Thankfully, the bands actually in concert broke up that monotony remarkably well, and next up were Swallow the Sun. Having just released their third album, ‘Hope’, this sextet have really made a name for themselves in the doom scene, and deservedly so. Many of them are involved in other bands ranging from death to black to standard heavy metal, but they all seem to have a special focus on Swallow the Sun. This, no doubt, has played a big part in the band’s success on the European charts, and I was pleased to discover that it translated just as well to their live performance.
Dressed in black shirts and skinny blue jeans like some uniformed shoegazer ensemble, they all came out together and humbly acknowledged the crowd’s cheers before beginning their half-hour set. As was expected they played a good amount from their new album, but with songs as long as theirs it is difficult to get away with more than five or six songs. And actually, looking back, I’m not sure how they were able to play as many as I think they did. From what I can remember (and what other set lists they have used this year), the first half of their set consisted of ‘Descending Winters’, ‘Out of This Gloomy Light’, and ‘Don’t Fall Asleep’, which was probably the song that least impressed me on the ‘Hope’ album. However, in the context of the show, I had a much easier time getting into the atmospheric elements of the song and cutting the clean vocal line of Mikko Kotamäki some slack. Throughout the set, he wore a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes and didn’t interact much with the crowd, but this reserve fit in well with the band’s music and wasn’t an issue. His greatest asset as a vocalist is his remarkably low growl, more guttural than the average but too sonorous for a gurgle, and he was in full command of them for the show. His highs were also very good, though he obviously couldn’t layer them like he does on record. Only his clean vocals left anything to be desired, and that only because they were forced a little too much, perhaps due to the imbalance between the volume of the clean and harsh vocals, which wasn’t remedied until much later.
The second half of the set consisted of a pair from the new album—‘Hope’ and ‘These Hours of Despair’—both of which were crushing, and a surprise closer in ‘Swallow’. During the second half, I paid more attention to the band’s instrumentalists and found myself especially drawn to their bassist, Matti Honkonen. It helped that he was positioned directly in front of me, but he also was the most physically engaged of them all and played each note with delicate affection. He would sway from side to side, tilt his head and close his eyes, then open them suddenly and gaze towards the back of the venue as if he were looking at something far beyond the walls.
The rest of the band were more introverted, but all of their performances were equally expressive. Some fans towards the front of the audience would thrust their arms into the air on occasion or mouth along with the words, especially to ‘These Hours of Despair’ and its lament of, “Light, joy, hope, trust. All is lost.”
The final perk of their set was the touring drummer, none other than Kai Hahto, presently playing in Wintersun and previously of Rotten Sound, Arthemesia, Enochian Crescent, etc. I had forgotten that he was replacing Pasi on this tour, but my memory was jogged as soon as he laid down one of his lithe fills during the sound check. During the set, though, I hardly even thought to focus on him, which I suppose is a testament to how smoothly he fit in. As Daniel Liljekvist (Katatonia’s drummer) would later say, everything Kai plays is of utmost tastefulness; I doubt I could have found fault with, much less noticed, any changes that he may have made to the songs. Respected by his peers and certainly adored by fans, he is one of Finland’s best.
A few minutes after the thirty minute mark, the band closed their set, and with muted but earnest thanks took their leave. Matti came forward to shake a few hands and ended up having a ticket thrust at him to sign, which he did, and then we were all left once again to ‘The Gathering’ and Ozzfest UFO’s flying overhead until Insomnium were through with their set-up.