Review by Sonny for Swallow the Sun - Moonflowers (2021) Review by Sonny for Swallow the Sun - Moonflowers (2021)

Sonny Sonny / January 18, 2022 / 1

Despite the melancholy beauty of the music on offer on Moonflowers, I found it one difficult album to listen to. Songwriter and lyricist, Juha Raivio, has channelled his grief over the loss to illness of his partner, Trees of Eternity's Aleah Stanbridge, into the release and it is a heartbreaking journey through mourning and grief that is genuinely affecting to anyone who has ever suffered the loss of a loved one. A lot of the album is filled with an overwhelming atmosphere of sorrow and desolation of the soul, expressed through quite simple melancholic melodies, clean vocals and ever-present strings with some extremely soulful lyrics that can really cut to the heart in places. Then sparingly, but all the more effectively for it, anguish is unleashed with huge death doom chords and growled vocals, becoming even more desperate and angry by the album's closing track, This House Has No Home, which erupts into black metal-led pummelling as Juha's anger and rage finally explode from the speakers in search of catharsis.

Opening track, Moonflowers Bloom in Misery, starts in gently mournful fashion, softly picked guitar notes, swelling strings and melodic clean vocals poignantly asking "can you die of a broken soul?" before exploding in anger with huge, enveloping death doom chords and savage growls replying "You cry through the fires of Misery! Bleed dry through the nights of Misery!" as if the pain of loss has just become too much to bear and anger at the injustice of it is all that remains. This, in common with much of the album, is more melodic than most of the band's usual output, but don't let that fool you, this is still powerful stuff and when it does explode it hits like a slap in the face! In a reversal of Moonflowers Bloom in Misery, the following track, Enemy, hits hard with anger and rage from the off and throughout the verse as Juha's lyrics tell of how he withdrew from the light into the darkness inside his soul, becoming softer and more melodic, returning to clean sung lyrics for the chorus as he recognises this darkness within himself.

Woven Into Sorrow is the most gothic-sounding of the album's eight tracks and, arguably, the most accessible as it eschews any death metal vocals and has only brief heavy riffing, at least up until the five minute mark when it unleashes a real gut-punch of a riff as once more Juha's lyrics are no longer able to contain the pain he feels. This is followed by my favourite track, Keep Your Heart Safe From Me, which I perceive as a genuine masterpiece of gothic death doom, expressing in music and lyrics everything that exemplifies the genre in a track that only a few of the masters of the genre can match with it's expression of misery and despair. Oceans of Slumber's Cammie Gilbert supplies female vocals on All Hallows' Grieve, as the lost love speaks to the bereft narrator in a duet that is as heart-rending as it is melodic. I will dispense with the track-by-track review, but suffice to say, the latter half of Moonflowers retains the ability to move the listener every bit as much as the first half, culminating in the aforementioned visceral savagery contained within closing track This House Has No Home as Juha's suffering becomes insurmountable and threatens to overwhelm him.

I think there is an authenticity contained within Moonflowers, as a result of Juha's personal loss, that gives it an edge over many other gothic death doom albums' expressions of mourning and sorrow, which are borne of the songwriter's imaginations rather than personal experience of genuine sorrow. Another important contributing aspect I haven't really covered much is the addition of the string accompaniment from the three ladies of Trio NOX which is present throughout the album and is considered so fundamental to the album's success that the deluxe versions contains an extra disc which contains the string versions of each of the album's tracks to be enjoyed in isolation. The strings add an extra layer of lushness to the sound and contribute to the sorrowful atmosphere in that way that strings do so well when accompanying certain types of doom metal.

This is, for me, one of the best gothic death doom albums I have heard in a long while and is deeply affecting on a personal level, as well as providing some top-quality songwriting and performance and this personal connection is something that is very hard to achieve but is deeply rewarding when it is successful and, as such, I consider this very successful indeed.

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