After the tragic passing of Aleah Stanbridge in 2016 and the subsequent release of her solo debut with Trees of Eternity, it seemed to the outside observer that one of the more depressing moments in recent metal history had come to a close. Not so for her grieving partner, Juha Raivio of Swallow the Sun. Opting to forgo his band’s recent tour of North America, he immersed himself instead in the creation of a new project named Hallatar, which would use Aleah’s poems and writings as a foundation for one last tribute to a departed love. To aid in this very personal project, Juha recruited Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) to handle vocals and Gas Lipstick (ex-H.I.M.) to man the kit. The resulting No Stars Upon the Bridge is a massive and emotionally raw slab of soul killing doom death – as much a vehicle for its creator to work through his grief as an opportunity to share a bit more of Aleah with the world. This is the kind of album you know going in will be a heavy, harrowing listen, but even so, I didn’t expect it to hit as hard nor resonate as deeply. Simply put, this is a profoundly depressing yet beautiful and nakedly vulnerable work of art, the likes of which doesn’t come along often.

Composed of 6 main tracks, No Stars Upon the Bridge is broken up by a series of short spoken word interludes using recordings of Aleah. This gives the already downcast music a very haunted feeling, as if Aleah is speaking to us from beyond even as we share in her partner’s disabling grief. Opener “Mirrors” comes to life with a simple but huge doom riff accented by sweetly sad trilling similar to vintage Paradise Lost, though My Dying Bride and Swallow the Sun‘s sound is present as well. When Tomi comes in, he sounds nothing like what you’d expect. To say he goes all in would be to understate his performance. His unsettling suicidal-depressive blackened crackles and croaking are offset by deep funeral doom groans and growls, with only occasional moments of plaintive clean singing to break up the unrelenting grimness. “Melt” is darker still, with a desperation in Tomi’s voice akin to that of a man sobbing and howling over the fresh grave of a loved one. The riffs feel oppressive and bruising, but are broken up regularly by calm, soothing strumming. The funerary doom is always just a breath away though.

As if things weren’t already bleak enough, “My Mistake” features Aleah’s vocals in a ghostly duet with Tomi over the top of post-metal and Agalloch‘s inflected riffwork sure to tear your heart out [correction: “My Mistake” features Heike Langhans from Draconian, not Aleah. h/t Gage Love.Ed].1 “Severed Eyes” features Tomi’s soft clean vocals prominently and is all the more despairing for it. Closer “Dreams Burn Down” is the highlight, again using Aleah’s vocals, this time dropping them in at the perfect moment to totally annihilate whatever sense of hope and joy is left in the dark corners of your consciousness. It’s a beautiful and heart-wrenching piece of music.

The production is quite good with a big, powerful guitar tone, and though it does tend to dominate the proceedings much like on Die Healing by Saint Vitus, there’s plenty of room made for Tomi’s vocals and the drum sound which is solid and organic. At just over 40 minutes it’s the near perfect length for such emotionally challenging music, and by keeping the songs under 8-minutes, it has a good flow with no track bogging the progression down.

With Juhu providing guitar, bass and keyboards, there’s no doubt this is his child, and from that dark place he’s found himself comes a strength of writing and composition to rival anything he’s done with Swallow the Sun.2 The depressive riffing is straightforward, but when teamed with the melancholic trilling, it takes on the form of a psyche hammer and smashes the happiness out of the listener. Of special note is Tomi’s tour de force vocal performance. He goes well beyond what we’ve heard him do with Amorphis, borrowing and at times surpassing his time in Corpse Molester Cult for sheer extremity. Had it not been for the promo sheet, I’m not sure I would have realized he was involved. His tortured delivery is a suitable proxy for what Juhu has likely been feeling and that pain comes across all too clearly.

No Stars Upon the Bridge is both a memorial and a vessel in which one man’s despair is interred forevermore. This is the sound of someone raging at the dying of the light, and while that isn’t something you want to hear often, it should be heard. Few albums will ever be this honest and real, and reality isn’t always what we wish it was.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart
Releases Worldwide: October 20th, 2017

Show 2 footnotes

  1. This was not included in the promotional material provided to us from the label.
  2. Especially considering he wrote the whole album in a week.
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  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Trees of Eternity was a totally under appreciated album IMHO.
    I will definitely be grabing this.

  • jolly cooperation

    That’s some good stuff here, reminds me of Un a little bit.

  • Planex

    I seem to always really appreciate albums about personal tragedy. I don’t want this to sound rude, but I love the emotional weight in albums like Pain of Salvation’s latest and The Reticent last year.

    I’ll definitely give this a focused listen when I have some free time.

    • lagerbottoms

      I really love PoS’ passing light of day, but it was my introduction to them, so I basically don’t really get what the lyrics are about. Mind filling me in?
      It’s a beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking album

      • mtlman1990

        The singer almost died.

        • mtlman1990

          Listen to One Hour By the Concrete Lake . and BE

      • Planex

        Daniel Gildenlow was hospitalized with a flesh-eating bacteria and nearly died. Multiple points on the album include hospital sounds and most of the lyrics are about facing one’s mortality.

  • Jay Majesty

    Great review. You really provided a vivid description of the depressive nature of the music. Fired up (or down) to hear the whole album

  • Oh wow, listening to this now and I am excited, it sounds great. Tomi sounds great–and I love how he shows up on unexpected stuff, too.

    Thanks for calling attention to this one, Druhm!

  • Gage Love

    Kind spirited correction: My Mistake is Heike Langhans from Draconian. Aleah is only on that closer.

  • Eli Valcik

    I just re-watched “Last Days Here” and have been listening to Pentagram for the last few days, I don’t need anymore sadness. Those vocals are awesome btw.

  • Listening to this right now. I was sold when I heard Tomi was involved and heard the preview track. As a big Amorphis fan and connoisseur of the doomier bands, I’m not disappointed.

  • Baltech

    Mirrors is just… crushing. If the rest of the album holds the promise (and according to the review it will) this is going one of the dominant platters for the cold months here.

  • PretentiousFuckwad

    Nothing like good emotive tribute metal dripping with sentimentality.

  • Eddy Ferreira

    Dam, I’m really digging that song and the other i found with the guest Vocals from the lady from Draconian, this is a buy for me.

    • I’d buy a 4 track of her burping, her voice is so hauntingly beautiful that it hurts. Even her spoken word bit on Anomalie’s last release sounds just lovely, Draconian are lucky to have her.

  • RDP

    I just listened to the embedded track and went and listened to “My Mistake” and it pretty much wrecked me. It probably didn’t help that I just listened to Clouds new one right before “My Mistake”

  • OzanCan

    Record of the Month for October 2017??
    Most definitely!!!

    • Eli Valcik

      Affliktor, Trenchgrinder, Firebreather, and Inconcessus Lux Lucis are mine.

      • John

        Dude I started following you on bandcamp and discovered Trenchgrinder through that. Pretty good stuff.

        • Eli Valcik

          First of all thanks for the follow. But yeah that Trenchgrinder just scratches my Bolt Thrower itch and I just love it.

          • Nathan McCain

            Seconded on the Trenchgrinder. So impressive on my first listen, but I need to spin it more. I absolutely love the vocalist, I really didn’t expect those snarls and they knocked me on my ass!

          • Eli Valcik

            The scream at 0:40 of Lay the Earth to Rest “Vicotreeeeeeeeeey!” Is still stuck in my head.

  • Danny

    I’ve been looking forwards to this so much, I love Swallow the Sun, Amorphis, HIM, Draconian, and Trees of Eternity and this sounds right up my sad alley. I’m glad to hear it is as good as I hoped.

    It seems weird to derive so much enjoyment from another’s very personal tragedy, but clearly the individuals involved want to honor her memory through bringing beautiful art to the world for us to reflect on and enjoy. This will be perfect spin for a rainy October.

  • AshCinderSmoke

    This sounds like exactly what I need right now

  • Zadion

    Wow… this sounds like something that would resonate so well with me I don’t know if I could stomach it. I kind of find it intimidating, even scary.

  • eleven.eight

    My first comment on this website was on Tree of Eternity’s “Hour of the Nightingale” last year. As a follower of theirs and Aleah’s music, I have been holding my breath to hear Hallatar ever since the project was first announced. The last paragraph of Steel Druhm’s review makes me even more anxious, in the most bittersweet of ways, to hear this album.

    I understand that I am just one fan throwing out his opinion, but I strongly recommend the AMG readers to give Hallatar and Trees of Eternity a listen (or three). There is so much sincerity in the musical endeavors associated with Aleah that her absence can be felt straight in your heart. Hallatar’s opportunity to move us, lightly or deeply, is a testament to that sincerity.

    I did not have the honor of knowing Aleah personally. However, what she, Juha, Tomi, Gas, and Heike crafted here are glimpses of a soul frozen in time. What do we, as listeners, take away from this experience? Perhaps the night allows our personal demons to shine like stars. We can only grow stronger for embracing such pain.

  • Frost15

    I really liked the embedded track, I will have to check for sure

  • Ironwood_Druid

    Wow wasn’t even aware this was upcoming, thanks for reviewing it, definitely feel grateful that Juha has continued to explore this personal tragedy in such a beautiful and touching way.

  • Thatguy

    Yes, this sounds to be very good, the back story is so sad and the review is well written.

    It still doesn’t justify a 2.5 for Fozzy.

    • Nukenado

      To be fair, Fozzy’s vocals are way better than most Nu-metal bands. I’d give it a 2.0, but it’s not atrocious enough to justify multiple comments in my opinion…
      You need to listen to something fun to brighten yourself up, like A Swarm of the Sun or something!

      • Thatguy

        I like fun. Napalm Death is fun. Strapping Young Lad is fun.

        Fozzy is not fun. It’s a 0.0 for me.

        • Nukenado

          I disagree, bt it would be interesting if you did write some reviews though.
          I’ve mostly found SYL more cathartic than fun. High school sucks (until everything after that happens)

          • Thatguy

            Hmm…’Fucker’, ‘You Suck’. These are fun songs – well I think so anyway.

            I am an opinionated bastard – see the Metal-Fi thread that explains this – but I could not write an AMG style review and it’s more fun – that word again – to snipe from the sidelines.

            Oh, and high school does suck I can just about remember.

          • Nukenado

            Some SYL songs do have the line between humor and aggression pretty balanced, like Shitstorm where Devy goes “I’ll show you fucking crazy!”

  • Getting crazy déjà vu to reading about last year’s mournful opus by The Reticent, sounds like it should be on par quality-wise. Pretty excited to get super sad!

    • Ghio

      Isn’t there a new Reticent coming out?

      • I was unaware. If there is, thanks for the heads up!

        • Nukenado

          It’s called The Oubliette.
          It’s about somebody with Altzheimer’s named Henry.

          Prepare to be emotionally nuked out of existance.
          (Still anxious that my CD has not arrived, but at least I still have the digital tracks.)

          • Ghio

            oooh goody, I caught wind of there being a new Reticent in an AMG comment section somewhere, but my meager google-fu was unable to dig up any further information (like a release date). Now at least I know the title!

            Eve of a Goodbye destroyed me in a beautiful way, if the next one even approaches the same lofty heights I’ll be a happy man.

          • Nukenado

            Sometime in 2018.

          • Ghio

            Damn. I’m still waiting for concrete evidence of a new Diablo Swing Orchestra “Sometime in October” haha

          • Nukenado

            Release date has been delayed but announced. 12/08. There will be two singles, The Age of Vulture Culture and Knucklehugs ~Arm Yourself With Love~.

          • Ghio

            Dammit! I dub thee, “bearer of metal ill-tidings”.
            I’m going to go listen to Asheran on repeat until the sadness goes away…

    • Nukenado

      My personal soul killing playlist:
      1. On The Eve of a Goodbye
      2. Trees of Eternity
      3. Woods V and the tribute album
      4. Paradise Lost cuts of your choice
      5. Sorni Nai
      6. The first few tracks off AtomA’s Skylight
      7. Offret’s s/t (thanks Islander)
      8. Alice In Chains choice cuts
      9. A Swarm Of The Sun’s The Rifts (for some reason I prefer listening to this album with a bit of tempo up effects, but either ways it’s fucking devastating)

      • Ivan E. Rection

        Nice list, Offret is new to me but I’ll check em out. Select cuts by Clouds, Evoken, The 11th Hour, and 40 Watt Sun would also make mine.
        And regarding #5, have you heard Kaiho yet? Huge disappointment for me, very uninspired. Bar set too high by Sorni? Just my take…

        • Nukenado

          Clouds and 40 W Sun I have yet to check out. Evoken I have never heard of. I know Ed Warby’s a friend of the blog, but alas… Yet to check out.

          I need to spend more time on new doom records aside from listening to PL.

        • Nukenado

          Kaiho’s a bit happier. I don’t know anything about inspiring, but I do know atmosphere, and I think the strong concept of Sorni Nai ties the album together.

  • Here’s Johnny

    Have Gas Lipstick and Nick Barker ever been seen in same room together?

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    So, Steely-D, Fozzy was necessary counterweight for this review? I see what you did there, you balanced an album that is sad because it came from grief and mourning with an album that is sad because it came from rap metal guys and a pro wrestler.

  • Iain Gleasure

    After something that emotionally hard hitting, I need some mindless pec metal to fire my shivering heart. Where is Swordborn when you need him?

  • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

    Doom not really for me, yada yada, but I’ll be damned if I pass his one up, especially with what happened to Aleah. That, and Tomi Joutsen is absolutely the man.

    The embedded track’s guitar tones also remind me, at least initially, of Barren Earth, so that’s always a good thing too. Looking forward to this one.

    • Nukenado

      Barren Earth have a new one incoming!

  • Nukenado

    Hardly can I be emotionally battered just by music alone without vocals.
    The intro to the embed track is doing that for me.
    And when those vocals come in… Holy shit dude.
    Those piercing, high guitars at 2:41 feel like vocals some how. I’m imagining sorrow-awashed female vocals atop them, but the guitar line is still great.
    Somehow even the guitars sound like they’re straining to make the sounds.

  • Ami

    I’m looking forward to it so much – I still go back to Hour of the Nightingale like every second month so this is what I’m listening to now until the end of the year I guess.

  • Wilhelm

    Musically right up my alley, vocals are mixed very loud though and kind of disturbing. Still, with the lack of new doom/death in the field, I might give this a go.

  • [not a Dr]

    “Gas Lipstick (ex-H.I.M.) to man the kit.”…
    I expect someone who “mans” a “kit” and who is named “Gas Lipstick” to be the ultimate rusty trombone player.

  • Gaynebula

    Generally speaking, my method of engaging with reviews on this site is as follows:

    >Skip to the rating.
    >If it’s greater than 1.5 but lesser than 3.5 ignore.
    >If it’s less than 1.5, especially if it’s less than 1, read the review because it’s probably funny as hell.
    >If it’s 3.5 or greater, listen to the song without reading the review.
    >If it tickles me, bookmark and add to my Amazon Music backlog.

    This method is great, because I get to experience wonderful surprises like the Amorphis guy doing cleans for this album. I had no idea how much I needed him to croon his soul-aching cries over a funeral doom backdrop, interspersed with growls, but I most certainly did. That embedded track is absolutely gorgeous.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Available now on Bandcamp.

  • AnnieK13

    Picked it up with pre-order on Bandcamp a while back and have been waiting for it. I love it!