SWALLOW THE SUN's 5th full-length, “Emerald Forest And The Blackbird,” is a loose theme album based on a father reading a tale to his dying child. In all honesty, the theme seems very distant and the album is more just a regular album; each track carrying a separate limbo related theme. But no bother, it is an entity of strong tracks.
“Emerald Forest And The Blackbird” continues SWALLOW THE SUN's shift farther from Doom/Death roots towards melancholic Death Metal with a few pinches of KATATONIA and OPETH in the mixture. The atmosphere, however, is still successfully crushing, as it was in their previous records.
The drummer Kai Hahto brings in a lot of Death Metal influence and adds fresh variety with some massive drum arrangements, for example, in the hard-hitting end of Black Metal-ish “Hate Lead The Way!” But it is the few Doomy moments that are often the highlights of the album, notably the title track, which is thematically and musically heavy and sorrowful, and a wonderful way to start the album, bringing in mind the visual symphony of “Plague Of Butterflies.”
Beautiful lyrics and imagination work very well in the touching title track, but in general the lyrics have become vastly harder to grasp, taking something away from the music. The clean vocals of Mikko Kotamäki also sometimes make the lyrics sound corny, for instance in the beginning of otherwise gripping “This Cut Is The Deepest.” Luckily the melodies of “This Cut Is The Deepest” grow out to be so strong that the problem becomes very bearable. The first half of “Cathedral Walls” contains the same problem with less interesting melodies, but after it evokes into a massive Metal outburst, the clean vocals of Anette Olzon from NIGHTWISH sound absolutely divine. The Funeral Doom breakdown of “Labyrinth of London” has a noticeable hook and elegant female vocals by Aleah Stanbridge, forming the most catchy moment of the album.
“Labyrinth of London” is probably the best track on the album and continues the "Horror"-saga, with a Jack The Ripper like murder story. To grasp this track, I had to again understand that the lyrics are cliché on purpose, the track being a B horror movie pastiche.
Even though from time-to-time it’s slightly melodramatic, “Emerald Forest And The Blackbird” is an extremely gripping album, easily stealing the listener’s attention. However the first half of the album has a clearly better grip, with five intimately atmospheric and varied tracks. In the latter half, the more introverted tracks like “Of Death and Corruption,” “Silent Towers,” and “April 14th,” are good, but have nearly nothing spectacular to offer. Exception being a true Death Metal guitar solo on “Of Death and Corruption!”
Gladly the album takes a step up with “Night Will Forgive Us” which is a rather memorable and surprising finisher, being perhaps the most "hit" song in the album. But in terms of closing tracks, it is still the worst by SWALLOW THE SUN to date.
“Emerald Forest And The Blackbird” is a worthy addition to SWALLOW THE SUN's impressive back catalogue. What makes it so interesting is that is has the biggest amount of variation in SWALLOW THE SUN's career. The video track “Cathedral Walls” is a clear cut example of this. It has a soft, almost too fluffy, emotional side followed by a blast-beating, progressive intermission with harsh vocals. As a cherry on the cake it progresses to its end via angel-like female vocals, more fluffiness and finally with old SWALLOW THE SUN reminiscent Doom. “Emerald Forest And The Blackbird” is not a masterpiece but a step up from its fine predecessor “New Moon.”
(Online March 22, 2012)