The Woods by A Swarm of the SunRelease date: January 11, 2019
Label: Version Studio Records
For an area so stoked for bleakness, Scandinavian post-rock is surprisingly sparse. While there are exceptions, it’s a part of the world more renowned for its heavier outpourings than its emotional noodlings. A Swarm of the Sun aim to change all that. Hailing from Stockholm, the duo (Erik Nilsson and Jakob Berglund) made waves with their desolate, melancholy 2015 breakthrough release The Rifts, and its successor, The Woods, promises to be the perfect soundtrack to the long, cold New Year winter. It’s a bleak affair, comprised of three tracks each of which hit around the thirteen minute mark, and each of which showcases a different shade of desperation. For those looking to rekindle for an ounce of Christmas spirit in their music there’s little to be had here; the unremitting negativity is not quite a pronounced as in The Rifts but you won’t find the next feel good summer anthem on this album.
While The Woods is meant to be devoured as a cohesive whole, each track here can be viewed as its own beast, perhaps because all follow a similar pattern. They begin slow, stagnant, languid and menacing, working in Berglund’s halted, whispered vocals in two of the three tracks like some kind of demented nursery rhyme. These give way, and the songs begin to build up, eventually growing into swirling soundscapes, crashing crescendos that give the tracks a violent ending. It’s a structure that works well, but by the end of the album has come to feel a little predictable and the final track could have felt better served by going somewhere completely different. Perhaps it’s the joylessness of the sound taking hold but there’s a sense of both relief and remorse by the end, somehow managing to feel both too long and too short at the same time.
Each track does try to bring something new to the table. Opener ‘Blackout’ is a plodding funeral march of a song; sluggish, reflective and pondering, it sets the tone of the album. Heavy, but more in emotion than a particular metal sound – there is warmth in the sound of a viola breaking through but it is largely lost behind the crushing bleakness. Following it is the title track, and the first appearance of Berglund’s vocals in a truly haunting moment. It doesn’t last, as the monolithic opening soon gives way to a jumpy erratic mid-section that gives an incredible feeling of adventuring through the woods of the title. Eventually this grows into swirling swellings of post-rock goodness, reminiscent of Mono at their effervescent best, and it feels a shame when the opening of ‘An Heir to the Throne’ brings the tone back down to start the whole journey again. Feeling more epic and regal than the former two tracks, this closer suffers the most from overfamiliarity, with its darkness feeling a little bit too oppressive. Indeed the (relatively) hopeful closing moments end up feel like the weakest of the record, perhaps ringing a little hollow after what has gone before.
It seems that A Swarm of the Sun thrive best in misery then. They’ve released three tracks here that each explore the darkest depths of the human experience, and do so in a beautiful way. It’s perhaps not a mire one should stay in for very long – at times the darkness can feel a bit too overbearing, for both the listener and the band – but it’s a mire than anyone who appreciates longer, morose soundscapes should happily wallow in.