The Finnish giants of death/doom, Swallow the Sun, took their 2007 gem Hope on the road in the bleak November to celebrate the album’s first full decade with Finnish audiences. As they were skipping Tampere and Helsinki, and touring a handful of smaller towns along with Turku and Oulu, Lene L. made the trip to the band’s hometown of Jyväskylä with high expectations and suitable excitement.
So, first things first, Hope is – more or less – my all-time favourite Swallow the Sun album. New Moon tried to rival it for a while, and I have a soft spot for the first two albums, but Hope is a piece of work I connected with in an instant. I didn’t even have a clear reason for picking it as a favorite during this decade I’ve spent with it, so as much of a gig report, this is also a chance to reflect on why I’m still so fond of Hope. And as StS are usually at their best in a club environment, this time also with a hometown advantage on their side, I wouldn’t expect anything less than a memorable show.
Speaking of chances, a Friday evening in Jyväskylä offered one for checking out bands I was familiar with by name alone. In Red Moon Architect’s case I had a vague idea of what to expect, though, and at 20:30 (sharp) the band climbed on stage and proved my idea just about right. Playing an atmospheric brand of death/doom, they seem to take it easy with the genre’s characteristics, and while they didn’t offer anything radically new, I made a mental note to look them up, for a few reasons. Where Ville Rutanen’s growls fit the style like a glove, Anni Viljanen’s clean vocals left me curious from time to time – her voice is quite an interesting one for the genre, judging by one show alone, almost not fitting because of something I can’t really put my finger on. It might have something to do with the thoughts I had during the song she handled the vocal duties alone; she can sound powerful, almost commanding at times, but it’s almost like she’s trying to cover that up with a more delicate air. The latter would, admittedly, fit along nicely with the genre’s standards, but personally I’d prefer the former. All-in-all, especially with the nicely haunting ending of “Betrayed” and the last song, “Rising Tide”, as a whole, I liked what Red Moon Architect had going on and likely will sneak a look at them again on some later occasion.
Next up we were in for a surprise, as Sleep of Monsters wasn’t exactly what we had expected based on the two other bands: instead of another dose of doom aesthetics, we got a set of good ol’ rock ’n’ roll laced with a hefty handful of Goth. I was immediately caught by the lead singer’s voice, which sounded oddly familiar – it reminded me of someone, and I just couldn’t figure out who exactly. Eventually, I was so bothered by the familiarity that I had to google the band, and lo and behold, the singer is none other than Ike Vil of Babylon Whores! Now that this was solved, I could really focus on the music – they were a refreshing choice in between the death/doom acts and worked as a nice pick-me-up. They were entertaining and fun, but not too cheery to ruin the mood, staying true to their self-defined genre labels of Victorian post-punk and adult occult rock. Definitely another band to look up later – I thoroughly enjoyed their Goth extravaganza. Fans of Ghost might also find this one appealing; at least I found some similar kind of vibes in Sleep of Monsters’ repertoire, but then again I’m no expert in things regarding Ghost.
The anticipated stirring started right around the moment the curtains were drawn in front of the stage for the set change, and when 15ish minutes later, the DJ’s choice of the moment faded out into Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Push the Sky Away” (a fine pick for an intro, I might add), the stage front was delightfully packed. I won’t lie, it was quite a kid-on-a-Christmas-morning kind of moment, and by the time “Hope” reached its first chorus, at latest, it was clear this was going to be a good night.
Now, I’ve rarely been to these anniversary – or any other kind of – shows where a certain album is played in total, and I’m not certain if I even should do that more often, since now each time has been special in more ways than one. Much like Insomnium’s Winter’s Gate, Hope is without a doubt one of those albums that deserves to be played in its entirety at least once – or a few times – during the band’s career. It’s a whole, seamless entity as much as the sum of its parts, without being a clear-cut concept album or needing to be one, and it wouldn’t really be a stretch to say that it’s one of the cornerstones in its niche in Finland. At the very least, it’s an important milestone on the band’s road.
But what really makes Hope such a significant piece in Swallow the Sun’s discography? I made a short round asking my friends who were at the anniversary show for their opinions on the matter, and it seems to be an album that particularly struck a chord on an emotional level and raised the bar on quality. I can easily agree on these points – it’s extremely expressive, and at least in my opinion, the album where Swallow the Sun found their sound. The elements on The Morning Never Came (2003) and Ghosts of Loss (2005) were combined with a sort of otherworldly poise and an exact, dynamic delivery. It’s a richly nuanced and mature work from a band that knows what it’s doing, to the point, and has only bettered its run after it.
The serene yet dynamic nature has translated itself seamlessly into live shows, as Swallow the Sun is still both fierce and poised on stage, doing what they do without additional accessories. It’s always impressive to see how such a minimalistic performance is still as expressive as the ones by more extroverted contemporaries – there always seems to be a lot of room for articulating their presence on stage (even one as small as Lutakko’s). Mikko Kotamäki rarely moves around, but the way he utters some lines will stick in your head to haunt you the next week – like how “I wait for your arrival” in “Too Cold for Tears” rolls out, or the harrowing pre-chorus in “Hope” while his bandmates raise a storm around him. Take a look at mastermind Juha Raivio, for example: his playing is quite literally punishing the guitar, and where he can accentuate a gesture, he will. And while the band’s performance normally won’t falter due to conditions, they do deserve an audience that’s up for more than just standing around and nodding along, and once again Lutakko showed its best sides in this. Both as an observer and a regular member of the audience, I’ve noticed that at StS shows the atmosphere is ruled by the crowd surprisingly much: the band will do their part, but if the audience doesn’t, it’s like missing the other participant in a discussion.
In any case, there’s no real need for extravaganza – you have your basic blue, red, and white lights with the occasional strobe and smoke, and not much talking aside from a simple thank you or song announcement now and then (even if this time there wasn’t much need for that before the encore). And it didn’t feel rushed, either, even though there weren’t many breaks between songs. But then again, Hope does clock at 57 minutes just on its own, so if you like your encores a little longer, it probably suits you just fine.
A lengthy encore is exactly what we got, kicking it off with “Rooms and Shadows” and adding fuel to the fire with “These Woods Breathe Evil.” After “Falling World” and still one more song from New Moon – the title track – me and my company jokingly wondered if they’d play the whole New Moon as well, just for the kicks, which we quite honestly wouldn’t have minded. And by the look of it, neither would the rest of the audience, so perhaps in a couple of years? (Hint, hint.) This time, however, we called it a night with “Deadly Nightshade” and “The Morning Never Came”, and I’m not the one to say no to old stuff and rarities.
As a whole, the evening was definitely worth the trip: two new bands to look up, and as predicted, a near-impeccable rendition of my all-time favorite Swallow the Sun album, with a generous and even – actually not joking here – lively encore as a cherry on top. The sound was great, and the band in their prime – on a related note, it’s nice to see Raivio back on stage with them. The last time I saw StS in a club environment the crowd left some room for improvement, but I have to cut some slack for the Tampere audience – Songs from the North was quite a massive thing to explore in a couple of short months, while the already familiar Hope offers quite a bunch of ‘bangers,’ as kids these days call them. But context aside, even if the Jyväskylä show might not fall into the category of ‘absolutely perfect,’ if I could change only one thing, I would’ve hoped for a sold-out show. That’s pretty much it.
2. These Hours of Despair
3. The Justice of Suffering
4. Don’t Fall Asleep (Horror Pt. 2)
5. Too Cold For Tears
6. The Empty Skies
7. No Light, No Hope
8. Doomed to Walk the Earth
9. Rooms and Shadows
10. These Woods Breathe Evil
11. Falling World
12. New Moon
13. Deadly Nightshade
14. The Morning Never Came