Although it was meant to be the first of many such nights marking two decades of extraordinary music, Swallow The Sun’s show from Helsinki’s Tavastia Club had to act as a lone celebration before we all became used to watching gigs on our screens. But the presence of cameras and recording equipment have serendipitously ensued that this special concert survives as an audio and visual document that can be enjoyed by a far larger audience. And what a show it is.
Split into two, the first half sees the Finnish six-piece stripped down and joined by a string quartet for a gorgeous acoustic run-through of part two of 2015’s sumptuous triple album, Songs From The North. Pray For The Winds To Come is held together with impossibly fragile threads, and it goes without saying that the vocals of the late Aleah Stanbridge on the title track are heartbreakingly stirring.
With beauty taken care of, the second set of fan-voted songs from each of the band’s other records takes care of the gloom and despair, plus a fair bit of pummelling thanks to Swallow (Horror, Pt I). While the mix on 20 Years Of Gloom... may be more sympathetic to the strings and keys, the likes of the mammoth Empires Of Loneliness and The Giant still burn with raw fire and deliver the necessary crunch, before the heart-rending melodies and Mikko Kotamäki’s vocals help break back through the wall of darkness.
An encore of Here On The Black Earth from the band’s most recent effort, When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light, is a fitting finale, encapsulating all the melancholy and might that Swallow The Sun have so magically summoned over the past two decades. And should they continue to deliver consistently absorbing records, all future shows, whether anniversaries or not, will surely remain special occasions.
20 Years Of Gloom, Beauty And Despair – Live In Helsinki is out July 30 via Century Media. Pre-order it on Amazon here (opens in new tab).