Although they've generally remained sonically true to their melodic death/doom foundations over the course of four-and-a-half, mostly superlative albums, Finland's Swallow the Sun have also been known to inject a few alien sounds into the mix now and then, and let's not forget 2008's major risk, the Plague of Butterflies mini-album, which was composed by commission for a ballet! So after resuming business as (mostly) usual with its follow-up, New Moon, the Fins' fifth full-length, 2012's Emerald Forest and the Blackbird, proposes to be a concept album about a the morbid subject of a father burying his only child, and the disorienting flights of madness and reality that ensue…or perhaps this just reflects the band's vague grasp of the enormity of the endeavor. Luckily, this is where frontman Mikko Kotamäki's vocal versatility comes in handy, as his equal command of clean melodies, deathly growls, strangled rasps, plus, on this occasion, baritone narrations and quiet murmurs, really help add manifold emotions to the story line as it unfolds. Especially memorable turns such as "Hate, Lead the Way", "Hearts Wide Shut," "Of Death and Corruption" and "Night Will Forgive Us" also show that Swallow the Sun's enduring passion for delivering extreme contrasts of dark and light is arguably at an all-time high. Like all of the best Swallow the Sun songs past, these are invariably lush, powerful, cathartic musical statements; rich in texture, multiple emotions, and even nuance, but we'd be lying to call them revolutionary, or even seriously evolutionary. In fact, the album's only moderate leap of faith turns out to be its despondent first single, "Cathedral Walls," which pairs Kotamäki with Nightwish singer Anette Olzon for a lovely duet (the monolithic title track also boasts a female voice in returning collaborator Aleah Stanbridge) -- yet still takes the precaution of jamming a violent Cookie Monster break halfway through. Given this overly prudent approach, as well as the relatively failed conceptual binding (deliciously abject misery being the only universal theme -- but then previous StS albums also had plenty of that), one almost wishes that Swallow the Sun had dared take a more decisive break from their sound's brutal ingredients, but don't you just know we'd regret saying that if they actually did? So perhaps there's no other viable way forward for Swallow the Sun other than diving into the deep end of experimentation -- either to swim in oceans unexplored, or sink to the bottom with the renewed worship of faithful fans, who merely needed reminding that one should never take a band this consistently great for granted.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
feat: Anette Olzon