Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Swallow the Sun - Ghosts of Loss


Swallow the Sun is an essential for the melodic death fan. Although they’re not one of the biggest, their newest release, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird has been a heated discussion for quite some time now, some considering it one of the biggest melodic death releases of the year aside from Wintersun’s Time I and Dethklok’s Dethalbum III. Although I feel that Before the Dawn’s Rise of the Phoenix is a bigger deal than the new Dethklok album, I would not in any way deny the fact that the new Swallow the Sun record is huge. But I want to take the chance to look into one of their older records, Ghosts of Loss. Although not the absolute best, 2005 was a very good year for the melodic death genre, including either good or very good album releases from Scar Symmetry, Arch Enemy, Children of Bodom, Dark Tranquility, Hypocrisy, Nightrage, November’s Doom, and Soilwork. Here’s something interesting that I literally JUST noticed: all of the bands I just listed except for November’s Doom and Children of Bodom are Swedish. Although that may not be a BIG surprise since Sweden dominates the melodic death genre, I do find it intriguing that Ghosts of Loss was one of the only major Finnish melodic death albums released that year. So now that you have at least SOME background information behind the time Ghosts of Loss was released, now I get to tell you about the most important part, the music.

Swallow the Sun is in the same family as Septic Flesh, Before the Dawn, November’s Doom, Rotting Christ, and Draconian, who all put a lot of emphasis on having a gothic sound. This extremely deep, dark, extremely melodic, and (often times) slower sound is what you hear in a lot of gothic metal. Although I just consider all of these bands to be melodic death, there are several people that I know of that have gone as far as giving these bands their own genre known simply as “gothic death” (short for gothic death metal). Here’s the thing with Swallow the Sun; they’re a hell of a lot MORE melodic than any of those bands that I just listed, and this album in particular is one of the darkest and almost depressive melodic death records I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s probably the fact how these guys are like Katatonia with death metal why THIS album in particular has been the one that I keep coming back to. And for those of you elitists, I’m talking about the post-2003 Katatonia.

The vocalist is my favorite member on this album. His growls couldn’t be more perfect. I’m not even kidding, these are the type of growls that I look for! They’re powerful, REALLY deep, exhaled, crisp, and not monotonous. And his singing is amazing. I definitely have heard better out of other Finnish bands, but overall, this guy’s singing voice has varied dynamic and intensity to help follow the music, it’s clean and crisp, and it doesn’t sound like he’s straining his voice anywhere in the album. His screams are sort of in between the midrange and high sections, so it sounds great when they’re played alongside his extremely deep guttural growls. Here’s the one issue I’m having: the vocals (especially the growls) can be overpowering during many parts of the record. Even when they’re played alongside screams, they just take over everything. When it’s really an issue is when the intensity is at a lower level and the tempo is slow, but the crunchy guitars are still heavily chugging and the drums are heavy. Because when those highly-intense growls come out of the ground like Mt. St. Helens in 1980, it just doesn’t match up and it just literally overpowers the whole rest of the band.

I don’t really know anything about their drummer except for that he’s in this mediocre stoner rock band called Plutonium Orange. I listened to their first album and just didn’t really get anything satisfactory out of it at all. Although the drumming on this album fits the music just fine and never falls out of time, I do feel that it’s just a LITTLE too simple; not by much, though! I do feel that simple drumming is what the majority of what this band has written is what’s required, but I just have a gut-feeling that if the drums had just a tiny bit more pizzazz, that it would enhance the beauty of the music so much more.

The first two tracks on the album are what speak to me the most. I find it interesting when a band chooses the longest track to be the first one. The Giant starts off with a soft guitar/vocal duet that contains indescribable beauty (no exaggeration). I can’t imagine a better way to set the mood for the rest of the album than this very relaxed and melodic introduction that smoothly leads into melodic death metal beauty that put a smile on my face the first time I heard it. The uneven pattern of the frequent key and mood changes never fails to keep the listener interested. That is true, but I will say that this is an EXTREMELY melodic and soft album (I’m talking Katatonia-style), so in case it happens, it’s not boredom that put you to sleep while listening to it.

Descending Winters is a song with a lot more energy as well as being a great melodic headbanging track. The way that the drummer hits the snare so fucking hard gives the whole song an unusually heavy sound that can’t possibly leave someone unimpressed. Aside from that, the production on the entire album is amazing, the vocals are fantastic, the drumming could use to be a bit more complex (which is fixed since they now have the Wintersun drummer), and the overall extremely melodic gothic feel that the music has is like no other. I would give Ghosts of Loss 17/20.