LIVE REVIEW: Swallow the Sun + Oceans of Slumber + Aeonian Sorrow @ Camden Underworld
It’s precisely 7pm on a Monday night, and the freshly-birthed drudgery of a new working week has had ample time to take effect – judging, at least, by the endless hordes of weary-looking Londoners jostling their way home through the hectic streets of a presently heaving Camden Town. So it’s with no small amount of amusing irony to note that the sizeable crowd of black-clad metal fans camped up outside The World’s End should be the ones looking so uncharacteristically cheery this evening. And with tonight marking the long-awaited return of Finnish doom luminaries Swallow The Sun, the presently buzzing atmosphere is easily understandable to anyone familiar with the band’s electrifying, heartrendingly affecting craft. From gorgeously ethereal symphonic trappings to bracing feats of undiluted aggression and deathly atmospheres so richly awash with feeling as to permeate the very fibre of one’s being, theirs is a rare, blackly magnetic magic indeed.
But, for the present moment, it’s down to melodic doomsters Aeonian Sorrow to open proceedings in suitably evocative style. With their lofty strains of luscious soprano soaring airily atop expansive slabs of pleasingly abrasive groove, there’s no mistaking the crushing, existential torment emanating from every lusciously gothic inch of this thoroughly emotive affair. It’s scarcely the most distinctive or original of musical formulas, but perhaps it’s precisely these instantly recognisable trappings that so effortlessly lure listeners into this quintessentially doom-laden spectacle.
Such safely familiar sonic territories are, however, nowhere to be found within the sultry, restlessly turbulent throes of Oceans of Slumber’s mesmerising set. Through gargantuan tidal waves of churning bass and frantically battering percussion, vocalist Cammie Gilbert’s crooning, richly luxuriant vocal prowess glimmers like a blinding beacon of light in the unrelenting, riff-laden darkness that presently surrounds her. Arms held high, weaving elegant symmetries in the air, her unique melding of full-bodied intensity and emotive sweetness makes for a truly electrifying stage presence. Assuming a fluidly lush richness of sound atop layer upon layer of intricate fretwork mere moments before plunging into a ragged onslaught of aggression, these restlessly intense compositions leave many a jaw agape before the Texans exit the stage to deafening waves of riotous applause.
In a world dominated by mindlessly derivative trends, pale imitations and posers, every so often we’re reminded of the limitlessly moving potential of music in its purest and most authentically undiluted form. That most ageless and ritualistic of artistic mediums that, within the space of a mere few, carefully placed notes, can anger, entrance, seduce - sometimes even destroy us. Taking us places we’d never dreamed possible. Bringing old, long-buried memories bubbling to the surface and overflowing in a gushing profusion of feeling. Suffice it to say that Swallow the Sun are one such rare and wondrously evocative outfit.
Beneath eerily flickering strains of pale stage lighting, the sombre assembly enter the stage as echoing flurries of Gregorian chants flood the auditorium with their duskily intoxicating presence. Then, a deathly hush and stillness of motion descends, hanging thick and suspenseful in the dense, prevailing darkness. It has begun…
Plunging listeners headlong into the crushing, restlessly accelerating blasts and flourishing strings of ‘When A Shadow is Forced Into the Light’, the Finns’ deft counterbalancing of quietly affecting restraint and untamed brutality is on impeccable form from the get-go. Despite their black-robed, restlessly stirring forms being all but enveloped in densely impenetrable darkness, there’s no mistaking the raw, relentlessly clawing grief attached to this most painfully intense and intimately personal of albums. Taking ample time to allow its glimmering, delicately unravelling melodies to seep deep into the synapses, ‘Firelights’s’ blackened eruption of tortured screams and delectably gothic organ notes palpably reeks of hell-fire and brimstone.
But for all the violent, adrenaline-fuelled delights that punctuate these exquisitely arranged compositions, it’s the record’s more simple and subtly restrained dynamics that elevate tonight’s performance to the stuff of compositional brilliance. With its exquisitely fragile central refrain of whirling, crystalline chord progressions brimming with sharply penetrating accents of sorrow, ‘Stone Wings’s’ heartrending magic takes instantaneously devastating effect. Amplifying its raw, evocative power through a seamless melding of weighty sepulchral blasts and warmly expressive cleans laden with haunting poetics, this grief-stricken standout sees the six-piece here display unprecedented levels of intensity and compositional prowess.
Leaping backwards a full decade to revisit the viciously energised and sumptuously gothic trappings of 2009’s ‘New Moon’, the nightmarishly turbulent, blackened throes of ‘These Woods Breathe Evil’ deliver insanely paced energy and cinematic atmosphere in abundance. Delving still deeper into the band’s endlessly captivating back catalogue, 2005 classic ‘Descending Winters’ sees dense layerings of bristling tremolo and caustic screams gather dizzying, violently accelerating momentum. With every elegantly pronounced spiral of distortion and pulverising blast oozing beauty of the darkest and most ghoulishly haunted calibre imaginable, few bands burn with quite such fierce and bright a flame as these veritable conjurers of feeling.