There’s beauty in life. There’s darkness in death. For Swallow the Sun creative force Juha Raivio, his world is the reverse. The Finnish songwriter is funneling the darkness in life and the beauty in death on new album, When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light. While much of the impressive, three-album saga Songs from the North I, II & III was inspired by the old forests of Sweden’s midlands, Swallow the Sun’s seventh album is directly informed by the loss of life partner and singer/songwriter Aleah Stanbridge (aka Aleah Starbridge). Raivio spent many months in the shadows, coping, trying to understand, wishing his loved one a safe journey into the glory of her next life. But when the inspiration finally hit Raivio, the maestro conceived and wrote nine songs over the course of three weeks. The result is a spectacular heart-string pull carefully ferried across a hopelessly scenic set of songs that transcend the boundaries of doom, death, and black metal. The title When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light draws from a key line in Trees of Eternity’s “Broken Mirror.”
With Raivio’s inner core exposed for all to see, comment on, feel, ask questions of, and experience, it’s no wonder When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light is a difficult topic to relive. But as Raivio has said, it’s all there, out in the open. From the absolute stunning lead-off title track to the fragile massiveness of “Never Left,” Swallow the Sun have crafted a filmic masterpiece around Raivio’s bereavement and subsequent journey through it. In fact, they’ll preface When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light with a non-album EP called Lumina Aurea, which is, according to Raivio, the darkest and most painful song in Swallow the Sun’s history. Featuring Wardruna’s Einar Selvik and The Foreshadowing’s Marco I. Benevento “Lumina Aurea” will bridge the utter gloom of Raivio’s despair with the promise of coming to terms with it.
Over the last few years, Swallow the Sun have experienced several lineup changes. Drummer Kai Hahto departed in 2015 for Nightwish, keyboardist Aleksi Munter jettisoned the music industry altogether in 2016, while long-time guitarist Markus Jämsen issued his farewells in 2018. Yet, the venerable Finns have carried on, finding suitable and likeminded replacements for all in short order. That trend continues with Munter and Jämsen’s permanent replacements in new keyboardist Jaani Peuhu (of Iconcrash fame) and guitarist Juho Räihä (also of Hallatar). The addition of Peuhu and Räihä was both logical and talent driven. Peuhu and Swallow the Sun go back years—Peuhu contributed vocals to Hope centerpiece “Don’t Fall Asleep (Horror Pt. 2)” – while Räihä served valiantly as Jämsen’s sideman during Raivio’s self-imposed hiatus.
Restless author and interviewer Rodrigo Altaf caught up with Jaani Peuhu and they discussed many aspects of the band’s career and the composition process of the new album. Read their chat below:
Hi Jaani, it’s great to talk to you. The band is getting ready for a very busy period right now with not one but two releases, “Lumina Aurea” and “When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light”. Tell us about the decision of releasing an EP in December 2018 and the full album in January 2019. What was the reason for that?
Well, I, those two, they belong together. The album without the EP wouldn’t give the right picture of the timeline of the events our main composer Juha Raivio has been going through. So the EP is a pretty good introduction into that world where he’s spent too much time lately and then the album is more like a relief after the EP. I think they really compliment each other, but just listening to the EP would kind of leave me into a too dark place. So the album will give some hope, and a sense that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Give us an overview of the new releases if you can, because on the last album, “Songs From the North I, II and III” you guys were very ambitious – It’s a three-part album of course, with two and a half hours worth of music. What can the fans expect from “When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light?
Well, it’s not less ambitious just because it’s shorter. I think it’s more of a case that all those emotions only had to be put into one album. There’s influence in our new album from Songs From the North I, II and III. I think this is like the combination of the sound and the songwriting of those three albums – at least I see it that way. I don’t think it’s intentionally like that, but with the earlier album we wanted to introduce these different sides of the band and with this album we have this really strong concept that life created, and one album is enough to express what we have to say at this time.
You joined the band this year if I’m correct. How has it been for you so far?
Well, not, nothing new to me really, I’ve been part of this crew for a longer period of time already. Not as an official member, we’ve been working together for a lonG
I understand you were friends with the band before joining, right?
Oh yeah. I sang already on the Hope album, on the song “Don’t fall Asleep”. That was the beginning of our cooperation and then I was a producer on Songs From the North. You can actually hear my voice throughout the first two albums. On the third one, I was just recording and producing the vocals. So yeah, my voice has been a part of this band’s sound for a longer time already.
I guess the transition or adaptation for you to join the band didn’t change much in your playing style and/or in your routine to fit in with the band, right?
Well of course I will be spending much more time in the tour bus in the future because the last few years I’ve been just working basically in the studio as a producer, but now the new “era” is starting and I’m really excited about it. I haven’t been touring that much in the last three years – I did maybe like 10 gigs after the triple album. But yeah, if you add it all up I have spent a lot of time on stage with Juha already!
I’m curious about the lyrical content this time because I understand that the lyrics come from a personal loss from Juha, right?
Well, every word he wrote this time was dedicated to his late girlfriend Aleah. So it’s for her and about her.
I couldn’t help but notice that he decided not to do interviews this time. I guess the subject of the whole album is kind of painful for him to open up about, right?
Yeah, I can’t imagine how it will be. You can imagine what kind of questions people would ask about the album and the lyrical content. The whole concept of the album is tied to his loss, and if he wouldn’t talk about that, then it wouldn’t make sense. But Juha is a true artist, who uses music to express his feelings and that’s the way he’s speaking through his songs. So maybe it’s not even needed to really talk about it. That way also the listeners of the album can make their own assumptions and create their own world within the songs.
I think it’s incredibly brave of him to express himself in an album like that because a lot of artists go through losses and they cannot express themselves. So props to him for opening up, and I hope you can send him my condolences and my compliments.
I will. And I can’t imagine how it will be to play these songs on stage – every night, all the wounds will be open. And it wasn’t that much easier to tour in support of the triple album either because, you know, we had Aleah’s vocals there – her voice came from the backing tracks when we were on stage. So it was it was really difficult for the whole band.
I’m curious about the narration in French on “Clouds On Your Side”. Is that from Aleah, and do you know wat the lyrics say in that part?
I haven’t seen the lyrics on that part. It’s not her, but actually her friend who was talking there.
That’s ok. Changing the subject a little, I always love what you guys do with the videos – the one for “Rooms and Shadows”, for example, is amazing. Are there plans to make any videos of this new release?
Yeah, we were just talking about shooting a video on our Facebook group at the moment. So yeah, we’ll do one eventually.
In your particular case, how has your involvement in the writing and recording of the new album, did you write any parts of it?
I worked as a producer with Juha and I did the vocal arrangements. Juha‘s a talented songwriter so that I don’t, I don’t feel a need to add anything there as a writer. I influenced the vocal melodies, respecting his original demo visions but it was more like arranging the vocals and a lot of singing of course. It’s really cool that now we have two singers with voices that are so different – Mikko [Kotamäki – Vocals] has this really cool low, dark voice and I have this higher pitch. I think they compliment each other really well, and I think that contrast is really important because of the whole concept. It’s have something fragile and beautiful, and then there’s really dark growls.
There’s a lot of orchestration in the new album, especially on the first track. Would you guys consider actually playing with an orchestra in the upcoming tour?
Not an orchestra, it’s a string quartet. Yeah. And that was the whole idea that, that the orchestrations weren’t that big because I wanted to be more like personal feeling – I wanted the listener to actually feel every string being hit. A big orchestra or a sampled one would take it kind of too far from the listener. If it would be too massive and movie-like it wouldn’t feel personal and relatable. At least that that was what we were trying to achieve. The strings aren’t huge we just wanted to have that kind of atmosphere and the feeling there. And actually we did actually play three gigs with a string quartet when we played in the Caribbean Islands. That was the 70 tons of metal cruise, and we had the same quartet there and we played all the three albums from the Songs From the North. Those gigs were really special and we worked really hard for the string arrangements to work on these shows. So hopefully one day we can do this again.
Is there a plan to release those concerts live? I can imagine it will sound amazing!
Well, it’s a shame that didn’t record them. But at some point we were planning to do a concert with the strings and record it in Finland, but then we started working with the new album. Maybe it will happen later, we could have a special gig where we play songs from this album and some from the earlier ones with the string quartet. That would be my dream, but we haven’t been talking about anything like that.
Obviously you recently joined, but what would you say was the highest point in the band’s career so far?
My career with the band has been a bit short [laughs], but we played three shows in the Tuska Festival in Finland, and those gigs were really special. Big ones and really painful ones also! Those were so emotional because the audience was massive! They knew about Aleah, you know, about all that. She had passed away just a few months before those gigs. So it was something really, really special. Between the songs it was like totally quiet in the audience even though they were like 10,000 people watching the show. It was beautiful, but of course, really painful too. But it was something that, that I will remember for the rest of my life and I’m pretty sure that, that many people in the audience also will remember that one. It was something really special.
Obviously the style, you guys play is very dense and gloomy. What kind of things do you listen to in your spare time? Do you listen to similar kinds of music or other kinds of stuff?
Well, we all have our favorites. Personally, I rarely listen to any metal. It’s really rare. I’m more into like dark electro music. The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Dead Can Dance kind of stuff. But we all have our favorites. And after you have worked with this kind of album for months, you really don’t feel like listening to metal. I fell in love with metal music when I was eight years old or something like that. So it’s always been part of me but I enjoy playing metal maybe these days more than I enjoy listening to it. Even as fans, you know, sometimes you get disenchanted with a particular type of music and then you pursue something else. But there’s always like that anchor, that metal anchor. And for the last maybe 10 years, that anchor has been Swallow the Sun for me because it was through them that I kind of found metal again like 10 years ago. When we met, my old band, Iconcrash was supporting Anathema, and Swallow the Sun was on the same bill. I heard them for the first time and was blown away! It was so unique in a way and so beautiful.
I guess you just described my whole experience with the band as well because I’m a newcomer to the sound of the band and I was blown away as soon as I heard it!
Thank you for saying that! I still remember the first time I heard the demo versions of the albums. It was so, so cool. The songs are really beautiful, and at the same time I felt this is an important album, which, if we make it the right way, it will affect many people. We, we all have our dark days and difficulties in life and this kind of albums are really important. I think it’s a privilege that we have that channel – we can put all the dark or shitty emotions on tape and turn that into something. Something more important and beautiful even.
I have a question about your home country: Finland is known for the fact that metal is considered mainstream music there. And I’m curious about how much of that is true. Is metal of actually played on the radio constantly there or not?
It is mainstream music but it’s not played on “hit music-only” radio stations. We have radio stations that play rock, and it’s not rare that we have like five metal albums on top 10 charts. We do have a lot of cool bands here, but it’s changing. All the youngsters, they are much more interested in rap. So if go to metal concerts here, the audience is a bit older – you don’t see that many teenagers there. In 20 years or 10 years, metal will be using for granny is here. We need more bands like Hevisaurus to teach metal to the kids here, man! [laughs].
Going back to Swallow the Sun, when will the tour dates to support “When A Shadow Is Forced into the Light” be announced?
There are a few shows scheduled for February already, and we are waiting for the big announcement right now. All I can say is that we will be touring a lot.
That’s great to hear. I’m hoping you guys have a date here in Toronto then.
I can’t confirm anything at the moment, but I hope we play there too!
Thank you for your time to do the interview today, and have a nice evening there!
Thanks for having me and take care!