Q&A: Swallow The Sun’s Juha Raivio Is Blinded By The Light

Swallow The Sun

All Swallow the Sun albums have been released in winter, save 2005 landmark Ghosts of Loss. While most bands wouldn’t care which season their albums are released, I’m pretty sure there’s line in the Finns’ contract that stipulates winter album releases, ’cause let’s face it, doom metal when the sun is shining and when the wind blows hot ain’t really doom metal at all. Or, at least that’s a different form of oppression, not fitting the Nordic vibe of Swallow the Sun. Why is this important to mention. Well, six months ago, during the dog days of January 2019, the Finns released what might be their most important album since The Morning Never Came landed with a doleful surprise in 2003.

When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light is, according to songwriter/guitarist Juha Raivio, Swallow the Sun’s 10th full-length. But it’s so much more than that. Like My Dying Bride’s pivotal Angel and the Dark River changed gothic metal for the mainstream in 1995, Swallow the Sun’s When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light has changed the emotional capacity of doom-death metal forever. There have been albums about loss in the past, but none of them hold a black candle to the quivering well of sorrow, grief, and regret that comprise each of When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light‘s eight tracks — nine if the Lumina Aurea EP counts. Across tracks like “Firelights,” “Upon the Water,” “Clouds on Your Side,” and the brutally beautiful main title, Swallow the Sun absorb Raivio’s tremendous despondency [he lost the love of his life, Aleah Stanbridge, in 2016], understand it, and reflect it back to the audience.

Decibel sat down with Raivio for a rare interview to talk about loss, recovery, and scars, how they’ll forever be embedded in When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light, exposed to the elements like a tombstone. But there’s light in the darkness for Raivio and it’s all about acceptance.

You’re on your seventh (or ninth, if you count Songs from the North’s three albums) album and 18th year. What’s it like to know you’ve pushed Swallow the Sun this far and made it this much of your life?
Juha Raivio: For me, this is our 10th album as The Plague of Butterflies EP also had a enough new music to be counted as a full-length album and to write it took as much time and work as any other album. We just wanted to call it EP as it was such a special release written for a ballet [Ballet Deviare] in New York, and also to keep the album price lower for the fans. So, for me personally this is our 10th album.

After Songs from the North — a three-album masterpiece — where did you want to take Swallow the Sun, musically?
Juha Raivio: Where ever it would go naturally, as always. Anything else would be faking it and you could hear it instantly from the music.

Did it take time for you to understand what was left for Swallow the Sun to expand upon?
Juha Raivio: I was not sure if I was ever going to write another Swallow the Sun album again. I don’t ever stress or think where the music should expand or go because if, and when, the music comes it will go where ever it needs to go that time and period. But here we are with new Swallow the Sun music.

I know Aleah’s [Stanbridge] death affected you greatly. Did her passing (or her life) impact the way you approached the music for the new album? If so, how did it manifest in the music?
Juha Raivio: Every word and note I wrote, I wrote for Aleah on this album and about my own battle [since her passing]. This is very personal and hard subject for me to speak [about] and I would rather leave it all to the music to speak [about] and for the words on this album to explain as it is all there. But to say something, this album name comes from the words of Aleah, “When a shadow is forced into the light,” and that was exactly what I needed to do. To push myself out from the shadows, as I had been pretty much a hermit in the woods for two and a half years, I had to push this album out. There’s a separate 14-minute Lumina Aurea release that came out before the album. It’s basically a bridge to When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light and is the most dark and painful song I have ever written in my life. It is a song I would never want to write in my life [again]. It is a open, bleeding black wound from the last two and half years. But I had to write it out. I could not back down from it. I am very proud I had Einar Selvik from Wardruna appearing on the song and my friends from The Foreshadowing. The way I wrote and recorded Lumina Aurea was something so rough emotionally and physically that I think I will never talk about it public [too much]. I know this road will go on forever as a part of me, but I have also made a peace with it that I will never have peace with it, and that the life and the journey here must still go on for a while for all of us who remain. I knew that if I would go any deeper on that road with the album as I did with “Lumina Aurea,” that path would not end well. So, I realized quickly that instead I am writing an album that will manifest loud and clear that after all — “Love is always stronger than death” — I wanted to find that angle with this music. After which, I started to write this album almost like a weapon for myself. A burning light, a burning torch. Victorious and proud.

And what were the songwriting sessions like?
Juha Raivio: I wrote all the music and the lyrics for this album, except the song “Clouds on Your Side,” for which Mikko wanted to write vocals and lyrics. That song also includes some of Aleah’s lyrics in English and French, so it became a very important and a great song. Otherwise, I needed to write this album in total solitude by myself to get into the absolute core of it.

The lineup changed between Emerald Forest and the Blackbird and Songs from the North. You welcomed guitarist Juho Räihä to the fold. What will Juho bring to the table?
Juha Raivio: The most important thing is that Juho is such a great and wonderful person. It is hard to find more warm and friendly guy than him, and that always goes beyond any playing skills. Luckily, he is also amazing guitarist and he can also bring more vocals for live shows, so he will bring lots of new things to the Swallow the Sun family.

Lyrically, where is the new album coming from? A continuation of Songs from the North or something else entirely?
Juha Raivio: It all manifests with the line, “Death is stronger than Life / but Love is Stronger than death.” That explains everything.

Is hard to expose your pain so publicly? The new album is very much about your loss, and yet you’re opening up your loss to the world for critique.
Juha Raivio: Yes, it is actually very hard and confusing. I have been living a very isolated life for the last 10 years, living far away in the middle of the woods with horses and cats. I’ve become pretty much a hermit. I don’t miss public or people that much. I rather do not want people to know about my personal life, but at the same time it is an open book, as I just have to write honest music; that is the only way for me. But the music is all that matters anyway in the end. I’m avoiding interviews until the last drop for many reasons and have only done few for the last five years. But it is all sealed in the music and the lyrics and everyone will luckily make their own truth out of them through their own life and experiences. Luckily, the other boys in the band will do interviews.

Why did you decide to go to Fascination Street to work with Jens Bogren?
Juha Raivio: Jens actually sent a message to me one day and said that he would be happy to do some doomish grooves again with us. And if someone as legendary as Jens sends you a message like this, then you have to go with it. Also, it has been 10 years since we did the New Moon album with him, so it felt like totally right thing to do to get back together with him again. I did Trees of Eternity album with him in-between. I just love that guy. So, I was very happy that he was involved again with this album.

What were the studio sessions like?
Juha Raivio: It took about six months to get everything totally right, ready and recorded for this album. I wanted to make sure that everything was as perfect as it could be because this is important music for so many reasons. So, it has been a heavy and hard road for everyone involved but totally worth it.

What was it like working as the producer and engineer for When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light?
Juha Raivio: We produced this album by ourselves, like we have always done. But the difference is that this time we looked so much more into the big and small details of the music and really demanded everything we got out from everyone. Before, it was the faster you can do your recordings and stuff in the studio the better, but not this time.

Why didn’t you invite guests to perform this time around?
Juha Raivio: No guests this time. That was important, I think. But Jaani Peuhu [now a full-time member on keyboards/backing vocals] did a lot of backing vocals and even some lead vocals on this album. He also produced the synths I made for the songs. And he also arranged the real strings on the album. So, he is not guest, as he is really one of us. Of course, there is a separate string quartet playing on the album.

Is there a song or songs you’re excited about?
Juha Raivio: Absolutely each one of them. Every note and word is equally important.

The cover art is always significant for Swallow the Sun. What can you tell readers about the cover art [by Fursy Teyssier] to the new album?
Juha Raivio: It stands for so many personal things I won’t explain. But it truly is a powerful and victorious cover that stands 100 percent with the music. Pile of black wings of the demons, cut out with their own sword. When a shadow is forced into the light… That is what it is.

What are Swallow the Sun doing now that the album has been out for six months?
Juha Raivio: Most probably huge amount of touring again.

** Swallow the Sun’s new album, When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light is out now on Century Media Records. It’s available on CD (HERE) and imported LP (HERE). Pray to the light now for darkness is coming…