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SWALLOW THE SUN 20 Years of Gloom, Beauty and Despair – Live in Helsinki

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, August 9, 2021 @ 7:49 AM


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SWALLOW THE SUN
20 Years of Gloom, Beauty and Despair – Live in Helsinki

Century Media Records




Finnish mopes SWALLOW THE SUN had understandably grand plans for the band’s 20th anniversary. Then along came COVID, which put the kibosh on things just as they were getting started. Ten shows were all the band could muster before the world shut down – which is actually 10 more than many other acts with touring plans at that time got the play.

Yet SWALLOW THE SUN had the foresight – or just dumb luck – to film and record one of the shows in Helsinki. And just as the band was announcing its latest studio album, Moonflowers, would be arriving in November, it has offered up the aptly titled CD/DVD set 20 Years of Gloom, Beauty And Despair – Live in Helsinki as a souvenir of the aborted anniversary tour to document what could have been in 2020 had the pandemic not come along and fucked up everything for everyone.

And if the show captured here is any indication, it certainly could have been a pretty cool, if initially understated, celebration of SWALLOW THE SUN’s 20 years of, well, you know. Split into two wildly divergent sets and featuring two hours of music, the concert is big on melancholia – as one might expect – with the death/doom bombast the band is perhaps most noted for, like the menacingly heavy “Lost & Catatonic”, “Swallow (Horror, Part 1)” and “Plague of Butterflies” or the truly titanic “Empires of Loneliness” reserved for the back half, making for a somewhat odd balance.

Gloom, Beauty And Despair opens with the mostly unplugged performance of Songs from the North II – which was essentially the mellow “creamy center” between the far heavier parts I and III of the band’s sprawling triple album from 2015. It again serves as the “beauty” part of the equation here, as the band is accompanied by a string quartet to add drama and elegance to the otherwise Spartan, sorrowful arrangements.

Set two delivers the “gloom” and “despair” in somewhat equal measures and features a fan-voted track list with some of the band’s more familiar tunes - “Swallow (Horror, Part 1)”, the ethereal/cataclysmic “Cathedral Walls” - and live rarities like the genuinely awesome “Empires of Loneliness” and “Here on the Black Earth”, which closes the album out. It is the longer and far more epic of the sets, with four of the tracks topping seven minutes and “Loneliness” and “The Giant” approaching 12.

The band’s considerable heaviosity is showcased here in often jarring fits and starts, with contrast being a key element of its repertoire. Even the more overly brutal tracks like “Plague of Butterflies” or “Lost & Catatonic” are interspersed with haunting moments of serenity before the cascade of riffs and the “Mr. Hyde” side of frontman Mikko Kotamaki’s clean/growl vocal dynamic reappear with a vengeance. More melodic/somber numbers like “The Giant”, “Falling World”, “Stone Wings” or “Don’t Fall Asleep (Horror, Pt. II)” flip the script and attack with startling suddenness before then just as quickly subsiding.

I’m a little curious why SWALLOW THE SUN opted to not structure the set list more like Songs from the North I, II & III, and offer the “gloom,” “beauty” and “despair” in the order they were presented there. That may have come down to the simple logistics of accommodating the string quartet on the modest stage set up of The Tavastia Club in Helsinki, which is understandable. But splitting things in thirds would have made for a better ebb and flow – or flow and ebb as I guess the case would be.

Still, that’s a pretty minor nit to pick, and no matter how you slice it 20 Years of Gloom, Beauty and Despair – Live in Helsinki is a satisfying showcase of the career of a somewhat underappreciated band that fans of better-known, similarly minded acts like OPETH, PARADISE LOST or KATATONIA would be wise to discover, even now.

4.0 Out Of 5.0


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