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Bleak - 90%

kluseba, June 11th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Svart Records (Digipak)

Hallatar's debut record No Stars upon the Bridge is closely connected to the tragic death of South-African singer Aleah Liane Stanbridge who had relocated to Sweden and was in a relationship with Finnish Swallow the Sun guitarist Juha Raivo. She had participated on several Swallow the Sun records, the couple had founded atmospheric doom metal band Trees of Eternity whose debut was released shortly after her death and they had also been working on a solo record for the singer that might still see the light of day in the future. Hallatar's debut record No Stars upon the Bridge is a tribute to the deceased singer and features some of her poetic lyrics as well as her vocals in the closing ''Dreams Burn Down''. Her lyrics are spoken and sung by guest singer Heike Langhans, another singer from South Africa who is known for her dark electronic music project :LOR3L3I:. Her soft and sorrowful vocals blend in perfectly and her style is closely inspired by Aleah Stanbridge's unique vocals. Krista Ruusunen performs melancholic piano parts for the sorrowful ''Pieces'' which is one of three elegiac and poetic interludes. Occasional acoustic guitars add more depth to the sorrowful record that can overall be categorized as atmospheric doom metal with black, death and gothic metal influences. The band itself consists of keyboardist, guitarist, bassist and songwriter Juha Raivo as well as Amorphis singer Tomi Joutsen whose band had also collaborated with Aleah Stanbridge in the past and former HIM drummer Gas Lipstick who has been active in numerous metal bands for the past three and a half decades and whose excellent contributions to the genre remain underrated until today.

No Stars upon the Bridge is obviously a record that is very hard to sit through and that was clearly the inspiration behind this inspired release that deals with death, despair, loss, sadness and sorrow. The calm acoustic guitars and piano melodies give no hope but sound profoundly melancholic. The sinister doom metal riffs are as harsh and cold as permafrost. The drums and percussive elements are as slow, heavy and elegiac as they could possibly get. Tomi Joutsen's vocals are as variable as usual but the uplifting touch we know from his performances with Amorphis are completely gone. His intense black metal vocals seem to be on the verge of collapse and madness. His death metal vocals sound bleak and mournful. His clean vocals are meandering between infinite sadness and suicidal resignation. The lyrics certainly don't cheer anyone up either and have a profound gothic inspiration. The simple but efficient cover artwork of a white swan rising up in the sky yet falling down to the ground summarizes the record perfectly.

If one would only evaluate the intentions behind this record, Hallatar's No Stars upon the Bridge could be considered one of the greatest albums of all time. Still, one can't ignore the fact that this release has an extremely negative vibe and I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone with dark, depressive or suicidal thoughts to listen to this album. It's beautiful in its bleakness, a fascinating soul striptease and an outstanding tribute to a great partner, poet and singer but it should only be enjoyed in small doses. The record is great but I feel like listening some silly European power metal right after to get rid of that profoundly desperate aftertaste. I certainly hope that creating this unique record helped Juha Raivo overcome his intense sadness and that he will continue making outstanding music in the future.