Review Summary: A 35 minute song starts to show the cracks in Swallow The Sun's writing.
Swallow The Sun made a name for themselves in the melodic death doom scene when their debut release, The Morning Never Came, hit in 2003. Since then, the Finnish sextet has enjoyed reasonable success and two more albums with their melancholic, crushing musical stylings and depressing atmospheres. Their last album, Hope, ranked up among the top albums of 2007 for me. While still sticking closely to the formula followed on the previous two albums, Hope brought an increased emphasis on the intensity of the music, with vocalist Mikko often layering his vocals for added effect.
Plague of Butterflies, the newest release, does nothing new.
Not to say the album is BAD, mind you. There’s just that overwhelming feeling of deja vu, that you’ve heard it all before. Which you have. The band’s blend of heavy C riffs, atmospheric keyboards, doom tempos, and screams, growls and fragile singing stick tightly to the formula laid down throughout the group’s career. There’s nothing you haven’t heard before. The claim that the album is much more atmospheric isn’t entirely unfounded, but once again, they’ve done it before. Howling wind noises don’t equal atmosphere either.
In addition, Mikko’s vocals aren’t up to par. His growls are as good as ever, and I love his higher screams (they do sound quite tortured), but his singing has definitely taken a step down. Blatantly obvious when he first comes in, his voice jumps around the notes, never really landing directly on them and locking in. Instead of sounding fragile, his voice sounds awkward and amateurish. This is a shame, too, since Hope stepped up the vocal work and turned in his best performance.
The biggest gripe with the album, though, is the fact that it’s one song. It’s a bloody chore to listen to this all the way through. If the album was split up into three songs like the tracklisting says, it would be much, much better because you could skip the first one and move onto the good parts. Plague Of Butterflies doesn’t really pick up until about 13 minutes through. Most people would have turned it off and moved on. The middle section is very well written, though. Much like "These Hours Of Despair" from Hope, the song moves along at a fast clip, occasionally slowing down for the main riff that is one of the better ones in Swallow The Sun’s catalog. It’s nothing special or unique, but it still has appeal.
The end of the song is also quite good, where the group trades in for the fast paced intensity for crushing melancholy, proving once again that there is beauty in despair. The clean vocals still aren’t up to par, but the high screams are terrific.
Sadly, 7 minutes of beautiful outro music and an enticing middle section cannot save a song bogged down in its own length, since that’s really all that there is of value on this disc. The demo songs are not as good as their album counterparts and only serve to fill the rest of the CD. If all of the supposed “atmospheric” parts were cut out and the song was split into three tracks, like I said above, it would have much more lasting value. There still is some good music in here. The listener just has to delve through too much of what we’ve been hearing since 2003. File this one only for hardcore Swallow The Sun fans.