Dealing with a record like this, knowing everything that happened before its release, makes it damn difficult to maintain the right detachment, essential to avoid that the emotional involvement ends up deforming feelings and impressions. So I’ll try to talk, at least descriptively, about Hour Of The Nightingale as if it were the “normal” debut album of a “normal” band. Trees Of Eternity was born as a side project of Juha Raivio, guitarist and main composer of the immense Swallow The Sun, who called to himself, in addition to his old bandmate Kai Hahto on drums, the beautiful South African vocalist Aleah Starbridge and the brothers Fredrik and Mattias Norrman, best known for having been for a long time two supporting beams of Katatonia. From such a configuration could only come out a band dedicated to an obscure sound but, of course, compared to the robust melodic death doom of Swallow The Sun, is explored the more intimate and soft side, favored by the voice of Aleah, delicate, sometimes almost a whisper light years away from warbles or operatic temptations and, perhaps for this reason, entirely appropriate to the intentions of Raivio. Hour Of The Nightingale turns out to be, basically, a treasure chest of emotions from the first to the last minute, and there could be no doubts about that, because the Finnish musician has proven in all these years to be a composer with a sensitivity out of the ordinary, able with his unmistakable guitar touch to induce emotion to the countless fans of his main band. In Trees Of Eternity, of course, the coordinates are quite different: the guitar always weaves poignant melodies, but everything is enslaved to the caressing voice of Starbridge rather than the much rougher Kotamäki, and the course of the album proceeds accordingly, for over an hour of poetry and beauty that sometimes become tangible, almost physical. Ten musical gems follow each other without a heavy cloak of melancholy ceasing to hover over the notes produced by a group that can offer, to those who love these sounds, a unique experience for emotional involvement. Oh, to hell with it! How can you keep talking about this record without taking into account that Aleah is no longer among us since almost six months? How is it possible to avoid being dragged in a whirlpool of sadness and desperation listening to the poignant musical plots and the lacerating and prophetic lyrics that she wrote? Starting from My Requiem, the song that opens the album, where Aleah sings “Too late you’re calling out my name / To raise me up out of my grave / Alive in memory I’ll stay” up to the final verse of Gallows Bird (“As the last ray of hope is lost / fight and resistance / Nothing remains to hold / me to this existence“), it never fails a constant lump in the throat, which forces an unequal battle with your sensitivity to try to push back the tears. This last, very long track, which comes after the acoustic splendor of Sinking Ships, really has the taste of farewell, with its dramatic atmosphere in the initial phase, which brings the sound to the most painful doom: the guitar weaves melodies of immeasurable beauty while Aleah gives us the privilege of listening to it for the last time giving us, after the intervention of a Nick Holmes never so dark, a last part in which prevails, however, a shivering sense of peace and awareness. Hour Of The Nightingale would have been the same a wonderful album, but we can’t deny that the bad events before the release have multiplied to the nth power an emotional impact already beyond the norm. But, thinking back, the idea of talking about Aleah in the present tense wasn’t wrong at all: I want to believe that his spirit is always next to his life partner Juha, helping him to overcome his loss and giving him the inspiration to give us other priceless emotions. And, after all, it is thanks to the immortality conferred by art that Aleah Starbridge will always occupy a prominent place in our hearts of simple fans and humble chroniclers of such beauty: Hour Of The Nightingale is a perfect record that, unfortunately, will never have a sequel, and this is another good reason to reserve a privileged place among our listenings, today and in the years to come.
2016 – Svart Records
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