Finnish doom sensations Swallow the Sun are back. The morose Finns (that’s redundant) have returned in 2012 with their fifth full length record and most gargantuan release to date. Indeed, having discovered that all their music is put out on compact disc, Swallow the Sun has embarked on a quest to fill the whole damn thing with their plodding, thick doom metal. Unwilling to edit themselves, they instead have produced 67 minutes worth of new doom for the consumption of their adoring fanbase. This massive work, entitled Emerald Forest and the Black Bird has spent a long time in my Review Gestation Chamber™ due to being so much music that I have been incapable of listening to it in a single go.
Actually, none of what I wrote is even a joke. I literally have never listened to this album all the way through. I can’t do it. Instead, I tend to split it into two 33 minute sections. From the dulcet tones of the title track’s 2 minute and 45 second introduction to Damnation-era Opeth outro on “Hearts Wide Shut” I’m good. Hell, I even want more. The tracks here are mostly slow-paced goth doom epics that remind me a lot more of My Dying Bride and Barren Earth than I’d previously remembered. Certainly the former is more present than ever before, with spoken parts that scream Like Gods of the Sun at me. The music is effective and there isn’t a bad song here, and while “Cathedral Walls” has taken some heat for having Anette Olsson [Det stavas med två /s/ för fan, Anette. Du är vuxen. – AMG) from Nightwish doing guest vocals, it’s a good song with a haunting melody and she sounds great. And while “Hate, Lead the Way” is certainly less doomy at times than one might expect from these embittered bastards, it is a tremendously heavy and effective song.
If I don’t quit listening after “Hearts Wide Shut,” though, then this record just loses me. While the songs are good, it doesn’t seem to be meant to be listened to in a single go. Call it Reign in Blood syndrome, but the album is just too long. This isn’t always a problem, it’s just that it gets laid on so thickly with Emerald Forest… in a way that the band’s previous material, which often had long running times, just never did for me. But after a break, some tea, coffee or vodka (depends on the time of day), I am willing to come back and continue drowning myself in the land of the noontime moon’s crowning glory. The b-side (so to speak) consists of another 5 tracks and while none of them are as strong as “Hate, Lead the Way,” both “Labyrinth of London” and “Of Death and Corruption” are stellar, but not seriously doomy. This is also a good stand alone record, but it’s not as strong as the first half of the CD.
Ultimately Emerald Forest & the Black Bird is a good record that just gets weighed down under a band’s inability to edit itself. While this record contains some of the shortest songs in the band’s career, it still just ends up being too much “ambience” and not enough meat. The album has definite highlights, “Hate, Lead the Way,” “Labyrinth of London” and “Of Death and Coruption” are all fantastic songs. But those three songs and a couple more would have been enough to make listen to this album a hundred times in a row and crave for more. Instead, I’m left thinking that this record doesn’t quite come close to Ghosts of Loss or The Morning Never Came in quality. And that’s a shame, because Swallow the Sun is a special band.