Review Summary: While not as good as their debut, Hope is yet another terrific release by one of the best modern doom metal bands around.
Hope springs eternal.
When Alexander Pope strung those three words together way back in the 1700s, he would have no idea what these words would come to mean. Hope is one of the most important feelings in the human body. It is what keeps us going, even in times of hardship.
Perhaps Swallow The Sun needed hope. After their debut, The Morning Never Came, heralded as one of the best albums to hit the doom metal scene, they followed it up with Ghosts Of Loss. Ghosts Of Loss was, well...disappointing. After the grandiose of their debut, Ghosts Of Loss seemed forced, bland, whatever you want to call it. Simply put, Ghosts Of Loss could be compared to Devil May Cry 2 (the videogame): a dropped ball of epic proportions.
Well, maybe I’m being too harsh on that album, but the fact of the matter is, Swallow The Sun didn’t lose hope. Perhaps that is why they christened their new album with that simple, four letter word that is more important than anything else in our lives. Would their hope stay true? Would the new album be better than their last.
Yes, and yes.
Hope is a mammoth of an album, and miles better than Ghosts Of Loss. Everything that was good about their debut makes a return here, including the production (I found GOL’s production to be muddy), the songwriting, and most importantly, the keyboards. The keyboards here play a more prominent role than they ever have, and serve to make the music that much more epic. Take a song like These Hours Of Despair
. The verses consist of a single C chord in a palm muted pattern. It would be boring by itself. However, the amount of feckin’ layering on the keyboards make it sound interesting, much more than it would if the guitar was playing something more complicated.
Vocalist Mikko has VASTLY improved each release. The vocal performance he turns in here is nothing short of superb. Where on The Morning Never Came, his vocals were obviously distorted, here they aren’t as much, which lends the growls to come out much better. Mikko’s growls and shrieks are good because they convey a feeling of pure torture, and they fit the desolate atmosphere of the music very well. He experiments much more with layering his vocals this time around, again lending another layer to the music. And finally, his singing. I like the contrast between his heavy as hell growls and his...shall we say, subdued singing voice. There is more singing on this release as well, which I love. It gives the music a much better feel. For example, the title track starts with an intro that gradually builds and builds, to give way to a very light verse. Mikko’s singing fits it perfectly, and serves to make the chorus (where everything kicks back in) that much heavier.
Nearly every song on this album is terrific. The first single, Don’t Fall Asleep
, is a lighter song than most of the songs Swallow The Sun has written, and the intro is almost in a MAJOR key. It’s still very sad, but the intro threw me for a loop the first time I listened to it. The verses are beautiful, showcasing Mikko’s singing talent and the way his voice interplays with the guitar and piano.
Tracks like the title track, No Light, No Hope
and The Empty Skies
show how far the band has come with blending and layering the keyboards with downtuned guitars, creating an unparalleled atmosphere of despair and moroseness. Honestly, the moments on here even rival those on The Morning Never came and surpass them at times as well. The Empty Skies
also contains something new to Swallow The Sun: a black metal rasp. Kind of. It’s not the traditional black metal style that you so often hear, but there’s definitely elements of black metal in it.
Finally, we get to what I consider to be 2 of the heaviest tracks on the album (they’re also 2 of my favorites). The aforementioned These Hours Of Despair
is definitely the fastest song Swallow The Sun has ever written. From the second the needle drops with a slide, the song never lets up. It’s heavy, it’s crushing, and it immerses you in a sea of despair. Layering abounds on this track, and makes it one of the best songs Swallow The Sun has ever done.
In contrast, These Low Lands
(which doesn’t appear to be on the regular release of the album) is much, MUCH slower. It’s at a more traditional doom metal pace, ie slow as all hell, but it also displays the heaviness of the band and the importance of the keyboards. The vocal performance on here is ridiculously good, possibly the best on the album. The interplay between the growls, the screams, and the singing is unmatched, and serves to make a simple song structure that much better.
All this praise deserves to make it one of the best albums ever, right? While it’s true that the album is very, VERY good (I think one of the best of 2007 so far, though I think After Forever’s upcoming album eclipses it), you’ve heard it before. When The Morning Never Came was released, it was something completely new in the scene, hence why it was so good. 3 releases later, and one starts to notice the recycled riffs and song structures on here. While the band does a good job of disguising them, every so often there’s a moment of deja vu, the feeling that yeah, I HAVE heard this before. I’d never want the band to change how they write. I’d just like to see them step outside of the box a little bit more.
However, don’t let that discourage you from buying this album. It’s a masterpiece in its own right. The atmosphere the album creates is some of the best they’ve done, and the music is top notch. If you’re a fan, you’d do yourself a great disservice to pass this up. Even if you’re not, you’d still be doing a great disservice. You’d be passing up one of the best doom metal bands around today. And one can’t have Swallow The Sun lose hope.
These Hours Of Despair
Don’t Fall Asleep
The Empty Skies
These Low Lands