When we reviewed Trees of Eternity‘s Hour of the Nightingale last year, shortly after Aleah Starbridge’s tragic death, we thought her story was over. Taken from the goth/doom scene much too early, Starbridge’s voice seemed destined to remain trapped, at least its last iterations, in the confines of that touching album. However, it seems this is not to be its doom; Juha Raivio (Swallow The Sun), Aleah’s life partner and the orchestrator of Trees of Eternity, is more determined than ever to bring her legacy into the light, against the dark of death.
Where Hour of the Nightingale was mostly centered on her voice, Hallatar‘s debut release, No Stars Upon the Bridge is based on her poems and lyrics. Her recorded voice makes several cameos on the album but its focus is her ideas, themes and images. It’s also much heavier than the previous Trees of Eternity release, a fact which might hint as to the “why” of choosing a new project to release this album under. No Stars Upon the Bridge, so heavily steeped in death and a battered surrender as it is, had no real choice of genre; only funereal doom had the depth and despair to handle its motivation. And such is the result, an at-times unbearable heavy and depressing album which draws on monumental guitars, deep, guttural vocals and ambience to deliver its message of haggard withdrawal.
Drawing on the influences of bands like AHAB and, indeed, the bands which comprise this supergroup (Amorphis, HIM as well as Swallow the Sun), No Stars Upon the Bridge works on the contrast between somber melancholy and uncompromising despair. Third track “Meld” is a fine example of this; it sways between verses based on Aleah’s poems, spoken with pain drenched intonation before bursting into world-shattering, low-end heavy growls. These are dotted by strings and lilting guitars along the former and accompanied by cavernous, funereal dooms across the latter. Everything is drenched in the fading light of day, cymbals crashing in echo of the emotional storm.
Other tracks on the album, like the following “Hallatar: My Mistake” take a more Amorphis based approach to the composition, weaving folk elements within the track. These tend to be more melodic and also include vocals from Aleah herself. They’re the true heavy hitters of the album, even if they’re slightly less heavy; unlike Trees of Eternity, where some hope in her voice was accentuated by the composition, her passages here speak of ultimate loss. When they fade away and the rest of the bands floods in, they are all the more wounding for her disappearing voice. The quiet passages on the aforementioned track are absolutely heart-shattering. So too the rare parts of the album, like “Raven’s Song”, which feature almost only her narration.
Overall, this album won’t have any surprises for fans of the genres at hand, much like Hour of the Nightingale. But here, as before, the context lifts the album above the hum-drum of this already prolific and explored genre. The story behind these albums makes their message all the more real and heartbreaking. There’s a real story of death here which moves much farther than any fantasy which metal loves to entertain; a true fact of a life ended. Thus, the instruments are almost assisted from beyond, reflecting Raivio’s mourning process for that which has passed. As winter draws close to us, there is nothing more fitting for the coming season than this album; play it in Aleah’s memory.
“Too bleed is to feel”
Hallatar’s No Stars Upon the Bridge sees release on October 27th via the illustrious Svart Records. You can pre-order it right here.