Artist: Trees of Eternity
Album: Hour of the Nightingale
Label: Svart Records
Death is not an unfamiliar topic for the vast majority of metal bands, as most of them handle the subject in at least one song over the span of their career, and some dedicate their whole repertoire to covering it. But rare are the circumstances when a real-life tragedy suddenly gives the subject a whole new perspective for a band, their audience, and the reviewer. The passing of singer-songwriter Aleah Stanbridge who, together with Juha Raivio (guitar) was the leading force behind Trees of Eternity, is one of these, and likewise marks the release of their debut, Hour of the Nightingale, as the end of the band as it was. But stating it as just an end would belittle all that has been done for it.
Packed with musicians from bands like Wintersun, October Tide, and Swallow the Sun, with vocal features from Mike Moss of Antimatter and Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost, it goes without saying that the album is guaranteed to hold a high standard. If described with one word alone, I would simply use ‘beautiful’, as it sums up all the qualities of Hour of the Nightingale. It is an ethereal type of beauty – not haunting or eerie, though; I save those two adjectives for things that contain an element that can and probably will disturb you in some way. Even in the ending track, “Gallows Bird”, which stands out as different from the others as it starts – and momentarily one might expect it to take a turn to a hopeless-sounding end – the airy, almost fairytale-like quality guides the listener with a firm hang. In Trees of Eternity’s world, darkness is not always a place for fear and abandonment, it feels rather as though it is a source of comfort, a blanket to wrap you in for a moment of serenity. There is something deeply soothing in Aleah Stanbridge’s voice, which is gentle and soft as the raindrops drumming on my roof as I type this. The doom metal aesthetics are not everyone’s cup of tea, but with the vocals as the backbone and shining star of this album, I find it hard to imagine that the approach to the style alone could keep someone from listening. Then again, it’s not for the ones who look for something technically complicated to keep their attention. The atmosphere is thoughtfully built and there is nothing added that the album wouldn’t need – it is kept simple and tasteful, with lovely traces of the band’s origin as an acoustic project. The use of acoustic guitars in tracks like “Sinking Ships” blends into the whole picture so seamlessly that it took me a couple of spins to realize the song was completely acoustic.
An unexpected yet somehow fitting comparison crossed my mind mid-listening, as the music and especially Stanbridge’s voice struck me with similar kind of otherworldly calmness and wisdom as I’ve imagined JRR Tolkien’s elves carrying when they took their last journey to the Grey Havens, gracefully leaving the woes of the mortal world behind to cross the Great Sea. I have to assume that was likely not intended, but regardless, you have to have done something extremely right to be able to paint a mental picture like that.
That being said, when it comes to lyrics, I throw my hands in the air and declare that I am not remotely able to imagine the range of feelings that have been a part of making this album, yet the very thought that the writer and singer of these lines is not with us any longer gives them a poignancy that won’t fail to move you deeply. The lyrics are as delicately crafted as their delivery and would have been powerful on their own, but within such a context bring a truer, rawer edge to the dreamlike presentation of the whole album without erasing any of it. Yet, while the definite weight of the end is present throughout the record, it doesn’t shut out the light; quite the opposite. The last track, “Gallows Bird”, is again a perfect example to illustrate the point and as such, is one of the highlights of the album.
It would’ve been a terrible misfortune if this record had been left unreleased, and for that I give a big kudos to Svart Records for picking it up and my utmost respect for Raivio and rest of the band for pulling through. Hour of the Nightingale is a beautiful tribute, an homage to Aleah Stanbridge’s life and music, all the while being a touchingly beautiful album. And my, do we all need some comfort from the beauty in this world.
Rating: 9/10, 4.5 stars
1. My Requiem
2. Eye of Night
3. Condemned to Silence (feat. Mick Moss of Antimatter)
4. A Million Tears
5. Hour of the Nightingale
6. The Passage
7. Broken Mirror
8. Black Ocean
9. Sinking Ships
10. Gallows Bird (feat. Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost)