Despite a well produced, hefty sound and a strong sense of gothic melody, it is inescapably clear that Hour of the Nightingale is a heavily frontloaded album; a lot of promise is shown at the start, but things level out to a plateau too early and never quite pick up again.
Opening track ‘My Requiem’ is a very strong start, the melancholic yet dramatic style of doom familiar to fans of Swallow the Sun and the like combining with some sombre gothic overtones to great effect. The persistent lead guitar harmonies in particular call clearly to mind the past works of the various musicians, Trees of Eternity containing members and ex-members of Swallow the Sun and Katatonia. Next up, ‘Eye of Night’ adds some serious weight in the form of chunky riffing and a lead guitar motif that fully embraces the mournful old English death/doom traditions of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride.
Quite apart from the obvious sadness of the music, the real tragedy associated with this album is the premature death of female vocalist, Aleah Stanbridge, from cancer at age 39, in April this year. Her vocal style lies somewhere between the breathy whisper of Chelsea Wolfe and the softer, lower end of Sharon den Adel’s angelic range, lending the suitable, dark emotion to each musical shift. She consistently brings sumptuous melodies to the table, occasionally inducing spine-tingling cadences in the softest passages, in particular on the aptly titled ‘A Million Tears’. Her performance on Hour of the Nightingale is a legacy worthy of her talent.
Musically, track three ‘Condemned to Silence’ is where some dullness begins to creep in. Slow, melancholic music like this can easily slip over the edge into turgidity if not crafted with extreme care, and this risk is especially high with releases of this length. From this point on, the undeniably emotive guitar licks fall into the background, occasionally peeking out in instrumental breaks, whilst many verses and choruses become a little meandering and can be hard to tell apart as your attention wanders. This continues for the majority of the rest of the album, unfortunately, with melodic highlights from Aleah and the guitars shining through here and there, but too few and far between. Heaviness is, of course, not everything, but it becomes clear as the album goes on that if Trees of Eternity kept the weightier, doom metal influences of the first two tracks present throughout their work, the gothic fog might be cleared a little more and things could be more readily attention grabbing. ‘Broken Mirror’ proves this point, as a latter highlight bringing back some of the meatier tones.
Hearing the familiar voice of Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost on final track ‘Gallows Bird’ is a nice touch; it is as if he has arrived to give his stamp of approval to Trees of Eternity borrowing large elements of his band’s sound and, as it sadly turned out, shepherding Aleah Stanbridge on from this plane.
The tragic story that will forever be associated with this release will undoubtedly see it become a landmark for fans of the band, as well as the wider genre, and this is not undeserved. Despite it’s clear musical flaws, there are raw emotions on display throughout Hour of the Nightingale, which the context of its release will only serve to enhance as time goes by.