With releases like Destroyer 666’s Wildfire, Vektor’s Terminal Redux, Insomnium’s Winter’s Gate, Mithras’ On Strange Loops, and Dark Tranquillity’s Atoma, I’d say the year has been decently rich with releases I’ll be listening to for a long while. There was one band however that certainly stood out to me, and the other members of DemonBit most likely saw this review coming from a mile away.
Given the events surrounding its release and its seemingly against-all-odds nature, it only felt right to call it my personal best of 2016.
Having been introduced to Swallow the Sun earlier this year by DoomMaster, I’ve developed a love and respect for their slow, heavy handed sound. Trees of Eternity’s Hour of the Nightingale arrived just in time to satisfy a craving for more music that continued the sound of Swallow the Sun’s New Moon, serving up melancholic, driving progressions, all tied together with the delicate voice of Aleah Stanbridge.
I often describe this flavor of doom metal as the band performing as a whole; nothing is out of step, there’s no flashy instrumentation that isn’t necessary. Some may call this style of instrumentation sterile and boring, and maybe to an extent they’re correct, but I have yet to hear another band that lends the same feelings invoked by such instrumentation. The result of such song writing is an atmosphere in which every single piece of the band contributes evenly to, and that atmosphere is one of pure anguish. Hour of the Nightingale continues this sound, with every movement containing the mass of the band as a whole.
The album opens with “My Requiem”, a soft and slightly distorted melody over the sound of falling rain, up until the point where the band, in Juha Raivio’s typical fashion, explodes into the sound of what I can only describe as a ‘Metal Orchestra’. Deep bass and harmonious guitar tracks establish the hook in an absolutely piercing tone befitting the title. During each verse the instrumentation slows and Aleah’s voice cuts through the track, completing an incredibly intimate yet ghastly sound. Each chorus is met again with an explosion of sound, as the track rises and falls between its sounds of quiet sorrow and passionate rage.
“The Eye of Night” continues at a slightly faster pace, bringing a more aggressive tone to the table, and fantastic guitar harmonies. “Condemned to Silence” takes us to a very different place with a ballad and duet between Aleah and Juha, a more romantic and uplifted sound underlined with the album’s heavy instrumentation, making it perhaps the heaviest sounding love song in recent memory.
“A Million Tears” delivers, in my opinion, one of this album’s most memorable tracks. A driven intro establishes the ground work with the ‘metal orchestra’, leading up to a soft melancholic track lead by Aleah’s vocals.
“Hour of the Nightingale”, the album’s titular track, again brings more memorable song writing. The first half being primarily acoustic and vocally intimate track, Aleah’s vocals again bring us the primary melody of the track rather than the instrumentation. The atmosphere is delicately punctuated with various orchestral strings and a lone, slightly overdriven guitar with a heavy tremolo effect. Just over half way through the track, as the vocals progress us towards what we believe to be the end of the track, the landscape explodes as the ‘metal orchestra’ picks up to finalize the track.
“The Passage” starts us off with a familiar progression with a taste of mysterious tone, and continues to lead us along with softly spoken vocals up to another blast from the ‘metal orchestra’. Sticking with its formula of rises and falls, the choruses wrap up with a very memorable progression. This track serves up a familiar sound only briefly underlined with sinister tones, but it’s a great track nonetheless.
“Broken Mirror” brings another faster paced track, not written to be primarily half-step like most of the other tracks, and pushing some punchy instrumentation in the lead-up to each chorus. This is another track that brings some memorable melody primarily from Aleah’s vocals and a few powerful arrangements in the track.
“Black Ocean” returns us to the half-step pace with a track which again rises and falls between soft and intimate verses and bright choruses. A very traditional track for this album, it does offer some powerful vocal melody and lyrical content. The vocals are built up with heavy reverb and echo during the choruses, and present a spacious sound which befits the title.
“Sinking Ships” is another track heavy on the vocal progressions, and delivers more of the album’s most memorable melody. It’s a very simple but powerful track, featuring only some acoustic guitar work, Aleah’s vocals, and some soft orchestral work to fill out an almost string quartet-like sound.
“Gallows Bird” starts off with some incredibly written vocal harmony backed by a deep synth drone. Not long after, the ‘metal orchestra’ flexes its full might bringing a united sound of absolute dread in a slow roll. This track delivers some very different tone, which I have to speculate is due in part to Nick Holmes’ involvement. Its progressions don’t invoke the feeling of the other tracks; I feel no sadness or anger in this track, but I do feel a sense of fear. It’s a fantastic ‘farewell’ track to end the album, and due in part to its sound, it brings a sad realization that the album has in fact come to a close.
As we bid it farewell, so too do we say goodbye to Aleah Stanbridge.
Given the lyrical contents, it’s hard for me to believe the songs compiled in this album are not more personally involved than most. I can only imagine that many of the thoughts and feelings conveyed were experienced in the months leading to its release, despite the claim that the album had been completed for years prior. It’s entirely speculation whether or not this album was written in the way I perceive it to be, but I can’t shake the feeling that certain things are emphasized musically.
It’s disgusting to think that the passing of an artist is what makes us believe an album is any more or less powerful than it was before, but from the way the presentation has changed between their demo Black Ocean and the release of Hour of the Nightingale, it feels like a fantastic gesture of honor to Aleah as an artist and a loved one.
Whether or not this album is a celebration and final goodbye to Aleah, it’s an album I will be listening to for decades to come, and one I hold a particular respect for.
Aleah Stanbridge died of cancer on April 18th, 2016. She leaves behind a fantastic legacy of musical works in the metal scene, and a sea of heart broken fans.