Album Review – Swallow The Sun / Moonflowers (2021)

Jyväskylä, Finland’s own Doom Metal unity returns with another stunning album, offering us all eight beautiful, captivating songs blooming in misery.

Formed in 2000 in Jyväskylä, Keski-Suomi, Finland by guitarist Juha Raivio, the five-piece Finnish Melodic Doom/Death Metal outfit Swallow The Sun has just unleashed upon humanity their new opus entitled Moonflowers, the eight in their undisputed career. Currently comprised of Mikko Kotamaki on vocals, Juha Raivio on the guitars and keyboards, Juho Raiha also on the guitars, Matti Honkonen on bass, and Juuso Raatkainen on drums, Swallow The Sun continue to pave the gloomy path of their previous album When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light (inspired by the loss of Juha’s life partner Aleah Stanbridge in 2016), offering fans of the most melodic side of doom eight beautiful, captivating songs in the span of over 52 minutes, being therefore the perfect soundtrack for the darkest days in your life.

The striking opening song Moonflowers Bloom in Misery is absolutely doomed from the very first second, with Mikko already delivering his melancholic, grim vocal lines accompanied by the sluggish beats by Juuso, exploding into a massive feast of Melodic Death and Doom Metal. Then in Enemy we’re treated to beautiful lyrics declaimed by Mikko (“I crawl back to my shadow / From the edge of the light / Deep down into the sea of my own rain sirens / In the eye of the… / Enemy, inside of me / Torn from a trail of light / Grail of serpents lies”) while Juho and Juha’s guitars make an interesting paradox with Juha’s own keys; followed by Woven into Sorrow, a lecture in darkness and sorrow by the band presenting gorgeous, serene guitar lines intertwined with sheer heaviness and whimsical background elements, also featuring guest backing vocals by Antti Hyyrynen from Stam1na. Not only that, t’s impressive how they manage to make their music epic and symphonic without losing their blackened core essence, which is also the case in Keep Your Heart Safe from Me, almost eight minutes of top-of-the-line doom showcasing infernal, headbanging sounds led by Juuso’s drums supported by the low-tuned bass by Matti while also presenting a more cryptic, delicate side of the band.

All Hallows’ Grieve features guest vocals by the stunning Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber), and she nails it with her soulful vocals (“Before I go, I’ll let you know / My heart was honest, for you / My heart was cruel / You believed / I’m a soul of a ghost to fight for / I believe, I believe, I lost my will to fight for”), resulting in a sensational doom aria, whereas drinking from the fountain of 80’s Gothic and Doom Metal it’s time for the enfolding and somber The Void, where Matti and Juuso once again generate a reverberating ambience with their respective weapons. The Fight of Your Life is another gentle and melancholic composition by Swallow The Sun which despite presenting all elements we love in their music is not as compelling as the rest of the album; and closing the album it’s time for an infernal composition titled This House Has No Home, where the keys by Juha walk hand in hand with both the clean vocals and the demonic roars by Mikko, putting a climatic and dark ending to the album.

In a nutshell, the very pleasant and obscure Moonflowers, which is available for a full listen on YouTube and on Spotify, cements Swallow The Sun’s name as one of the best Doom Metal acts of the past 20 years while at the same time provides admirers of doom with something fresh, leaving us all eager for more of their stunning creations. Hence, don’t forget to follow the band on Facebook and on Instagram for news, tour dates and so on, and obviously to grab your copy of Moonflowers by clicking HERE. Keep in mind that if you go for the mediabook or boxset edition of the album, it comes with a very beautiful bonus disc with classical versions of all songs of the album recorded at the Sipoo Church in Finland by Trio N O X, comprised of Aino Rautakorpi on violin, Helena Dumell on viola and Annika Furstenborg on cello, as for example their gorgeous rendition of the song All Hallows’ Grieve. And while the moonflowers keep blooming in misery, Swallow The Sun will continue to darken the skies with their classy Doom Metal for at least another 20 years.

Best moments of the album: Moonflowers Bloom in Misery, Woven into Sorrow and All Hallows’ Grieve.

Worst moments of the album: The Fight of Your Life.

Released in 2021 Century Media Records

Track listing
1. Moonflowers Bloom in Misery 6:19
2. Enemy 5:39
3. Woven into Sorrow 7:46
4. Keep Your Heart Safe from Me 7:47
5. All Hallows’ Grieve 5:37
6. The Void 5:39
7. The Fight of Your Life 7:13
8. This House Has No Home 6:40

Limited Edition Mediabook/Boxset bonus disc (Trio N O X plays Moonflowers by Swallow the Sun)
1. Moonflowers Bloom in Misery (classical version) 4:52
2. Enemy (classical version) 3:06
3. Woven into Sorrow (classical version) 4:39
4. Keep Your Heart Safe from Me (classical version) 3:13
5. All Hallows’ Grieve (classical version) 4:58
6. The Void (classical version) 4:01
7. The Fight of Your Life (classical version) 4:16
8. This House Has No Home (classical version) 3:03

Band members
Mikko Kotamaki – vocals
Juha Raivio – guitars, keyboards
Juho Raiha – guitars
Matti Honkonen – bass
Juuso Raatkainen – drums

Guest musicians
Cammie Gilbert – vocals on “All Hallows’ Grieve”
Antti Hyyrynen – backing vocals on “Woven into Sorrow”
Jaani Peuhu – backing vocals
Aino Rautakorpi – violin on all classical versions from the Limited Edition Mediabook/Boxset bonus disc “Trio N O X plays Moonflowers by Swallow the Sun”
Helena Dumell – viola on all classical versions from the Limited Edition Mediabook/Boxset bonus disc “Trio N O X plays Moonflowers by Swallow the Sun”
Annika Furstenborg – cello on all classical versions from the Limited Edition Mediabook/Boxset bonus disc “Trio N O X plays Moonflowers by Swallow the Sun”

Metal Chick of the Month – Cammie Gilbert

Holding on to everything you say… Cause’ your words they paint a picture of me…

In a very difficult year where the world sadly witnessed an increase in violence and racism against black people, and of course the more-than-necessary rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in their fight for freedom, liberation and justice, we at The Headbanging Moose want to share with all of you our humble tribute to another black woman who has been brilliantly fighting all that racism and showing to the world black women have their place in heavy music, just like other rock and metal divas who have already been honored here on our webzine like Melissa Bonny, Militia Vox, Alexis Brown, Thalìa Bellazecca and Kayla Dixon. I’m talking about the multi-talented and gorgeous vocalist and songwriter Cammie Gilbert, the stunning frontwoman for American Progressive Rock and Metal act Oceans of Slumber, a band that has already been labeled by many as “Opeth or Katatonia with female vocals”, but that in my opinion managed to craft their own sound and style, embellishing the airwaves with their delicate but at the same time scorching creations.

Born on October 8, 1987 in Shepherd, a city located in San Jacinto County, Texas, in the United States, Cammie joined Houston, Texas-based Oceans of Slumber at the age of 27, more specifically in the year of 2014 after the departure of the band’s former vocalist Ronnie Allen, who had been with the band since their inception in 2011. Cammie, who’s by the way on a solid and healthy relationship with the band’s founder, drummer and pianist Dobber Beverly, the sole reminiscent of their original lineup, became the primary songwriter for the group after joining, having already released with Oceans of Slumber the EP Blue, in 2015, followed by the full-length albums Winter (2016), The Banished Heart (2018) and more recently Oceans of Slumber (2020), all available for a full listen on Spotify. You can enjoy tons of amazing official videos of Cammie and Oceans of Slumber kicking some serious ass on their YouTube channel, including the songs The Decay Of Disregard, Pray for Fire, The Colors of Grace, The Adorned Fathomless Creation, Winter, To the Sea (A Tolling of the Bells), The Banished Heart, Strange Fruit, Suffer The Last Bridge, a cover version for Candlemass’ Solitude, an acoustic version for Turpentine, and a live in the studio version for the song This Road.

Currently comprised of the aforementioned Cammie and Dobber together with keyboardist Mat V. Aleman and newcomers Jessie Santos and Alexander Lucian on the guitars and Semir Ozerkan on bass, Cammie said that the band’s former guitarists Sean Gary and Anthony Contreras and bassist Keegan Kelly wanted to explore different influences and styles which never fit with what Oceans of Slumber were doing at that time, the kind of tension that’s absolutely normal, but she also said there were tensions as soon as she got into the band, resulting in a split between the former members not wanting to be “female fronted”. “There is a certain metal crowd that thinks its a gimmick. I’m not growling, I just sing clean and am emotional, but a lot of male singers have that emotion too. There’s just stigmas that make anything a woman does, the wrong thing for metal. We had a couple of those old school attitudes and transition wasn’t their strong suite,” mentioned Cammie in one of her interviews.

Apart from her years with Oceans of Slumber, Cammie is also the lead singer for a Houston, Texas-based project called Genoa Band together with Dobber and guitarist Christian Larson, another branch from Oceans of Slumber’s musical tree drawing upon the lyrical and atmospheric production of bands and artists like Nick Cave, Portishead and This Mortal Coil while still sounding heavy but more intimate, playing a fusion of styles such as Southern, Gothic and Dark Rock. However, there’s nothing officially released by the band and no news since mid-2019 when they announced their first single Paraffin was almost ready to be released, making me think if they gave up the idea of moving forward with the project due to everything that has been going on with Oceans of Slumber, including the recording and release of their 2020 self-titled album. You can also find Cammie as a very special guest in the 2020 album Transitus, by Dutch Progressive Metal/Rock project Ayreon, playing the part of Abby throughout the entire album. “We met a friend of Arjen Lucassen over in the UK and he was interviewing us and asked if there was anything that we wanted to tell Arjen. And so Dobber is like, ‘Yeah, if he could get any of us on an album, we’re big fans, and if you could have him listen to The Banished Heart, that’d be great.’ And so he followed through with that request. Shortly after that Arjen wrote that he loved The Banished Heart and he would love to work with me someday. And we were like, ‘Yeah, of course that’d be great.’ And then maybe a couple more months after that, it was, ‘You want to be on the album?’ And I peed my pants,” commented Cammie about her collaboration with one of her idols in heavy music.

When asked to make a list of the top 10 albums that changed her life, Cammie listed a collection of albums that usually occupy a dark corner of her mind where often emotions outweigh the heaviness of the music, including 40 Watt Sun’s 2011 EP The Inside Room, Agnes Obel’s 2013 album Aventine, Alice In Chains’ 1992 album Dirt (which by the way reminds her why she loves the kind of music that she makes), Anathema’s 2012 album Weather Systems, Eivør’s 2015 album Slør, Evergrey’s 2016 album The Storm Within, Katatonia’s 2016 album The Fall Of Hearts, Swallow The Sun’s 2015 triple album Songs From The North I, II & III, Agents Of Oblivion’s 2000 self-titled album, and last but not least, Type O Negative’s 1996 masterpiece October Rust. “I love Peter Steele. We love Type O Negative, there’s  just nothing like it. We go through a lot of his albums but that’s the main one for me. I love Cinnamon Girl, Be My Druidess and also Wolf Moon. Dobber saw them live once. Super jealous. I’ve just had to make up for it by reading the autobiography, and he buys everything he can as far as media regarding the band. It’s an experience to go through their songs. He [Peter Steele] is such a clever lyricist. It’s the funniest kind of music I feel like I listen to. It brings up my energy and makes me happy,” commented our talented vocalist about the unparalleled work by Mr. Peter Steele (R.I.P.).

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In one of her interviews, when questioned about the lack of more black women in heavy music, Cammie said that it’s due to a multitude of reasons, including sexist comments saying that her voice would fit pop or hip hop music much better than metal, and that clean singing that isn’t symphonic is connotated to sounding pop, which might influence the decision of a black woman to move towards a soul, gospel, R&B or blues direction. Cammie herself was basically told to sing in hip hop or pop and to never go anywhere near rock and metal, but no one ever told her why except for the preconceptions already mentioned. “And what Dobber heard in my voice and what he heard from me… I’m a very melancholy person. I’m in and out of bouts of depression and what I identify with metal and metal-adjacent music is, what I identify with the music that I find, if it makes me, if I’m already sad and it makes me sadder then I’m like, “This is going on a playlist.” And I like things that give me these, not give me these dark feelings, but validate my dark feelings, because I feel like that helps me release them,” said Cammie, also saying that she feels that’s changing as there are more and more alternative black and black metalhead females out there. For instance, her own parents were extremely religious, not allowing her to listen to extreme styles like Death Metal or Grindcore, but that’s different now as younger black kids and people in general can have access to all types of metal music through their phones, for example.

When questioned about the Black Lives Matter movement, racism and if metal has a problem with racism, she said that racism is everywhere, and that it’s something more people have to unlearn than they realize, especially in America. Despite being fortunate enough to not experience too many issues related to racism since joining Oceans of Slumber, she stated that she can no longer approach this subject without a multitude of emotions overtaking her resolve, nor keep the angry tears from welling up and pouring out of her eyes when black senators, mayors, celebrities and brave people online share their frustrations over America’s shortcomings. She feels like her history and the entire country are broken, with George Floyd’s death being a tipping point or a catalyst for a new generation to finally say enough is enough due to the undeniable ruthlessness in which his life was taken. “When you think about the history of America, there’s very little that’s good for anyone who isn’t white. That’s just the truth. It leaves a hollow feeling in your chest taking this information in from so many different outlets. You realize this country isn’t fixing something, it’s letting something go,” complemented Cammie about such delicate matter, also saying that in the days ahead we face the challenge of putting these emotions into goal-focused actions.

Lastly, always evolving as a vocalist and always ready to experiment with her music, Cammie is more than sure Oceans of Slumber are already starting to break out of the Progressive Rock and Metal scene, letting her inspirations guide her music and warning people who already like the band that they’ll have to let go of any expectations for what comes next, leaving us curious to see what the future holds for her and for Oceans of Slumber. Furthermore, as the fantastic vocalist  that she is, Cammie surely misses the stage and performing live to the band’s fans and to newcomers to their progressive world, and they’re already thinking of ways of getting back onstage in Houston obeying all recommended protocols of social distancing to keep everyone safe, including obviously all band members. And, of course, all of us fans of a good fusion of progressiveness, emotions and heavy music can’t wait to see Cammie back to where she belongs, mesmerizing us all with her powerful voice and showing us all black girls can and will forever rock no matter what.

Cammie Gilbert’s Official Instagram
Oceans of Slumber’s Official Facebook page
Oceans of Slumber’s Official Instagram
Oceans of Slumber’s Official Twitter
Oceans of Slumber’s Official YouTube channel

“I am a black woman in America and I am the great, great granddaughter of slaves. Memories upheld only in photographs; as a little girl I would try to imagine what their lives were like. But as it goes, reality unravelled the mystery behind my childish imagination. Now when I see old photos in civil war documentaries, I see their faces. When I watch the grainy black and white footage depicting the Jim Crow era, I see their faces. When I watch the films of the marches inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., I see their faces. And now when I sign into social media and see protestors getting tear-gassed, I see their faces, only now mine is there too.” – Cammie Gilbert