Writing about a posthumous album might be quite insidious, since it has some specific implications and issues. In this case, the posthumous album happens to be the artist’s first solo album as well, which makes this piece of art one of a kind. No less, the album comes with two discs, the first acoustic and the second electric.
Aleah Starbridge was born in South Africa in 1976. She spent most of her life in Örebro, Sweden, where she sadly died in 2016. Her musical career began in 2006 with Krister Linder and the band OMNIMOTION, among others, as a guest vocalist. In 2007 she recorded an acoustic dark/folk/rock demo and in 2008 she joined the band THAT WHICH REMAINS as the band’s lead singer. Her name became popular in the metal community thanks to her collaborations with Finnish band SWALLOW THE SUN; back in 2009, in fact, she appeared as a guest vocalist on the song ”Lights on the Lake” in the album ”New Moon.”
After a while, Aleah and SWALLOW THE SUN’s guitarist and composer Juha Raivio started their own project called TREES OF ETERNITY, as romantic partners and bandmates. The album was released a few months after she passed away and, in 2017, Juha Raivio brought the band HALLATAR to life in her honor by using her poems as lyrics.
Aleah’s solo album, however, even if it is the result of a shared effort of her friends and family, is more focused on her creativity as an individual and as a musician and surely goes beyond the music on many levels. It will be released on 1 July 2020 (which was her birthday) via Svart Records, though the physical release was pushed back to 31 July 2020.
This piece of art is divided into two different albums, as two sides of the same coin. The acoustic album consists of nine songs, originally written in 2007 and a basic yet magical combination of guitar sound and Aleah’s whispered melodies underlies the whole work.
As simple as they can be, songs like ”Vapour,” ”Sacrifice,” or ”Water and Wine” are extremely intense on an emotional level; Aleah’s voice and words manage to touch the listeners’ heartstrings, as witnessed by the numerous tributes in her honor. It feels like we’re all missing someone we never met.
”My Will,” as much as ”Breathe,” take the listeners to an otherwordly dimension. Determination mixed with ethereal grace permeate the songwriting, especially when it comes to the lyrics, which are deeply oriented in several philosophical matters, though in a personal and enjoyable way.
The tracks ”Closing Under Pressure” and ”Touch My Face” are made from demos that fans may recognize as having been released as THAT WHICH REMAINS songs. I find them excellent in terms of vocal lines and general atmosphere, both in the acoustic and in the electric versions.
The second “electric” disc opens with ”My Will,” which is reminiscent of some typical SWALLOW THE SUN and TREES OF ETERNITY vibes and mood. The song has been crafted into a fully-developed masterpiece without losing its essence and simplicity. The following track, ”Sacrifice,” sees Canadian musician Anilah as a special guest and Aleah’s horse, Phoenix, can be heard neighing at the beginning of the song. In Anilah’s words, ”Sacrifice” is ”a powerful representation of her spirit,” and I couldn’t agree more. The hypnotic rhythm gives the whole tune a ritualistic vibe, where the music and lyrics contribute to make it a sort of a hymn to life on an higher level of self-consciousness: ”I am alive in the light of what I have left behind…”
Though it’s really difficult to find a single weak spot in this double album, I have to say that the song ”Inverted Enlightenment” is probably its highlight. As one of the very last songs Aleah wrote, I found it particularly intense and emotional in several ways. It seems to me that this song is some kind of a statement of the awareness that she was about to leave this earthly dimension, in an attempt to coming to terms with it and accepting her own fate, as cruel as it is.
The electric rendition of ”Vapour” is eerie in a soft and delicate way. Somewhat ”transfigured” compared to the acoustic counterpart, the added elements perfectly blend in its essence, making the whole tune hauntingly beautiful. ”The Tower” shows a well-built pop-oriented pattern and melody, making it slightly different from the rest of the album. In my opinion, Aleah’s whispers end up being more powerful than many other ”conventional” singing styles.
In conclusion, ”Breathe” in the electric version is reminiscent of some old ANTIMATTER’s works from early 2000s due to its strong ambient vibe. The creative process behind such a masterpiece feels like an ultimate act of unconditional love from her friends and her partner, Juha Raivio, as painful and heartbreaking as it can be. In this regard, I totally take the risk of sounding overly rhetorical, but I do believe that this double album, in a way, attempts to fill the big empty she has left behind: it’s a precious gem that makes her art and deepest essence truly immortal.
Written by Licia Mapelli
Album 1 (acoustic)
- Open Sky
- My Will
- Closing Under Pressure
- Water and Wine
- Terrestrial Torrents
- Touch My Face
Album 2 (electric)
- My Will
- Sacrifice (feat. Anilah)
- Inverted Enlightenment
- The Tower