Band: Trees of Eternity
Album: Hour of the Nightingale (2016)
Genre: ambient, doom
Where to buy: Bandcamp
Even without context, Hour of the Nightingale is a melancholy album. The ethereal vocals and surging quality of the music, in which phrases and structures move in waves, create a strong sense of resignation. The song titles set the stage for this somber hour of music, with names like “My Requiem” and “A Million Tears.” But that is only the surface of a much more profound work of art. Trees of Eternity released this album only six months after the death of singer-songwriter Aleah Stanbridge, who was taken by cancer at only 39 years old. In her final seven years, she partnered with Finnish guitarist Juha Raivio, and with the rest of the Trees of Eternity ensemble completed work on Hour of the Nightingale before she passed. Listening to the album with this in mind reveals it to be at least in part a valediction, with understandably sorrowful lyrics and themes. At the same time, it contains notes of celebration and aspiration, all delivered with a thoroughly pervading craft. There is not one misplaced note here, and the album’s bones shine under and through the songs, girding the ghostly tracks effectively. The album is a two-way farewell, and richer for its obvious intentionality.
The songs on Hour of the Nightingale are long, inviting contemplation and self-analysis. Most clock in between five and eight minutes, and closer “Gallows Bird” at over nine and a half. For all the lengthy tracks, the songs do not drag at all. It’s rare that long songs, played at modest tempos and adorned with drawn-out vocals, don’t feel plodding, but none of the songs here overstay their welcome. The single greatest factor in this feat is the intense amount of care put into writing each song. In interviews, Raivio has remarked that Stanbridge was incapable of releasing music that did not precisely express her vision, or that was not an accurate reflection of her élan de vie. She would spend months writing lyrics for a single song, unwilling to settle for anything that did not meet with her musical standards. Consequently, the album took three years to write and record, and the resulting songs are all exquisite. Many of them have clear roots in the acoustic singer-songwriter tradition, from which perspective Stanbridge framed the songs. To this architecture, Raivio adds his own influence. His guitar work reverberates with fitting shakiness in the right places, complemented by decisive chords where required. Along with guitarist Fredrik Norrman and bassist Mattias Norrman, both formerly of Katatonia, the melodic work gives Stanbridge a chance to haunt across her vocal range, ebbing and flowing like a cyclical, unstoppable force. Underneath it all is Kai Hahto’s drum work, doing exactly what it needs to. Every instrument here is perfectly on point, something that does not happen by accident. It’s an impressive performance and the genre of doom is richer for Trees of Eternity’s contributions.
Hour of the Nightingale is not just doom, though. It leans in a few directions, incorporating elements of gothic, melodic, and ambient metal. Its purpose is not to circumscribe a single genre or even multiple genres. If the album has a purpose, it is to showcase what you can do with clear musical vision and a lot of hard work. The ten tracks exude deliberateness in both pacing and execution, and for all the pensive anguish therein many of the songs are extraordinarily catchy. This is thanks to both the musical phrases but especially to Stanbridge’s vocals, which are the clear instrumental highlight and turn the album into beautiful epitaph. All the effort Trees of Eternity put into the music shows. Hour of the Nightingale is an emotional and enveloping listening experience, but more importantly, it’s an incredible final work by a talented artist, and well worth our undivided attention.