As a fan of an aesthetically organized collection I tend to avoid box-sets in general with only a few exceptions. They often look a bit misplaced among a well-organized 12″ gatefold collection or you have to find a special place for them. I only consider buying them if they either consist of previously unreleased albums (Rammstein) or are only available as box-sets. The latter is the case with this beauty. The album was released last year in November, but due to some of my pre-orders being unreleased, delayed or stuck somewhere else I am going to review this set nonetheless.

Quick Facts: 
Artist: Swallow the Sun – Official Website
Album: Songs of the North I, II & III
Version: 5LP, black vinyl, ltd. box-set  – Discogs Link
Label: Century Media
Found at: Music Store

This is actually my third ever album I ever bought on vinyl after Between the Buried and Me’s “Coma Ecliptic” and “Symphony for the Lost” by Paradise Lost. Swallow the Sun has been on my gym playlist for quite a while and I desperately wanted to expand my vinyl collection back in November last year. So this was nothing more than an impulse purchase and one I don’t regret.

Quality and artwork:
The box itself is plain black and rather minimalistic . The cover features the band’s name (oddly enough not their logo), the title of the albums in cursive and a triangle with the different album logos (Gloom, Beauty, Despair) on their other edges. The back contains the track list and the names for the three albums, gloom, beauty and despair. The box is actually a sleeve containing the three gatefolds so it won’t look misplaced among other 12″ gatefolds. What all three gatefolds have in common are the amazing pictures by Aleah Stanbridge of model Valentine Reltien. Stanbridge is not only a photographer, but also provided backing and additional vocals on previous Swallow the Sun releases (“New Moon”, “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird”) and worked with Amorphis on “Under the Red Cloud”. She can also be heard on the track “Heartstrings Shattering” on this release. Valentine Reltien seems to be no professional model and has not worked with other bands in the past (according to Discogs).

The gatefolds are made of normal cardboard with a mat finish. The inside of the gatefold sleeves is a bit rough, which makes it harder to fit the record sleeves in there. The record sleeves are plain white paper, not anti-static. The box sleeve is also cardboard. The biggest issue is fitting all three records in the box sleeve as it is a bit too tight. If the record sleeves do not sit perfectly in the gatefold sleeves you will have a hard time fitting the gatefolds in the box sleeve. And if you are in a hurry and stick them in, the box sleeve might get damaged.

The photography and artwork of all three gatefolds is amazing. Each record features a portrait of Reltien with just a smaller logo on the bottom. Each logo is one edge of the triangle featured on the box sleeve. These are apparently illustrations by Rami Mursula, who worked with Swallow the Sun in the past on “New Moon”. You can check out part of his work on his website here. The inner gatefolds feature each full gatefold photography and the lyrics of the songs.

The records themselves are plain black 180g vinyl which is pretty much the standard today. I like how 180g vinyl feels but if you have a larger collection it is pretty much extra weight. On Discogs marketplace for instance, this increases the shipping costs by as much as 100%. I had a problem on the fourth LP of this release where the hole for the spindle was a bit too narrow and I had to apply some force to get the record on the first time.

Sound quality:
Although not labeled as such, this release is on par with Earache’s Full Dynamic Range releases. Compared to the CDs (which are added to the vinyl release) the difference is noticeable. Someone actually did the work and uploaded the log files on dr.loudness-war (source). The mastering was done at Chartmakers in Helsinki and the German Studio Temple of Disharmony. The Vinyl mastering took place at Temple of Disharmony and was done by Patrick W. Engel who worked with Heaven Shall Burn, Caliban, Candlemass or Exumer in the past. It is safe to say, that this is one of the better vinyl releases of the past year.

The music:
Songs of the North I, II & III are very different records. Swallow the Sun managed to create a trilogy made of three different music styles. The records should be listened to in one session. Each record by itself is mediocre to good but together they truly show their strengths. Part I is essentially melodic death doom Swallow the Sun is known for, although a bit more melancholic. Part II consists of slow, acoustic and even ambient songs. While I like the contrast of the albums, part II is not on the level of for example Alcest. It is rather obvious that this is not the style Swallow the Sun is used to. I honestly still don’t know what to make of part III. Some parts of songs reach the quality of newer AHAB music, and other parts seem so forced it hurts to listen too. I feel there’s so much potential wasted. I’d love to see Swallow the Sun release another funeral doom record in the future.

This 5 LP, 3 CD release has its flaws. The quality of the gatefolds, the record itself and the sound quality are very good. Only the box-sleeve could be a bit better. The music is sadly the worst part of this release. The deviation from their comfort zone has it’s potential which is clearly audible on part II and III but the flaws are obvious too. This release is best listened to in one session to fully appreciate the contrast Swallow the Sun has created. For fans of concept albums and more tolerant Swallow the Sun fans definitely worth a look.

Up next:
A closer look on Moonsorrow’s Jumalten Aika

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