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  • Review by Faye Coulman

REVIEWED: Swallow the Sun + Draconian + Shores of Null @ Camden Underworld, London

With a prestigious double bill headed up by the exquisitely haunting, ink-black orchestrations of gothic doom heavyweights Draconian together with Swallow the Sun’s inimitably frostbitten, melancholia-steeped symphonies, it’s small wonder this veritable feast of doom-laden entertainment sold out well in advance of tonight’s tremendously anticipated show. What is surprising, however, is how utterly packed the Underworld is this early on in the evening, with some time still to elapse before our esteemed co-headliners unleash their ghoulishly entrancing magic on tonight’s eager horde of visibly elated genre fanatics. But, amidst the sticky, wetly odorous heat of 500 densely packed, leather-clad bodies, that surprise instantly dissipates the moment SHORES OF NULL let loose their blistering and sumptuously beguiling craft, instantly igniting nerves and synapses with adrenaline. Indeed, anyone unfortunate enough to miss this early, quintessentially doomy highlight will surely be sorely deprived!

Pairing searing, Paradise Lost-tinged twin riffery and frantically accelerating blasts with sweepingly expansive atmospherics that glimmer with unearthly beauty, seldom does a support act manifest such a grandiose and thoroughly compelling presence. Luxuriating in sultry, distortion-drenched fretwork and tenderly evocative clean vocals, ‘Darkness Won’t Take Me’ comprises a thoroughly affecting standout, while ‘My Darkest Years’ resides in decidedly hostile, blastbeat-stricken sonic territories. And across the various shades of hyperblasting, weightily turbulent and hauntingly melodic darkness that comprise their seamlessly orchestrated set, it’s hard to imagine a more captivating kick-off to the evening’s proceedings.    

It's been a staggering eight years since DRACONIAN last graced our fair city with their elegantly configured fusion of crushing aggression and brooding, sumptuously ornate instrumentation. And with two albums yet to be debuted here in the UK together with a recent switch up of vocal duties that sees former vocalist Lisa Johansson once again returning to the band after a sizeable, 11-year absence, it’s safe to say we’ve a fair bit to catch up on as far as these iconic Swedish doomsters are concerned. Within a pulverising yet exquisitely melodious blend of darkly contorted groove, guttural screams and endlessly unfurling lines of eerily reverberating fretwork, this collectively immense mix takes instantly intoxicating hold of the senses. With every tombstone-heavy blast and gargantuan slab of riffage audibly teeming with tortured, achingly wistful feeling, a transcendental flurry of keyboards ushers us forth into the darkly meditative throes of ‘Lustrous Heart’. Above a turbulent undertow of bone-shattering blasts and lacerating fretwork, ethereal vocal talent Johansson pours forth a sumptuous profusion of airily delicate and affecting soprano, her lofty crescendos rising and falling with fluid, seamlessly practised ease.

Comprising a striking contrast with lead composer Anders Jacobsson's gargling, subterranean growls and vocal cord-lacerating screams, the impeccably synchronised chemistry between the pair is a pleasure to observe as we progress now into the churning, densely muscled throes of ‘The Sethian’. Intermingling sizeable slabs of blackly contorted bass riffage in amongst expansive layers of luxuriantly meandering fretwork and haunted cries of torment that linger and dissipate over the PA with eerily echoing resonance, this finely-balanced blend of searing aggression and ornate melody comprises one of the finest highlights of Draconian’s darkly entrancing set. And from the lofty, tenderly evocative orchestrations of ‘Sleepwalkers’ through to the epic, weightily rumbling high drama and sweeping symphonies of 2008 anthem ‘Seasons Apart’, these tremendously talented players hold us wide-eyed and rapt through every eerily immersive inch of their prestigious, doom-laden repertoire.      

From one iconic, hauntingly melancholic collective to the next, it’s fairly astonishing to note just how rapidly SWALLOW THE SUN have forged their now-prestigious reputation over the course of the past decade or so, having once been largely unknown to all but a modest smattering of devoted UK fans. Surveying the now visibly rammed venue with its endless hordes of punters pushing and jostling for a half-decent view of the stage, it’s fair to say their ferocious yet infinitely affecting craft has bewitched more than its share of avid fans and followers since then.  

Through fitfully flickering pools of pallid stage lighting and tensely suspenseful, ambient echoes, a shadowy collective of black-clad forms finally looms into view up ahead as riotous waves of applause rise from the densely packed legions of adoring fans gathered here tonight. Heads solemnly bowed beneath heavy black cowls, it’s with darkly explosive urgency and jugular-ripping intent that we’re plunged headlong into the weightily pulverising throes of ‘The Enemy’. Via endless, gargantuan layerings of tautly muscled groove and elegantly snaking guitars whose tortured throes abound with audible anguish, theirs is a spectacle that’s as thoroughly beguiling as it is frequently eerie and disquieting. From velvet-rich swathes of tenderly restrained clean vocals to guttural demonic snarls and caustic screams, frontman Mikko Kotamäki once again proves himself a towering and fluidly versatile vocal talent.

Half-shrouded in the heavy prevailing gloom of the windowless basement venue and its meagre glimmers of dusky stage lighting, these gifted players forge ahead into the deathly, exquisitely ornate throes of 2009 masterwork, ‘Falling World’, their darkly attired bodies thrashing and contorting violently atop the stage to intensely theatrical effect. With its dizzying crescendos of synapse-scorching riffery displaying rich, ink-black opulence in amongst a host of viciously bristling extreme elements, this genre-shattering blend of blistering aggression, cold-blooded malevolence and melancholia makes for a ghoulishly arresting live spectacle. Elsewhere, ‘Keep Your Heart Safe From Me’ revels in an electrifying mix of sweepingly expansive strings, intricate fretwork and pulversing, pitch-black extremity, its wistfully transporting siren song evoking infinite ecstasies of soul-baring emotion. Indeed, whether residing in the ghoulishly transcendental, grief-stricken atmospheres of ‘Stone Wings’ or seething in the frantically bludgeoning throes of 2005 classic ‘Descending Winters’, Swallow The Sun's seemingly endless capacity for conjuring the most desolate yet exquisitely beautiful of human emotions never ceases to astound.    


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