It’s always terrible when records are released in tragic circumstances, but perhaps doubly so when said record is of such great quality that it seems like such an awful injustice that those involved will never again be able to come together – in this realm at least – to make such wonderful, enthralling music again.
Such things could be said of Hour of the Nightingale, the debut album from Swedish/Finnish/South African collective Trees of Eternity. Essentially at first a working collaboration between Swallow the Sun guitarist Juha Raivio and vocalist Aleah Stanbridge, a collaboration formed with the idea to make quiet, acoustically-driven music as a duo, Trees of Eternity soon took on a life of its own, growing far beyond those humble ambitions to become a fully fledged band, along the way co-opting the talents of brothers Matthias and Fredrik Norman (who you will, of course, know from acts such as Katatonia and October Tide) on bass and lead guitar respectively alongside former Nightwish/Wintersun drummer Kai Hahto.
The resultant album, Hour of the Nightingale, is spectacular, but the wondrous beauty of the record is wreathed in sadness following the death, from cancer, in April this year of Stanbridge. Any life cut short too soon is a tragedy, but the loss of Stanbridge, just as she seemed to be making the best music of her life within ToE, is absolutely devastating.
Her mournful, aching vocals stand astride Hour of the Nightingale as a colossus, imbuing the material with a majestic presence very few singers can attain. In harness with the glorious guitars of Raivio and Norman on tracks such as The Passage and Black Ocean (the album’s standout cut and surely one of the best tracks to be released anywhere this year), she cuts a truly stunning figure vocally, her voice rarely raising itself above the level of an angelic croon yet possessing enough emotional power to sink a battleship, the resultant noise being pure nirvana in sonic form.
Perhaps the best thing about Trees of Eternity is that they provoke no real comparison with anyone else; Operating broadly in a sort of folk/doom area, the band plough their own furrow resolutely, and with spine-tingling success. That Stanbridge was taken too soon is undoubtedly a tragedy – but it’s hard to think of a more glorious legacy to leave behind than Hour of the Nightingale. Heart rending, inspirational stuff.
Hour of the Nightingale is released through Svart Records on November 11th