Swallow the Sun’s Golden Light
A reflection on Swallow the Sun‘s history, importance and presence.
It seems like a long time since Swallow the Sun actually put out new music, though in reality four years is only a long time in the increasingly hectic cycles that we’ve made the information age to push ourselves towards. Even less of a long time should you consider that the years between have been filled not only with touring, but with a constant flow of new music under different names from primus motor Juha Raivio.
Simultaneously, it feels like a time even longer, in no small part due to the emotional attachment and effect of the Songs From the North -trilogy. I’ve been a fan of Swallow the sun for a long time, and unlike in the case of so many other bands, my love of them has barely dwindled. In fact, no other album since their masterful debut The Morning Never Came, has made such an emotional impact removed from the impact of the art (which would be an extremely dumb thing to do, we’re only exercising this dumbery for the sake of argument).
No matter how great a record they would deliver, and make no mistake all of them are awesome, there would always be something, a tiniest detail that would allow me to enjoy the debut more, and rank it slightly higher in good conscience. Songs From the North changed this, for a time. A massive record born of monolithic emotional turbulence, and as we soon learned of Aleah Starbridge’s passing, enveloped in tangible grief for each who would it seek. Around that time, I had been dealing with a loss of more personal nature and my emotional attachment to the record grew immensely, as it became a vessel of reflection. A mirror which did not enable emotional detachment, but allowed temporary eternal examination of grief and loss. It’s not unusual that art would elicit such strong reactions, but retrospectively, it seems to me I never enjoyed Songs from The North despite (or due) to it’s flaws, rather, I chose to ignore them.
When Trees of Eternity’s lone album then hit, though I greatly enjoyed it, I found it evoked less of an emotional reaction on it’s own, as it did as a continuation of SFtN. Of course, I had not known either Starbridge or Raivio and could share in the loss on a personal level, at best, I could mourn the loss of an artist whose work I had held dear, and as painful and deep as such a loss may be, it is irrevocably different in nature. Although Hallatar did prove you can squeeze blood from a stone – the lat vestiges of any personal grief that I had related to the earlier works had been shed, at the time of it’s release I had arrived to a point, where I neither needed nor desired any external help. Yet it’s raw emotional turmoil born from nigh improvisational nature, did make me care one more time, no more an emotion of my own, but to sympathize with another’s.
Excuse my elongated prattle, but I do not find it unnecessary to understand Lumina Aurea – the fourteen minute stand-alone single Swallow the sun released prior to their latest full-length. A song that Raivio “never wanted to write”. In spirit, it could be seen as the successor of the third part of SFtN, retrospectively, now that I can view as “just” an album, not most successful funeral doom album released that year, in that it’s a droning, ambient-like piece of etensive length that takes little advantage of Raivio’s bandmates and fills the gaps with Einar Selvik’s (Wardruna, Skuggsja) horns and Marco Benevento (The Foreshadowing) spoken word vocals.
In many ways, it’s a captivating journey towards the darkest hour, an enjoyable descent into hopeless bottoms. In all the other ways, I don’t like it. At all. It sounds like Raivio purging his soul, dealing with the darkest side of his loss, reaching for catharsis. As a piece of music, it sounds like a self-indulgent artist’s complete lapse of judgement and criticism. But the more I ponder upon the matter, the more time I spend with the piece, the more I feel like it could not have fulfilled it’s intention better if it had those qualities. It does not seem like a piece of art that could ever be viewed as an individual piece, or enjoyed by someone who hadn’t partaken in Raivio’s grief. Could anyone who only relates to the loss, or sympathizes with the pain extract the intent from this work? In the very least, it sounds like Lumina Aurea was meant to be so that this would be impossible.
For me, this is a piece of art devoid of expression in itself, a piece that seeks to become the expressed. A journey that is not mine to partake, and I would not even if I could. There is no could of doubt in my mind that this song needed to be made, but not every book that needs to be written, needs to be read.