With Decibel’s December 2015 issue, we have finally acknowledged our devotion to all songs of the North in our Finnish metal issue. We hope you enjoy every word of that inspired (though still not exhaustive) document of Finland’s contributions to our collective depression, loneliness and self-hatred.
In accordance with that issue’s gushing over Finnish bands, we would also like to celebrate a particular forthcoming monument: Long-running death-doom maestros Swallow the Sun will, in just a few weeks, release Songs From the North, a triple album that the band considers all of a piece, but based on run-time might as well be their sixth, seventh and eighth full-length recordings. Each disc focuses on a different side of Swallow the Sun’s sound, self-described as “gloom, beauty and despair.”
This week, we focus (mostly) on the first part of the album. Songs From the North I is an atmospheric stew of restless heaviness, full of contemplation and visceral release. We asked keyboard player Aleksi Munter some questions about this stage in the band’s career, so stick around for what he had to say. Also, be sure to check out the two videos Swallow the Sun have given us so far… and stay tuned next week for an exclusive listen to part of Songs From the North III.
The era of the triple album is here. Eat it, Esoteric.
After all this time, what continues to inspire Swallow the Sun to create this kind of music?
The phrase “after all this time” got me thinking: Has there been a change during the years? I’d have to say no; we’re still inspired about the same things as on the first album, whatever they were. This kind of music comes very naturally to us. It’s the sound of the North.
Was the idea to split the release into three themed discs a new one, or is it something you have thought about before?
We’ve been talking about it for years, and lots of the music was ready already a few years ago. Not all of us were sure if it made any sense and if whether we can pull it off. Luckily, we indeed were able to pull it off, and musically it made sense, but in other ways it might have been madness.
Did the songwriting happen all at the same time, or was each style written in isolation?
It was all happening at the same time. It’s not like the second or the third albums are anything we’ve never done before, so they were not separate projects in any sense. The triple album format, where the discs are divided into separate moods might give the sense that they’re separate entities, but actually they just form one, bigger entity, like a three-part play.
What was the songwriting process like? Who contributed to which parts, and how were decisions made about which songs belonged together on each disc?
Juha [Raivio, guitar] wrote all the music on the album, but when he’s done making demos of the songs he sends them to us. I do all of my keyboard arrangements based on those demos, and Mikko [Kotamäki, vocals] usually has only some ideas from Juha on the vocal arrangements. We all recorded all of the stuff in different places during some five or so months. The decision on which song should go on which album was pretty straight-forward. I think “Lost & Catatonic” was supposed to be on the 3rd one originally, but it was “too fast” for that…
Was there a reason for the discs’ order? Why the mellower record in the middle of two heavier albums?
As the album reflects the phrase once used to describe our sound – “Gloom, Beauty and Despair” – there was no discussion of this. I also always thought it made sense from the listeners’ viewpoint, as it gives you a breather between the heavier stuff, and possibly prepares you for what’s to come on the 3rd one.
What was the emotional thrust driving the first part of the album? What sets the ideas here apart from the other two discs?
This one has very much our trademark sound. It’s dark and melancholic, but some stuff that’s somewhat faster paced and aggressive. I think this also introduces more new influences to our sound, while the two other discs are explorations in to the parts of our sound we’ve had, but not to a great extent. Thematically this is also the most traditional Swallow the Sun album, having these more story-oriented lyrics mixed with more personal stuff.