Aleah – Aleah Review

What is happening to the elder statesmen of AMG? First Steel reviews the acoustic Wino album, and now Huckles waxes eloquently about this new Aleah album – also mostly acoustic. Are we getting softer as we get older? Is Steel more of a Pewter these days, while this scribe has become more Roll than Huck? Maybe, or maybe we’re just so astute that we know when to reach for these not-metal records. Acoustic gigs by metal bands has been a thing since before MTV’s Unplugged series (and Tesla’s Five Man Acoustic Jam is still excellent), and when done right the stripped-down takes can actually add a lot of emotional weight to the material. Although in this case, more emotional weight is certainly the last thing we need.

Readers of this site, and fans in general, know of Aleah Stanbridge.1 After doing some work on her own and collaborating with The Mission’s Andy Cousin in That Which Remains, she laid down guest vocals for Swallow the Sun and Amorphis before forming Trees of Eternity with Swallow the Sun guitarist Juha Raivio. Trees of Eternity released Hour of the Nightingale in 2016, months after Aleah tragically passed away from cancer at age 39. Since then, Raivio has been assembling and touching up Aleah’s work, and he’s finally presenting it to us now in the form of a double album; nine acoustic songs as well as six more tracks with a full band arrangement, all totaling nearly an hour and a half of material.

It’s a lot to bite off, and even more to listen to, but if thought of as Raivio’s parting gift to Aleah, it’s almost just the right amount. For her ardent fans, there is little new here. All seven of the songs from her folk-inspired demo recordings of 2007 are here, as well as a couple tracks from her That Which Remains project, and a couple more songs whose origin I was incapable of tracking down. Of the full-band tracks four are also presented in intimate acoustic fashion, which offers an interesting juxtaposition in mood and pace. The acoustic set features for the most part lone guitar accompanying Aleah’s airy, ethereal vocals. The tracks are soft and beautiful – “Vapour,” “Sacrifice,” and “Closing Under Pressure” in particular send shivers up one’s spine. Sadly, a couple of the songs feature what must have been vocal scratch tracks, as the sound clips noticeably. “Closing Under Pressure” is one of those, as is the finale, “Touch My Face.” This technical glitch is the only detraction from an otherwise spellbinding acoustic package.

The full band version of “Sacrifice” is a collaboration with talented Canadian musician Anilah, and offers a much more wild, atmospheric, and eerie take on the song. It is again an album standout. The vocals don’t vary much on either album, with Aleah sticking to a very dreamlike breathy delivery. While we would have loved to hear more, we understand what we have here and relish it regardless. One of the two tracks I was unable to find older versions of, “Inverted Enlightenment,” is a soft orchestral arrangement, pensive and reflective – the kind of song one might listen to while sitting on the edge of a fog-enshrouded lake, just enjoying being one with your surroundings.

Those of us who have had the privilege of listening to Aleah’s work, or reviewing it, have always come away suitably impressed, and a little melancholic knowing this is all we’re left with. However, hats off to Raivio in what must have been the most heart-wringing work he’s ever undertaken. He’s assembled some really nice tracks here, both acoustic and otherwise, and I’ll most certainly be coming back to many of these songs throughout the years, enjoying them for what they are and knowing what could have been.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 102 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 1st, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Or Starbridge, at times.
  2. The acoustic songs are 10, the full band songs are 7.
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