by Joe Mis
— Sr. Columnist —
The Vikings are on the march again! Scandinavian Symphonic Metal masters Leaves’ Eyes have retooled and are taking no prisoners with their latest epic entitled Sign of the Dragonhead. Keeping the same intensity that the band brought forth in 2016’s King of Kings, Leaves’ Eyes cranks it up and delivers another true symphonic metal hammer blow along with all the thunder and lighting that Leaves’ Eyes fans have come to expect.
The major change for Leaves’ Eyes over the past two years has been the departure of founding lead vocalist Liv Kristine. Now fronted by the operatic Elina Siirala of EnkElination and by founding member Alexander Krull, Leaves’ Eyes continues to work their trademarked “beauty and the beast” vocal lines. They once again take much of their inspiration from the history, mythology, and legends of the Scandinavian people. Continuing with the band are Thorsten Bauer (guitars and bass), Pete Streit (guitar), and Joris Nijenhuis (drums). There are some noticeable differences between the old and new vocalists – Elina has a more powerful voice that many will feel is better suited to the powerful and martial tone of the new release but lacks some of the subtlety and delicate emotional nuances that Liv brought to the softer tracks. Another notable difference is the fact that all tracks on Sign of the Dragonhead are sung in English – some may miss Liv’s inclusion of a tune or two in Norwegian, Finnish, or even Old English.
The impressive “Sign Of The Dragonhead” kicks off the release an leaves little doubt that the personnel changes within the band have not diminished their intensity and passion. This track encompasses all of what makes Leaves’ Eyes unique – an epic, almost over-the-top symphonic tone, elements of hard rock, many classical influences, massive choral vocals, strong production values, and amazing vocals. The rollicking “Across The Sea” is a powerful track with a very catchy rhythm line (and a short but sweet guitar break) that highlights Elina’s overall vocal abilities while giving Alexander a chance to growl as he does best. “Like A Mountain” is a softer and more flowing track that pushes Elina’s range to its limits – and she handles everything well, working well with the veteran bass/guitar/drum trio of Bauer, Streit, and Nijenhuis. Elina’s vocals are at their best when she digs deep and joins the band in paying tribute to their Viking heritage in the epic “Jomsborg.”
“Völva” rolls in some older musical instruments – whistles and pies are a long time Leaves’ Eyes tradition – and features some of the best guitar breaks on the release. Alexander’s backing vocals are particularly effective on this track. Celtic influences fill the bouncy “Riders On The Wind” and the moody opening of the ballad “Fairer Than The Sun.” “Shadows In The Night” is a multi-tempo masterpiece – one of the most familiar sounding tracks that build on all of the strengths of Leaves’ Eyes from vocals to songwriting to technical performance.
The instrumental “Rulers Of The Wind And Waves” brings in many of the old acoustic pipes and horns that make Leaves’ Eyes special, while setting a solid mood for the hyper-theatrical, gritty and smoldering “Fires In The North.” The appropriately fluid and flowing “Waves of Euphoria” wraps the release. Moving from solemn and soft to pounding and majestic, this eight-minute epic IS Leaves’ Eyes at its best. Strong male and female vocals, gritty guitars, manic drums, booming bass, varying tempos, and tones… wow!
Leaves’ Eyes Sign of the Dragonhead is a fine addition to the band’s discography. Despite the loss of a very talented founding member, the band managed to step it up and evolve, choosing a singer that fully fits the band’s style without sounding like a copycat vocalist. Well executed and delivered with passion and fire on all fronts, Leaves’ Eyes demonstrates why they are the poster child for symphonic metal. Jubel!
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Elina Siirala – lead vocals
Alexander Krull – keyboards, vocals
Thorsten Bauer – guitars, bass
Joris Nijenhuis – drums
Pete Streit – guitars
1. Sign Of The Dragonhead
2. Across The Sea
3. Like A Mountain
6. Riders On The Wind
7. Fairer Than The Sun
8. Shadows In The Night
9. Rulers Of The Wind And Waves
10. Fires In The North
11. Waves Of Euphoria
Label: AFM Records
Hardrock Haven rating: (8 / 10)