When I open my cd cabinet and browse through my collection deciding on what album will best suit my mood today, it is much like opening a medicine cabinet and choosing the correct pharmaceutical dosage that I need. Carefully picking the right album to either reflect or enhance my current mood, can bring relief, understanding, connection, and help me get through my day.
More than any other album, Finnish band Hallatar’s No Stars Upon The Bridge deeply moved me. It is the epitome of high art that shares the human experience of grief and can offer hope and condolences through its ardent pain and suffering.
Guitarist Juha Raivio (Swallow the Sun, Trees of Eternity), Amorphis vocalist Tom Joutsen, and former HIM drummer Gas Lipstick have gathered to form this extreme doom metal band Hallatar. The line up caught my attention immediately but did not prepare me for what I was in for. The music is emotionally devastating but beautiful at the same time. It encapsulates the feelings of grief with brutal honesty.
A little bit of backstory is needed. Guitarist Juha Raivio formed doom/death inspired band Trees of Eternity with musical collaborator and South African-born singer Aleah Stanbridge. Tragically, on April 18, 2016, she died from cancer at the age of 39. I’ll let Juha Raivio explain the genesis of Hallatar.
“After the death of my beloved and my life partner Aleah Starbridge last April, I have been gathering writings, lyrics, and the poems of Aleah to keep them safe and close to my heart. About one month after the world came down on the blackest day of my life on April 18th, I knew I needed to pick up the guitar and try to create something or I would be truly destroyed. And something did arrive out of the darkness, and I wrote the music for the Hallatar album in a week’s time. I don’t have much memory of this week, not a memory of a single day of writing the music. But all I remember when going into this abyss of the writing process was a promise to myself that whatever music would come out, I would not touch or change anything of it afterwards. What mattered was that the music would stay forever as an absolute truth of those moments as they came out.”
Throughout the album, short spoken poem interludes recorded by Aleah gives this recording a poignant and haunted feeling. She also duets on the beautiful song Dreams Burn Down. Heike Langhans (Draconian) guests on the incredible song My Mistake. The excellent and atmospheric video for the song is a must watch. All performances are devastating and production is top notch. If you are familiar with the doom genre, most of this will be familiar. But what stands out are the passionate emotions inflicted upon the listener. I was also surprised by the length of the album (only about 40 min), comparatively short to most other doom records, but this became a positive as I realized the band said what needed to be said and never overstayed their welcome.
This is not an album for everyone. Its emotional depth can make you feel battered and bruised. But as Aleah whispers in Pieces “To Bleed is to Feel.” I’d still recommend all music lovers to give it a chance. This is a record that needs to be experienced. Use your best headphones or sound system, turn off the lights, get off your phone, computers or any other distractions, lay down, and really absorb this masterpiece. Feel his anguish, immerse yourself in his grief, knowing we all at some time share in this very human experience of losing loved ones. This might not be a record I listen to frequently. But it will be a go-to remedy for those depressing days when I need to wallow in darkness. Knowing others also share in these feelings and that I am not alone, along with the beam of hope that shines intermittently throughout this harrowing album, I am so glad this record exist and that these artist were brave enough to put it out. This is a doom classic in the making.
- Raven’s Song
- My Mistake [feat. Heike Langhans]
- Severed Eyes
- The Maze
- Spiral Gate
- Dreams Burn Down [feat. Aleah Starbridge]
20th October 2017