Leaves’ Eyes - King of Kings - (9/10)
Published on September 14, 2015
It is funny how sometimes a spin-off band surpasses the original in terms of success. Theatre of Tragedy have widely been credited as one of the pioneers of gothic metal with the “Beauty and the Beast” approach to the vocal department, but despite a string of highly regarded albums by the time they hit the bigger label they had drastically changed their style. Ever since her split from T.O.T., singer Liv Kristine Espenæs has been enjoying a mighty good time with Leaves’ Eyes (basically her with the band Atrocity supporting her) and their sixth album King of Kings has all the promise to extend this streak.
Musically they are staying true to themselves, firmly entrenched in the symphonic metal field, at least in the first part of the album, with Liv Kristine’s voice as fulcrum, yet this time around the epic and symphonic element seems to have received some extra attention, with the choirs featuring somewhat more prominently in their sound (courtesy of the London Voices choir). Also lyrically they do not stray from their original goals, this time around centering around the sagas of Harald Hårfagre (Harald Fairhair), Norway’s first king, so a fitting background setting for the album to unfold.
Atmospherically dense “Sweven” is an excellent introduction to the album, leading into the title track, a mid-paced epic that unites everything the band stood and stands for, including a nice choir in the chorus and Alex Krull’s accentuating growls as counterpart to Liv Kristine’s frail soprano. While symphonic metal is a very overrun genre with a lot of bands only differing marginally from each other musically, this Norwegian/German cooperative has found its distinct style and while obviously the vocals are the focal point, the band never actually forgets to build a proper song around them and the vocal melodies also nicely differ from the genre standards without losing their immediate appeal (see the excellent “Halvdan the Black”).
Intro “Feast of the Year” and then “Vengeance Venom” show the other side of the band, the folky one with a playful guitar melody and more energy overall, especially the chorus has plenty of power and the rhythms is a little more demanding as well as opposed to the predominant mid-tempo at the beginning of the album. And it also marks a shift in the album, with the folkier melodies and rhythms making a fairly grand entrance. Despite many of the songs operating on fairly simplistic rhythms, Leaves’ Eyes still build up good dynamics through tempo changes and shifts in atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, one does not have to look any further than the great “Haraldskvæði”, which evokes images of Enya, just Nordic and with a more powerful surrounding! And jaunty closer “Swords in Rock” gives a quick kick in the rear at the end.
The folk infusions into the band’s symphonic metal fare prove to be another way to set the band apart from the rest of the sympho metal legions, not least because they lend authenticity to the lyrics and Liv Kristine’s vocals just fit perfectly into the mix. While they had been going from strong album to strong album in the past, King of Kings might just be the best one they have penned to date, which also shows that they have not reached the end of the line yet!