REVIEWED: A Swarm of the Sun's 'The Woods'
There’s something exceptionally restrained and controlled about A Swarm of the Sun’s delicate, quietly affecting craft. Not in the sense of the tell-tale, tensely hushed silence that hangs thick in the air ahead of a deafening explosion of noise or a disarmingly tender melodic break soon to be shattered by a bewildering ambush of blastbeating aggression. No, theirs is an altogether more unhurried, slow-acting strain of darkness that, like the blackest and most indelible of strange preternatural ink, takes ample time to seep deep into the darkest fibres of the soul. Indeed, its dusky hallmarks will prove all too familiar to anyone acquainted with the deeply ingrained grief and sorrow that inhabits every expansive, delicately unfurling inch of sophomore opus ‘The Woods’.
With its rich and darkly resonant layerings of rustic strings and spiralling, notey symmetries that palpably chill the senses with their unmistakably wintry presence, the duo’s latest album occupies a beautiful, deeply immersive realm to be sure. But linger here too long and the ever-manifesting echoes of darkness and despair that reside here will, quite assuredly, consume you. With each of its three generously proportioned tracks clocking in at a sizeable total of around 13 gracefully meandering minutes, this is no instantly gratifying or easily digestible listen. But a little time spent unravelling the coldly atmospheric secrets contained within soon reveals no small amount of darkly absorbing pay-off glimpsed first in the haunting, piano-laden strains of intensely moving opener ‘Black Out’. With every echoing, distortion-drenched note displaying an irresistible organic warmth that amplifies even the faintest and most exquisitely subtle of sonic details, there’s no mistaking the meticulously engineered care with which this richly transporting work has been crafted. And from achingly beautiful and expansive strains of cello to pounding, ritualistic slabs of percussion that abound with all the steadily trudging weight of terminal depression, this is a record exquisitely rich and raw with human feeling.
But from the moment title track ‘The Woods’s’ coldly enveloping expanse of droning ambient noise grasps the listener in its icily suffocating, deadly embrace, it seems we’ve barely scratched the surface of this darkly absorbing three-tracker. “You’ll carry your weight, you’ll grow in pain,” assures frontman Jens Jensen in an eerily rasping half-whisper, his ragged timbre numbly detached and hypnotic above a still colder swathe of scarcely tangible melodic details. From here, a great swell of darkly churning bass and dizzying organ notes swamp the senses with their sumptuously absorbing magic.
For all its delicately lilting and richly melodic charm, it has to be said that closer ‘An Heir to the Throne’ hardly rivals the sonic range or emotive intensity of the previous two tracks, with its steadily unravelling progressions bordering on repetitive in places. But, make no mistake, this is a fine and, in places, utterly entrancing body of work. And if ever there was a convincing testament to the age-old cliché that human suffering invariably spawns great art, the Swedes here make one hell of a compelling case for it.
'The Woods' is out now on Version Studio