs make for a much broader sound than many black metal bands, moving towards the Dimmu Borgir/Septicflesh style. Nightwish man Kai Hahto is session drummer here and plays at a much faster pace than on any Nightwish tracks, coping well with outright black metal blasting, while also showing an intrinsic link that symphonic music is quite similar except for the vocals. 

That being said the vocals here are not all growls and snarling, Pasi does also do some clean vocals that are low and brooding but don’t detract from the extremity, the brooding lament at the beginning of In The Thrall To Ironskull’s Heart being a perfect example, as this track moves away from the black metal blasting into something more like anthemic Viking/battle metal, as it is about the 1714 Battle Of Napue, the song bringing backing choirs and excellent lead guitars. 

The album has quite a bleak supernatural theme based around the manifestation of the angel of carnage that came during the Great Northern War of 1700-1721, apparently sent by God to punish them, the end coming with the Treaty of Uusikaupunki. It is very much in keeping with their influences of anti-religion, war and history, the compositions and theatrical nature of the band fusing well with the bleak, extreme metal base layer. After In The Thrall To Ironskull’s Heart comes the unrelenting fury of Massacre which is almost death metal like in its sheer aggression but again packed with orchestrations. 

After 23 years, Darkwoods My Betrothed have come back sounding bigger and badder than before, in a year where lots of projects have returned from the grave, the reanimation of this band feels like it could rip you to pieces at any moment. Angel Of Carnage Unleashed looks as if it could take them from the Finnish underground, to the upper echelons of symphonic black metal. Let’s hope there isn’t as long of a gap for their next offering. 8/10

Pathology – The Everlasting Plague (Nuclear Blast)

Comprising Daniel Richardson on guitar, Ricky Jackson on bass, Flett on vocals and founding members Dave Astor behind the kit. The Everlasting Plague is the 11th studio album from San Diego brutal death collective Pathology. Their first for Nuclear Blast, the album title comes from a previous song but felt apt for the world we live in, but the music and lyrical influence remains very tightly controlled. It’s a gore-soaked, inspection of the human condition with topics covering extreme plastic surgery, murder and death rituals, wrapped up in flesh ripping guitars, brutal vocals and crushing grooves. 

The record starts off with a solo guitar intro before crashing into the grunting technically hued A Pound Of Flesh where any notion of melody is forgotten, replaced by sheer ferocity, which builds into a breakdown towards the end of the track. It’s the first of 12 devastating slabs of death metal that continue with a fusion of technically impressive guitar work, guttural vocals and heaps of groove that slow the pace but maintain the ominous feeling, before yet more savagery. This only the bands second album since returning to touring and you can hear that the collaborative song writing is aimed squarely for what they can play live, the pace shifts between outright explosively and huge heavy stomps on tracks such as Engaging In Homicide

You can just feel the camo shorts and sweat emanating out of the pits when Pathology play tracks such as Submerged In Eviscerated Carnage or As The Entrails Wither. For some it may be all a bit too much, as Pathology don’t do things by halves, but there is some nuance and dynamism to the record that stops it from slipping too far in to being just sheer audio punishment. With Nuclear Blast behind them Pathology have reintroduced themselves to the death metal scene with an album of barbarous death metal. 7/10

Temperance – Diamanti (Napalm Records)

Following on from their fifth album Viridian last year Italian symphonic metal band Temperance return with their sixth release Diamanti. Much like Swedes Amarnathe, Temperance employ a triple vocals style with Alessia Scolletti and Michele Guaitoli giving the soaring cleans, Michele also plays keys while guitarist Marco Pastorino has a lower clean and harsh delivery. This vocal trio are used to great effect and are one of the reasons why Temperance are becoming a go to name in the symphonic metal scene. 

The other reason is that they, unlike Amaranthe, have moved away from the current trends and have become more traditional in their sound, being less reliant on the EDM that has crept into symphonic metal. They bring more touches of Nightwish and Sonata Arctica elements on tracks such as the galloping Pure Life Unfolds. For me it’s very welcome as these EDM additions are overdone and always make things sound too poppy while the swathes of orchestral on the title track, along with the Italian chorus makes for a track you could expect from Kamelot. 

Breaking The Rules Of Heavy Metal ups the heaviness again, making for a very dramatic, theatrical outing. All three vocalists getting to show off their talents while Pastorino’s guitars shred away to Luca Negro (bass) and Alfonso Mocerino (drums), rampaging rhythm section. It’s a hefty start to a record that grabs you in a way that their previous record, for me, didn’t. They seem to have brought things back to where they started out with a few differences such as the Celtic folk flavours on Litany Of The Northern Lights and Codebreaker is a very modern with some of the electronics creeping in again, however it is by no means a pop song. The albums big epic is The Night Before The End which is a song that cries out to be sung back at full voice. An anthemic record, that neatly moves back towards a the classic symphonic sound, which oddly helps them stand out. 7/10

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