Sunday, 24 September 2017

Album Spotlight: No Stars Upon the Bridge - Hallatar



I’ll be completely honest, I’ve done a fair few album reviews over the years on here and on other platforms and few albums have been as difficult to begin to write about as this one, Hallatar’s debut album No Stars Upon the Bridge. This is partly down to the circumstances surrounding the formation of Hallatar, and partly down to the sheer emotional weight of the music here and what it represents. It’s not something I can sit here and review in a conventional sense, it is however something I can gladly simply write about and just tell you about and hopefully draw your attention to and share with you all the same.

If you aren’t already aware, Hallatar is a band formed by Juha Raivio, guitarist from Swallow the Sun and Trees of Eternity, and began after the tragic death of Aleah Starbridge, Raivio’s partner and vocalist for Trees of Eternity who passed away from cancer in April last year. Raivio had collected together Aleah’s writings and poetry, and having gone to a very dark place spent a week writing the music which, combined with Aleah’s writings would then form Halllatar’s debut album. He invited Amorphis vocalist Tomi Joutsen and former HIM drummer Gas Lipstick to record this music with him, who both immediately agreed to do so without hearing so much as a note of it, and so Hallatar was born.

Slow, melancholic doom makes up the core of Hallatar’s sound here, tipped with a rawness that really hits home the raw emotion laid bare on this album. Opener song “Mirrors” showcases this from the off, with sorrowful guitars setting the tone early on but it’s when they drop out and Tomi Joutsen’s vocals kick that this really hits home. His vocals literally scream pain here, offset by cleanly sung lamenting segments which add to the overall effect of this opening song, which goes through many different phases and contrasting elements flooding the listener with mixed yet powerful emotions. This devastating opener is followed by “Raven’s Song”, one of the spoken word tracks on here, with Draconian vocalist Heike Langhans lending her voice to these parts as well as singing alongside Joutsen on the haunting “My Mistake” later on. In places we see that Hallatar can and do adopt a more accessible and conventional approach, third song “Melt” is a classic gothic death / doom song, subtle keys enhancing the overall effect of this one, while “The Maze”, later on is quite the opposite, a very bleak and desolate piece which has to be one of the darker moments on the album.



One thing you notice about Hallatar is the synergy and chemistry between the musicians involved, the line-up is impressive on paper alone with the calibre of the musicians involved but in practice it’s literally poetry in motion. Aleah’s words brought out and set to the music of Raivio, Joutsen capturing his pain and raw emotion with one of the most powerful vocal performances I’ve ever heard him deliver, and Gas Lipstick’s drumming which, while restrained, adds drama and emphasis to Hallatar’s sound in just the right way. Heike Langhans does her part brilliantly too, her voice being naturally suited to the music here as well as to reciting Aleah’s poetry, and bearing a close resemblance to the voice of Aleah herself. Chemistry is important for any band, but here everybody has come together for this unified purpose and they give it absolutely everything they have.

The closing song, “Dreams Burn Down”, deserves special mention and has to be the one which really shows the essence of what No Stars Upon the Bridge is about, and it features the ethereal vocals of Aleah Starbridge herself. It’s a much calmer and more subdued piece than most of the other songs yet no less evocative, and possesses a calming serenity which we can only hope will be found by those Aleah left behind. It’s essentially to be Aleah’s swansong, and is the perfect epitaph and closing moment on this album.

No Stars Upon the Bridge then, is an album forged from anguish and sorrow yet also from love and beauty, and you’ll hear that reflected here. It is a tough album to listen to, and it’s not really one you will sit down and put on to “enjoy” as you would most other albums, nor would you realistically expect to. It is, however, a powerful and moving epitaph which captures a very raw snapshot of a moment in time, with shared grief inspiring its creators and driving them towards the purpose of sharing Aleah’s legacy with the rest of the world. As metal fans we’re used to hearing dark music, but I’ve rarely, if ever, heard anything which sounds quite as real as this album, it’s honest, raw and lays everything wide open for all to see, and we have to admire the courage of all involved in choosing to share this with all of us. It really is something special and succeeds in its purpose admirably, and is one I’d highly recommend.






RIP Aleah Starbridge (1976 - 2016)





Friday, 1 September 2017

Album Spotlight: HATRED - Psython



You may remember the interview done with Psython not too long ago on this site, and while it’d be fair to say that while Psython are a band who have been flying under people’s radar so far, they’re also a band which, when you notice them, you really take notice. Their last album Outputs was released last year and was very well received and rated by people who heard it, and this write up coincides with the release of their second album HATRED (Hopelessly Aware That Rage Engenders Despair). It’s been played on both the Dark Side of Metal and the Metal Mayhem shows on Sine FM and shows Psython once again channelling raw energy, passion and rage but this time in a much tighter and more focused manner. If you enjoyed the last album, this one takes what made that one good and takes it to the next level.

Opener “J√∂rmungandr”, there’s no two ways about it, is an absolute stormer, and is quite possibly the best thing I’ve heard from Psython yet. Fast, frantic yet distinctive riffs kick this one off and it’s not long before vocalist Bing Garcia tears into the fray, screaming his lungs out with a fury that I’ve not seen from too many people. The main thing you notice with Psython is these guys are full on intense, full throttle flat out balls out METAL going straight for the throat, and on top of this they can actually play to boot. It’s a lethal combination, there’s some outstanding musicianship going on here, each song packed full of killer riffs, frenzied solos and lots of little twists, turns and flourishes propelled forwards on a wave of raw passion and energy, and Psython really are at the top of their game on this.


It could be said that some songs on HATRED stand out more than others, which is the case to a point but it’d be more accurate to say that some songs take a couple of listens to fully appreciate while others deliver the payload immediately. The opener certainly sees the band playing an ace early on, songs such as “Battery Life” or “H.A.T.E.” take a no frills no nonsense approach too and will be an instant fix if they’re on your wavelength. You’ve then got songs such as “Chai Latte” or “Ten Pounds” which weren’t quite as impressive initially, at least not for me, then after a few listens you’re hearing things in them you didn’t notice before and you realise that there’s much more to these songs and the album than is immediately apparent. It adds depth to the album, I’ve played this a fair few times now and I’m still hearing new things each time, and expect to continue doing so. It’s worth mentioning the closing track, “Old Man”, a near ten minute slow and sludgy brooding epic that’s the polar opposite of pretty much everything you hear before, yet somehow seems the most fitting way to end this album.

Metal is a very diverse beast these days, something I hope is reflected on the shows we put out here at Sine FM. Amidst the many different subgenres and different paths the genre has taken over the years though, there’s bands which stay bang in the middle in the middle and get to the core essence of what made metal great to start with. Psython are one of those, they do everything you’d want a great metal band to do and if you like that raw, hard hitting no nonsense approach this one will hit the spot nicely. They’ve certainly impressed around this neck of the woods anyway, and the band describe their sound best themselves in the language of God’s own county. Reyt metal. Reyt?

- Demoniac