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Trees of Eternity-Hour of the Nightingale


We’ve been here before. Early on in 2016, David Bowie released what surprisingly was to be his final record, the now timeless Blackstar, a work which seemed more of a eulogy of its creator’s life than a mere collection of songs. David Gold of Woods of Ypres fame, wrote a song entitled “I was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery”, in which he referred to himself as a person who had already transferred to the afterlife, despite at the time having been very much alive and well. And now, as 2016 draws to a close, Swallow the Sun guitarist Juha Raivio saw fit to release the project’s first and final record, Hour of the Nightingale, another album which marks the untimely death of one of the band’s vital members.

 

Case in point, Aleah Stanbridge, whose soulful, delectable vocal work alone carries off Hour of the Nightingale in such enchanting style that you’d be hard-pressed to find a more emotive record this year. The South African born singer had unfortunately died as a result of cancer earlier this year, but it’s strange to note how significantly less music listeners knew about her passing until the release of Hour of the Nightingale. Stranger still, that Stanbridge’s name wasn’t really well-known in the world of metal. Indeed, it turned out to be a “best kept secret” of sorts.

 

All this said, Stanbridge’s excellent work has seemingly paid off. Hour of the Nightingale is a record is very easy to warm to, a collection of songs which provide a succinct fusion of doom metal, Gothic metal and atmospheric ambience. This fusion provides a unique albeit unchanged formula for each song to follow, and thus proves to be the album’s advantage and disadvantage at the same time. It’s easier to say it like this: the first half of the album, with the exception of the closing “Gallows Bird”, seems superior to the second half. This may well be because the album makes a definitive statement early on. The likes of opener “My Requiem” and “Eye of Night” both indulge in this very ethereal, haunting delivery of fine-tuned doom riffs and ghostly vocal work, and the execution is nigh on perfect most of the time. It’s hard not to feel your heart dropping and rising in equal degrees as Stanbridge’s vocal delivery is perfectly suited to the surrounding musicianship, almost performing an operatic performance without all the bombast and cheese. Alas, this continues with the wondrous “A Million Tears”, despite its seeming hesitation to erupt into something even more enchanting as the minutes flow by.

 

However, beautiful vocals and an atmospheric, unique take on Gothic doom do not make a perfect album. Indeed, had Hour of the Nightingale been twenty minutes shorter, it would have felt like a masterpiece without any notable filler. As it is, the album takes an unfortunate downward spiral into a slight state of “where to go next”, and doesn’t end up going anywhere at all. The formula of the album’s first half is adhered to very closely, and it certainly shows in the likes of “The Passage” and “Black Ocean”. However, it’s the lack of energy with these songs that really provide nothing but a feeling of “Is there anything else?”, rather than the listener focusing on what is otherwise a beautiful sound. And it is definitely a beautiful sound, but it doesn’t really extend beyond its own set limitations. This, in effect, is the reason why the aforementioned songs alongside “Broken Mirror” seem to have embarked on a creative slump, because they offer more of a carbon copy of the album’s opening moments rather than standing out in their own way.

 

The album’s closing moment however brings things back to relevancy, and the listener once again understands just how well Trees of Eternity’s style is executed on Hour of the Nightingale. “Gallows Bird” is an enigmatic closer, most notably because of its involvement with Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost, and the guest spot is perfectly chosen. Not only that, but you can feel Stanbridge’s spirit drifting to another realm as she seemingly prepares herself for the inevitable, and that is exactly why Hour of the Nightingale works well. Its emotive power is matched by few others of the same kind, and you can tell Raivio and Stanbridge put endless amounts of focus and effort in the performance here. It’s certainly one of 2016’s most interesting releases, but time well tell if it won’t be forgotten by the vast majority, instead more of a work which is appreciated by a small, cult following.

 

3.7/5

Release: 11th November, 2016

 

  1. My Requiem
  2. Eye of Night
  3. Condemned to Silence
  4. A Million Tears
  5. Hour of the Nightingale
  6. The Passage
  7. Broken Mirror
  8. Black Ocean
  9. Sinking Ships
  10. Gallows Bird

Bandpage/Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/treesofeternity

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