Trees of Eterninty

This band has been haunting me for the past days. I feel compelled to write about it. This post will be completely different from the kind of posts you normally see on this blog; if you are here to read my usual technical stuff, you can skip this one.

While going through some random playlist on YouTube I stumbled upon this band that I immediately took a liking to, which is something that does not happen often. When I tried to find out a bit more information about them, what I discovered wrecked me.

The name of the band is Trees of Eternity, and they are said to belong to the Doom/Gothic Metal genre, which is not exactly the kind of music that I listen to, but in the case of this particular band, their sound matches my taste very well.

I was intending to listen to them while working on my computer, but there was something about their sound that grabbed hold of me and I could not help but switch to watch the videos of their songs. 

A couple of their official videos feature their singer, a beautiful lady in her thirties.

She has an extraordinarily soft, breathy voice the like of which I have never heard before. It has been described as delicate, angelic, ethereal. It is feminine, but not girly; I would actually call it solemn. Because she sings so softly, she keeps her mouth very close to the microphone, so you can hear her inhaling between sentences, and this creates a feeling of presence, as if she is singing right next to you. Their instruments sound like Symphonic/Goth Metal, but without excitement or fanfare; they play masterfully, but they stay in the background so as to keep her beautiful voice verily in the foreground.

The grand sum of all this is definitely grave and gloomy, but mature, and completely free from pretentiousness and hyperbole, which are so common in the genre. It constitutes the most cohesive sound I have heard in many years.

In the videos, the background is nature; a nordic forest, barren tree branches in darknes, gray sea waves crashing on shore, empty fields of tall grass with a somewhat withered look. In both videos she is wearing the same black sun necklace. In one video (Sinking Ships) she appears with flowing long black hair; in the other, (Broken Mirror) her head is covered in a veil.

So far, so good. The trouble started during a scene in the second video where she looks at the viewer with a distinctly eerie gaze that I found somewhat unsettling. At first, I was tempted to dismiss it as just another goth acting before the camera as is befitting to a goth, but as the scene faded into the next, I was left with the impression that her gaze had been completely free from the overstatement which is characteristic of pretence; there was something inexplicably genuine about it, but I could not tell what it was. Since I was not sure what was going on, I could not assign much weight to it at that moment, but in retrospect, I would say that it was the kind of gaze that would make the blood freeze in your veins.

Seeking to dissolve the mystery, my eyes fell upon the first comment under the video.

The commenter had written that they were extremely sad, because they had just discovered this band, (like me,) and they were completely blown away by the beauty of their sound, (like me,) and they had been hoping to hear more from them in the future, (like me,) but they had just found out that the singer had died.

I decided to look them up on Wikipedia, in part because I like fact-checking things, in part because I wished this to turn out to be false, and in part due to curiosity: common causes of death for rock singers are drugs, alcohol, suicide, or combinations thereof; so, what was it going to be for that angelic voice?

Indeed, Wikipedia begins by stating that Trees of Eternity was a musical collaboration between certain people which ended with the death of their singer, Aleah Stanbridge, in 2016. It goes on to mention that the band members and guest contributors were all acclaimed musicians, having previously played with well-known bands such as Katatonia, Wintersun, and Paradise Lost, which even I have heard of, despite belonging to a genre that I don't normally listen to; their drummer had even played on occasion with Nightwish, which used to be one of my favorite bands. This explained the masterfulness of the instrumentation. I kept reading.

As it turns out, Aleah Stanbridge died at the age of 39, from cancer.

This fact, along with her unsettling gaze in the video, made me curious, so I looked for information about the timeline of the band.

They formed in 2013. They mostly worked remotely, so progress must have been slow. At the time of her death in April of 2016 the band had not released anything yet; however, their one and only record, The Hour Of The Nightingale was released half a year later, in November of 2016.

Now, cancer is not something that kills you one night in your sleep while nobody expected it; it takes time. This is perhaps the greatest tragedy with this disease: you know well in advance. So, I thought that this timeline was a bit odd. That is when I begun to suspect the nature of the musical collaboration that I had stumbled upon.

I went back to the track list looking for clues to support my hypothesis, and sure enough, the title of the very first song served as an immediate confirmation:

    01. My Requiem

The lyrics are also in line with that, in this and most other songs.

That was when I realized just what it was about the lady's gaze in the Broken Mirror video that made it so unsettling: this woman standing before the camera was not acting; she was dying.

That was when I realized that the Sinking Ships video, showing her with long flowing hair, must have been shot early on, while the Broken Mirror video, where her head was covered in a veil, must have been from later on. 

That was when I realized that in the Broken Mirror video she appears walking around, or standing, but she is not actually singing; maybe she had no voice anymore at that point.

That was when I started experiencing in full the gut-wrenching effect of many of the verses, like my season has come to an end, or embrace this as a Nightingale in song, or perhaps the most gut-wrenching of all: ...of a fate worse than death, condemned to silence. There are many other verses that have an immensely powerful meaning in light of the circumstances, I will leave them for you do discover.

None of this has been publiclized; you have no way of suspecting anything unless you pay attention to hints, and no way of knowing unless you connect the dots. If you don't know, they are just your usual morbid gothic lyrics; but if you know, they are heart-felt devastation.

That was also when I realized how truly superb the instrumentation and the mastering had been. These were all such accomplished musicians that in the associated literature someone described them at some point as a superband. Whatever; the thing is, accomplishment builds egos, and with ego usually comes an extravagant style of playing, a prime example of which is, say, Joe Satriani. Yet, these musicians produced music of excellent quality while keeping their tone down so as to keep that lady's ethereal voice always at the front: in the entire record there is not a single guitar solo; not a single attention-catching shred; not a single roaring drum roll; at the same time, there is absolutely nothing inadequate about it: from start to finish, the music is rich, sophisticated heavy metal, mostly in ballad style, at times in epic style, but always serving as a bed for her voice.

The music is precisely what it had to be for the occasion: masterful, but intentionally understated. 

Because the record was not about them; it was about her.

How often does it happen that after receiving a medical death sentence someone will continue to make music instead of withdrawing and withering away? I do not know, but I would guess that it must be exceedingly rare. I used to suspect that Roy Orbinson's comeback at the end of the eighties with the re-make of Pretty Woman and with new hits like The End of the Line was such a case, because he died very soon afterwards, but as it turns out he died from heart attack, so that was not it. But even if someone received the bad news and decided to keep on keeping on, how likely would it be that they would be singing about death? And how likely would it be that they would be singing about their own death? 

It may well be that Trees of Eternity is a project unprecedented in the history of music.

So, here we have this interesting phenomenon: we have the entire doom/gothic genre of music, a huge death cult obsessed with all things morbid, but actually full of pretentiousness, hyperbole, and copious amounts of black make-up; and then sitting right at the fringe of this genre we have this one little gem of a record, which contains in it more death than the entire genre combined. Is it not ironic?

These realizations appear to be completely lost to critics who have reviewed The Hour Of The Nightingale. They usually begin by acknowledging that it is tragic that the singer has died, and then they proceed to evaluate the record as they would evaluate any other record. At best, they find it very good music, but the circumstances under which the record was made seem to escape them, so they fail to appreciate that it does in fact sound precisely as it ought to sound, let alone that no one alive is entitled to find fault with it. One critic complains that most songs are in ballad style while he would have preferred more variation; whatever; another complains that overall, the record strays too much in the direction of pop, whereas I suppose he would have wanted it to sound more gothic; whatever.

Here is the thing: in the face of real death, the entire gothic genre suddenly begins to look like a highly inappropriate funny little circus. Death in itself is morbid enough; no need for black lipstick.

Artist: Trees of Eternity
Album: The Hour of the Nightingale (2016)
Song: My Requiem

Blistering, so bright
Realign my core
Lenses open wide
Coming into form
The imprint of a life

Too late you're calling out my name
To raise me up out of my grave
Alive in memory I'll stay
If you shun these waters where I lay
If you shun these waters where I lay

Curtains coming down
Into the shade I stray
Losing all I've found
To my own dismay
My season has come to an end

Too late you're calling out my name
To raise me up out of my grave
Alive in memory I'll stay
If you shun these waters where I lay
If you shun these waters where I lay

Leave me to rest
Too drained to rise
To try to detect
Any light at the end of the tunnel

Too late you're calling out my name
To raise me up out of my grave
Alive in memory I'll stay
If you shun these waters where I lay
If you shun these waters where I lay

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