Trees of Eternity was a side project from Swallow the Sun’s guitarist and founding member Juha Raivio and his partner Aleah Stanbridge on vocals. Originally an acoustic project, it expanded into a fully fledged metal band with the addition of Kai Haito (Wintersun, Nightwish) on drums and the Norman brothers from October Tide on guitar and bass. The album is centred around Aleah’s voice, with melancholic music bridging doom metal and alternative rock giving the backdrop for her incredible voice to shine. Tragically Aleah passed away from cancer in April of last year before the debut album saw the light of day. Already finished, Juha wanted to make sure the album would come out, and Hour of the Nightingale was finally released in November last year. From the first vocal lines of My Requiem, Trees of Eternity blew me away at the first listen, affecting me like no other album has done for many years, despite being so heavy hitting and emotional it’s had me listening to it over and over again from start to finish. A perfect tribute, the music on this album is beautiful, a truly melancholic and heartbreaking album.
Trees of Eternity’s music sits firmly within the female fronted doom metal genre begun in the early nineties with The Third and the Mortal, The Gathering and Theatre of Tragedy, but without a sound that aspires to any of those bands, or other famous groups within the genre such as Draconian. It also has a separate sound from the death-doom metal of Juha’s main project Swallow the Sun, drawing minimal influence. Instead Trees of Eternity have found a unique sound within the genre, that moves between an atmospheric brand of alternative rock, and gothic-tinged doom metal, that’s completely vocal-centric.
Aleah’s voice is different from a lot of the singers in the genre, there’s no operatic stylings, nor is her singing style belting out powerfully over heavy riffs. Her voice is soft and dreamy, with each word and syllable intonated pristinely with crystal clarity, the huge power in her voice coming not from the volume, which is soft throughout the album, but from the stirring emotion and strength she puts into her singing. The lyrics are suitably heavy hitting on each song of the album, extremely melancholic and sorrowful. As four of the tracks are re-recorded from a demo released back in 2013, one can’t say whether or not the lyrics and vocals were affected by knowledge of the cancer she passed away from, but whether born out of presentiment or not the tragic circumstances makes the chorus to opener My Requiem more poignant and heartbreaking:
Too late you’re calling out my name
To raise me up out of my grave
Alive in memory I’ll stay
If you shun these waters where I lay
The lyrics on each of the songs are equally melancholic, and when matched with the pure emotion in a voice that sounds simultaneously soft and powerful her voice and lyrics constantly leave the listener awestruck despite the tone and dynamics of the album changing very little throughout it’s length of over an hour.
The music on the album never takes centre stage, instead creating a backdrop for Aleah’s voice to shine, but it does this masterfully as well. A lot of the album is more alternative rock than metal, as minor acoustic guitar arpeggios and soft drums lead seamlessly into the metal with gloomy distorted riffs and back again throughout much of the album, paced fantastically as to always help transmit the emotions delivered by Aleah. Subtle synths give the music a gothic feel, evoking a little the sound of Theatre of Tragedy’s Velvet Darkness They Fear album, but utilising it to create an atmosphere that’s melancholic rather than melodramatic. Lead guitar in places such as on A Million Tears soar during the chorus matching a more powerful tone to her singing, then recedes back to acoustic when her voice softens for the outro. It seems obvious for the instruments to match the dynamics of her voice, but they do it so perfectly throughout the album that one must give credit to them doing what’s so simple but effective.
Most of the tracks on the album are similar in tone and length, and while the opener My Requiem is so immensely heartbreaking it’s the album’s best, each track here is fantastic in it’s own right. An exception to sound of the rest of the album is Sinking Ships, the shortest track on the album, where Aleah sings against a backdrop of acoustic guitar and synths with no metal elements. It still flows seamlessly as a lot of the other songs are made up of quieter sections. Antimatter’s Mick Moss makes a guest appearance on Condemned To Silence, his clean vocals also bearing a lot of emotion and melancholy in his own works which comes across here, sounding great as a duet with Aleah. Some of the heaviest parts on the album are to be found on the closing track Gallows Bird, Aleah’s voice against an ominous deep synth drone giving way to a huge funeral doom-esque riff that could’ve come from Songs from the North and pounding drums, her soft voice sounding it’s most ethereal when contrasted with this heavy sound. The second guest appearance is to be found in Paradise Lost/Bloodbath’s Nick Holmes, using deep clean vocals rather than death-growls, which sound ominous and matching the gloomy doom riffs on the album – a better performance than on a lot of his works with Paradise Lost in the two short verses he contributes here.
Trees of Eternity’s Hour of the Nightingale is an instant classic that sits firmly in the top tier of the genre for female-fronted doom metal acts, as incredible as The Third and the Mortal’s Tears Laid in Earth and The Gathering’s Mandylion. It’s tragic that Aleah wasn’t around to see the album’s release, but she’ll be remembered as a part of one of finest albums in the genre’s history. Dark, gloomy, melancholic, heartbreaking, essential.
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