While I was writing my review on Swallow the Sun‘s Songs from the North, I thought that I finally had to find out who was the girl that made the back vocals for them in the songs, since I’ve been loving her voice since the first time I noticed it. I made a little research and found out that her name was Aleah Stanbridge, whose partner was Juha Raivio from Swallow the Sun. Unfortunalety, I learned she died last year, something I felt truly sorry about, since I found her voice so amazing. I also read that she, together with Juha, had written some music for a side project of them called Trees of Eternity and had released a posthumous album titled Hour of the Nightingale, which is a coincidence, since I knew the album and, although something seemed familiar to me, hadn’t realized that it was Aleah’s voice. Maybe I was a bit ignorant about all this going on, but I usually don’t pay much attention to news related to band components and now I think I should… In any case, by the way I’m reviewing Hour of the Nightingale today.
At first, to listen to this album was a bit difficult to me knowing the sad circumstances around it, that are also traceable in the music and lyrics as well, since I imagine that they new about the inevitable while they were writing the songs. But for the sake of reviewing and objectivity, it’s necessary to keep aside these circumstances for a while.
Hour of the Nightingale falls into the most melodic and atmospheric side of doom metal with some traces of gothic sound. Being a side project and knowing that Juha also writes for Swallow the Sun, I was surprised that the music doesn’t sound like them at all. Well, if you listen carefully, you can recognize some guitar arrangements and sounds used in Swallow the Sun, but if you don’t pay attention, that’s not even notice, which is a good point. The mood of the music is depressive and sad, as in any doom metal, but the are no explossions of emotion and expression, no painful guitar solos, or complex rhythms… Not much fuss. At the contrary, rhythm keeps always basic, as well as the instruments and accompaniments. There are some moments when emotions take over, but not with the intensity of other songs and bands. In this context, Aleah’s voice can shine and show all its magic, soft and whispering, as coming from a distant world, as coming directly from a dream. The value of this album is the magical atmosphere it creates, the simple beauty of its notes and silences.
My Requiem, the opening song, dives directly into doom metal, being slow, heavy and repetitive in a hypnotic way. After this track, comes a triad of great songs: Eye of Night has a really nice melody and chorus, almost turning a little ‘poppy’; Condemned to Silence has some emotional moments I loved and a little more of diversity; A Million Tears closes this section keeping the sentiment of the last one, and is in this one when the influence of Swallow the Sun is clearer in guitars. Hour of the Nightingale returns to doom metal with silent and calm verses and it’s only in the final part when turns more intense.
At this moment is when the major flaw in the album starts to stand out: there’s no much variety in composition. After listening the first five songs, one starts to think that songs are getting a little repetitive, and that sensation grows in upcoming songs. It’s also true that this gives the album a strong cohesion and it’s also a prove that they knew exactly how they wanted the music to sound, but at least could have incorporated some changes or new elements to keep the attention. Also, as much as I love her voice, Aleah doesn’t show many vocals abilities apart from her characteristic whispering style, which is really original, dark and adorable, but again, a bit of variety is always enriching.
The Passage offers a good melody, as always, and Broken Mirror goes unnoticeable for me. Black Ocean also stands out as one of my favorites for the heavy contrast between the verses and chorus, and Sinking Ships is a beautiful acoustic tune. Gallows Bird puts an end to the album returning to doom metal.
So, Hour of the Nightingale is a beautiful album that can be enjoyed by any metal fan out there. Maybe, regarding intruments and songwriting, it isn’t as interesting as other works, but the mood and atmosphere it creates cover this flaws. Specially if you have never listened to Aleah’s songs, voice and her way of singing, it’s a must-check-out. It’s such a loss that she’s not here anymore.
In memory of Aleah, your voice and your music will always remain.