HELLO DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND: An interview with Swallow the Sun's Jaani Peuhu
From its earliest, most rudimentary sketches to the painstaking adjustment and refinement of the final master, the tricky process of bringing a musical vision to fruition is seldom a smooth and easily achievable feat. And when the album in question centres on such unflinchingly dark and harrowing emotional territories, even the most confidently assured of artists would likely shy away from such a monumental, all-absorbing project. Not so for Finnish masters of melancholy, Swallow the Sun…
“When I heard their music for the first time I totally fell in love with them right away, it felt sort of like coming home almost,” reminisces keyboardist Jaani Peuhu on his first deeply affecting introduction to Swallow the Sun. From exquisitely delicate melodic subtleties through to turbulent bouts of blackened, coldly abrasive riffage and bloodcurdling screams, theirs is, indeed, a rare and instantly bewitching magic. Having first encountered the band some fourteen years ago at a festival whilst touring with darkwave act Iconcrash, it was with almost the same swiftness and immediacy that the keyboardist struck up a firm friendship with visionary composer Juha Raivio. Making his first appearance as a guest vocalist on part II of the band’s epic ‘Horror’ song series, it’s unsurprising that this hauntingly evocative experience is one the musician recalls with the utmost clarity and fondness.
“After I heard Swallow The Sun on stage I was simply blown away, and then when they started working on the ‘Hope’ album they asked me if I would join them in the studio and sing on one of the songs. That song just so happened to be ‘Don’t Fall Asleep’ and that’s something I will remember my whole life. That song was just so special and emotional and yeah, I think that the emotions are the core of this band. The feelings are just so strong. The songwriting is just so honest, we’re not singing about dragons or ninjas or anything like that,” Jaani notes with a chuckle. “Everybody can relate to these emotions which makes the listening process much easier when you can really just dive straight into it.”
But however instantaneous this newly-forged creative chemistry proved to be, it wasn’t until 2015 that Jaani would play a truly integral role within the tight-knit collective, with the engineering talent handling vocal production duties on acclaimed triple album ‘Songs From The North I, II & III’. The years that followed, however, brought with them a prolonged period of unprecedented change and upheaval beginning first with the departure of drummer Kai Hahto in 2015, followed swiftly by keyboardist Aleksi Munter just a year later. But, unbeknownst to their many adoring fans and followers, composer Juha Raivio was, around roughly the same time period, waging an infinitely more grave and damaging personal battle culminating in the tragic loss of life partner Aleah Stanbridge to cancer later that same year. Crippled by the unimaginable burden of this recent bereavement, the months that followed saw Raivio retreat into an extended period of self-imposed isolation as he desperately set about attempting to process his grief.
But after many months spent languishing in the desolate shadows of self-exile, a sudden and unexpected burst of inspiration saw the musician pen a fresh wealth of new material all within the space of a mere three, relentlessly industrious weeks. With every bar and note having been inspired and lovingly dedicated to the memory of Aleah, it was through the resulting body of work that Raivio could finally begin a healing catharsis of sorts, starting first with 13-minute epic ‘Lumina Aurea’. As the first track to be conceived out of this intense period of prolonged emotional turmoil, there’s no mistaking the unrelenting darkness that abounds from every deathly, doom-laden inch of this exceptionally bleak composition. Forming an emotionally torturous but indisputably essential gateway into the slew of breathtaking, beautifully orchestrated songs that followed, Juha was quick to note the track’s dramatically different tone and energy, finally electing to issue ‘Lumina...’ as a separate EP release connected to, but at the same time, wholly independent of forthcoming
album ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light.’
“It was indeed a gateway into the album, yes,” Jaani agrees. “But in a way it’s kind of part of the album too, because without that EP the album just wouldn’t sound right, because you have to dive deep down into that big, bleak, black hole first