trees-of-eternity_hour-of-the-nightingaleLife is fleeting, sometimes cruel and always impossible to predict. Case in point – the circumstances surrounding the Hour of the Nightingale debut by Trees of Eternity – a project formed by Juha Raivio (Swallow the Sun) and his partner Aleah Liane Stanbridge. Prior to Trees, Aleah was best known for her vocal work on Swallow the Sun‘s Songs of the North and AmorphisUnder the Red CloudTrees‘ and its melodic quasi-doom style was designed to showcase Aleah’s vocal talents and take her career to the next level. Tragically, Aleah passed away in April, leaving Juha to release Hours as a posthumous tribute to her memory and the music they created together. If ever there was a recipe for an emotionally harrowing album, this is surely it, and reviewing it is all the tougher for knowing the story behind it. But to do honor to all involved, it’s important to focus on the music itself rather than the unhappy circumstances that herald the album’s arrival.

Hour is the stylistic cousin to Disc II of Songs of the North, which isn’t surprising considering Juha was involved with both projects. The music walks between doom and goth, rarely drifting too far in either direction. Opener “My Requiem” is the heaviest cut by far, approaching the sound of Draconian or DoomVS with mournful riffs counterpointed by Aleah’s soft, enchanting voice. It’s very effective and actually gave me chills on the first spin. Aleah shines here with her voice delicately floating over the trilling guitars and it got me excited for an album full of similarly doomy chestnuts of sadness.

However, such doom-centric fare is not what Trees are about. Instead the bulk of the material clings closer to goth-metal balladry akin to the output of early Within Temptation and Unsun. “Eye of the Night” in particular reminds me of something off Unsun‘s debut. It’s melancholic but catchy and rather poppy, with Aleah’s voice doing most of the heavy lifting. This formula results in some compelling moments like her heart-wrenching duet with Mick Moss (Antimatter, Eudaimony) on “Condemned to Silence,” and the grim but gorgeous “A Million Tears,” which reminds me of recent Battlelore without the death croaks. “Broken Mirror” is another engaging example of the Trees style, leveraging understated, reflective background music against Aleah’s sullen voice. The doomier side of the band doesn’t fully reemerge until closer “Gallows Bird” where Aleah is joined by Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost) for one of the album’s most impressive and downcast moments. There’s a real Paradise Lost vibe mixed with a trace of Primordial and it really pops.

trees-of-eternity_2016

Nothing here qualifies as filler, but not every gothy ballad hits the heartstrings quite as acutely. “Black Ocean” is a good depressive cut, but it comes after 5 very similar songs and it’s around this point I start to want something different. And that’s the biggest problem with Hour of the Nightingale – the overall lack of diversity. With 8 out of 10 tracks adopting a “goth ballad” style, things feel too similar and the songs bleed together. There’s also a shortage of energy as song after song floats by in a gentle gossamer breeze. A bit more of the heavy doom style would have greatly benefited the topography of the album by giving the sad flatness some emotive peaks and valleys.

There’s no doubt the album was intended to be about Aleah’s vocals. She’s the focal point in the same way Liv was the focus in Leaves Eyes and the music takes a distant backseat. There’s no denying her talent and her voice is beautiful and soothing, with a healthy dose of sadness ever present. She has the type of voice that grabs your attention, weaving hypnotic spells regardless of what the song may be doing. While blessed with a wonderful voice, she never really shows her range or versatility, singing in the same soft, breathy style on every track. There are no elevations to express urgency or emotion, just the same whispered croon from song to song and this ultimately makes it harder for individual tracks to stand out. Juha and Fredrik Norrman (October Tide, ex-Katatonia) support her with acoustic plucking, sedate riffing and occasionally aggressive riffage, and the band’s performance overall is polished, though very understated to keep the focus on the vocals.

Issues of monochromatic songwriting aside, there’s a lot to like about Hour of the Nightingale, and endless reasons to regret Aleah’s untimely passing. This is a beautiful album overflowing with sadness, and all the more so knowing it’s Aleah’s swan song. If you liked the songs on Disc II of Songs of the North or the early days of Within Temptation, you’ll enjoy this too. Godspeed, songbird.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: facebook.com/treesofeternity
Releases Worldwide: November 11th, 2016

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  • mtlman1990

    Has AMG retired from reviews?

    • No, he recently reviewed Opeth and Sonata Arctica and issued a lengthy comment on album length.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      He’s been very busy overlording so he has little spare time to write reviews himself.

  • Reese Burns

    Gonna pick this one up, even if just out of respect.

    • Feytalist

      Same. But it helps that she has a gorgeous voice.

  • Huck N’ Roll

    Great job, Steel.

  • LongDeadGod

    Great artwork

  • Ferrous Beuller

    I’ve been intrigued about this one for a while – loved her voice on Lights on the Lake. Great review, Steel.

  • herrschobel

    great song. knowing that she passed away makes this a very special listening experience. beautiful haunting.

  • Treble Yell

    Kinda want to buy it just to show my support. It also helps I love this sort of thing. Beautiful review, Steel.

  • eleven.eight

    First time commenting here, though I’ve been an avid reader of the website since a few years ago. This was a wonderful review by Steel Druhm.

    I remember discovering Trees of Eternity by chance while searching for new music online. At the time, Aleah’s voice was a clear standout of their early demos. It was gray but very mystical, like some ghostly water spirit healing and haunting souls in equal measure. But, for some reason, the music didn’t catch. I then proceeded about my business, without much afterthought.

    Eventually, however, I found the songs had stuck with me, taking root in my heart like a metaphoric tree of the band’s name. The simple yet emotive guitar lines grew on me; valid issues I could identify (e.g., the monochromatic song-writing) melted away. Aleah’s passing earlier this year added extra weight to her already elegiac work. Perhaps those extramusical aspects need be put aside for reviewing purposes. But it’s hard, for me, at least, not to find Stanbridge’s lyrics to “My Requiem”, “Broken Mirror”, and “Sinking Ships” uncannily prescient. This is a band I love in spite of– or perhaps in addition to –their musical circumstances and imperfections.

    Regarding the album: I think what some listeners may hear as monochromatic could be deemed “consistent” for others. (Apples, oranges. I love this website for the variety of perspectives it presents.) Druhm, I was also surprised your review didn’t mention “Sinking Ships”! The emotional simplicity of that song, I feel, makes it even more powerful than some of the band’s embellished tracks.

    Admittedly, I haven’t heard “Hour of the Nightingale” in full. I’m sure that, if I put on the lens of a critical fan, I could wish for more exploratory compositions from the band. I could always wish that Aleah strayed into other vocal territories akin to her acoustic material or work in That Which Remains. But, as an epitaph for a beautiful woman whose voice has taken root in the hearts of the many people she touched… I could never ask for a better album.

    She lives and breathes in her music.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. There is indeed something touching in their music and it bothers me there won’t be more forthcoming. It’s a tragedy all around. Comment more often, Eleven.

      • eleven.eight

        Thank you, Druhm! It’s a pleasure to join the community here. You might be interested to know Juha recently disclosed plans to release Aleah’s solo music next year. ToE also recorded half an hour of demos after the material on “Nightingale” which may have a release.

        I honestly believe Aleah had one of the more unique voices in metal. She may have not had the mountain-shaking bravura of Floor Jansen or refulgent majesty of Anneke van Giersbergen (another favorite), but Aleah’s cadence was something else entirely. Her gentle, whispering delivery made the tragedy in April feel oddly personal.

        I hope you keep ToE on rotation because, although some of their songs may lack in variation, they are a special band. I’m excited to read what others think. Thanks for reading this. Will be in touch!

    • Kat

      I’m fairly sure Aleah was diagnosed in 2013. Her lyrics weren’t prescient; she knew this was her swansong, which makes it all the more poignant. The music isn’t too my personal taste but hey vocals are otherworldly and I’ve picked up a copy out of respect and sadness for a woman who lived a truly beautiful life.

      • Pirlouiiiit

        I found out about this record last week – it came up in the Spotify radio of “New Moon” (by Swallow the Sun).

        I’m in a weird emotional state after listening to this and learning about the tragedy that unfolded before its release.
        I find my eyes filling up with tears when I listen to these songs. That’s not the typical reaction from an old fart like me.

        In Broken Mirror, I just can’t help but relate the “seed of the fatal kind” or the “demon inside” to what happened to Aleah Stanbridge.
        I wonder whether she wrote those lyrics after she discovered what was happening to her.
        If that’s the case, then I can only wonder how someone can gather the inner strength to transform such horror into such beauty.
        She must have truly been an incredible soul.

        I hope Juha Raivio overcomes this loss, he’s one of my favorite songwriters and I just need more Swallow the Sun records.

        RIP Aleah.

  • Dammage

    Her voice is so beautiful, I have a feeling that listening to this is going to be like listening to Woods V for the first time all over again

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Fuck Cancer!

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I’m not familiar with these guys but hearing her voice in the embedded track and looking at her picture the sense of tragedy is overwhelming.
    I’ve lost a couple of friends to cancer in the last few years which is maybe why I’m connecting with this track so much. Will definitely pick this up.
    Great work S Druhm for a respectful and thoughtful review.

  • Derek Robins

    What does the “international metal” tag refer to exactly?

    • eleven.eight

      Hey, Derek. The tag probably refers to the fact that Trees of Eternity are composed of musicians from various countries.

      Aleah was from Cape Town but moved to Sweden, the same country the Norrman brothers (guitars, bass) are from. Juha (guitars) and Kai (drums) are from Finland. ToE has thus been described as an international project in some circles, although it started primarily as collaboration between Raivio and Stanbridge.

      • Yep, if a band is made up of people from various countries we usually use the “international metal” tag.

  • Wilhelm

    I’m not a fan of Swallow the Sun, but Trees of Eternity plays an earlier, better form of doom, or atmospheric doom. Aleah’s voice was not extremely versatile, but there’s something about her near whispering style of singing that sends chills up my spine. It truly is tragic about her passing.

  • jetblindracos

    Very sad indeed.Lost my father more than a year ago and it is devastating and heartbreaking to see the suffering cancer can bring to all around.

  • Johan

    Holy shit, this is a huge shock! I remember stumbling upon Aleah’s demo tracks a long time ago, and I was very smitten with her voice and ambience of the songs, thus I was happy that she got some official recognition on the StS-album. I kinda forgot about Trees of eternity since the project didn’t seem to move very quickly, so color me happy when I saw the review header here and then bam, shocked to hear Aleah passed away so suddenly.

    I can see that a whole album might be a bit repetative, but judging from the video above, I think this deserves a purchase for sure. Rest in peace Aleah.

  • It really is sad to hear this. I loved Disc II of Songs from the North and was especially captivated by the vocals of Aleah, so I’ll definitely check this out!

  • The Metal Pigeon

    I love this album and its quietly one of the best releases of the year, but can we all take a second to marvel at how majestic and gorgeous the cover art is? Reminds me of an old, old Tolkien paperback of The Silmarillion or something.

  • myrkrefr

    I usually trust and agree with the majority of AMG’s reviews, but I moderately disagree with the 3.0 rating for this record. I believe the ghostly vocals from Aleah are intended to sound similar from one song to the next as they are the emotional backbone of the music and provide the vehicle for the artful and melancholic messages being presented. While certainly not perfect, this album is an enjoyable listen, and in my humble opinion, a 4.0 or 8/10.

  • Smitty

    I’m usually into the heavier stuff, but I gotta tell ya’, this album is an emotional stunner, full of soothing yet chill-producing songs. There isn’t an ill-fitting note on the whole thing. It’s the album of the millennium for me. Angry Metal Guy insinuates it gets monotonous, but when you’ve reached perfection why would you want to change? I’ll take ten more exactly like it.