While Hallatar is a name that may ring unfamiliar and No Stars Upon The Bridge is technically a debut, the minds behind the project are highly respected veterans of their craft. Forged from the music and emotions of Juha Raivio in memory of Aleah Stanbridge, who passed April of last year, No Stars Upon The Bridge is an immense atmospheric doom metal experience inspired by collections of Aleah’s work. Working with Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis and former HIM drummer Gas Lipstick, every word and note resonates with personal meaning. As a result, No Stars Upon The Bridge delivers a multi-layered impact on a listener that few albums have managed to accomplish.
For those familiar with Trees of Eternity, Hallatar can be viewed as a tangential branch-off of that project. Categorically, it is cut from the same cloth. With Raivio responsible for the writing process as well as the guitar and bass work, and inspiration stemming from the stunning voice of Stanbridge featured on Hour of the Nightingale, we would expect (and appreciate) as much. Furthermore, the lyrics of the album are also those of Stanbridge. While not physically here, her presence is across all planes. Music specifically, it is of similar atmoshperic doom, constructed of weighted, solemn passages supplemented with uplifting, cleaner moments. Over the 41 minute runtime, No Stars Upon The Bridge takes on a wide range of forms and leaves us endlessly captivated as an audience.
We get arguably the heaviest this album has to offer at the outset of “Mirrors.” Powerful notes are driven home with a deliberate cadence, giving them ample time to wash over an audience. Meanwhile, Tomi Joutsen introduces a vocal range rarely explored with Amorphis. His gritty, higher pitched growls allow the full impact of the album’s emotional backbone to present itself. The more familiar bellows and cleaner lines come through intermittently, but there is a notably different feel to what he brings to the table. It is darker, more painful, and cuts deeper.
The importance of the vocal performance should not be understated, and it only continues to evolve as spoken lyrics by Heike Langhans emerge on the transitional “Raven’s Song.” This vocal element has a crucial role on how the album is absorbed, especially as the complexity of the album increases in the middle stages. “Melt” opens delicately with Tomi almost speaking in anguished isolation before the track erupts at the midway point in a barrage of thunderous notes. Delicate keys and occasional softer guitar passages serve as basic guidance along the nearly eight minute excursion. Within these tracks, continuing through “My Mistake” and beyond, the cadence rises and falls with natural regularity, and it’s the dynamic performance of these two vocalists that help enhance these differences.
While the overall burden of this album is undeniable, appreciation must be shown for the placement and execution of the subtler moments. Specifically, the back to back presentation of “Pieces” and “Severed Eyes” almost serves us a sense of calm in the middle of the sorrow. While earlier tracks introduced occassional moments of optimism within their construction, the weight of them never truly left us. These four minutes, while haunting, introduce hope before entering the latter stages of the album. “The Maze,” immediately following “Severed Eyes,” delivers some of the more consistently burdening moments of the album, so the timing is key.
The crown jewel of this album, however, (and I maintain this stance after several listens) is the closing “Dreams Burn Down.” Featuring the most stunning phrases of the album, it contains an exceptionally sobering feel. Almost as if admitting defeat and succumbing to an inevitable dread. A calm acceptance, maybe. There can be beauty in pain, and these minutes capture that concept. Of note, the female vocals on this track are Aleah Starbridge’s, giving this track further meaning still.
Through this debut from Hallatar, the darkest emotional layers of life are not only acknowledged, but embraced. within this album’s brilliance — the instrumental work all the way through the lyrics and vocals — No Stars Upon The Bridge takes us on a densely moving journey that is as genuine as it is creative. It is something that resonates with a listener long after the final notes have subsided and begs replay time and again through the complex weight it leaves behind. Driven and inspired by real, personal experiences, the act of listening to this album becomes a personal experience in and of itself. It may be a project stemmed from a moment in time, but there is no question that its impact will resonate for years.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”