Sunday, 15 December 2013

Leaves' Eyes' 'Symphonies of the Night' - Album Review

Symphonic metal has always been a favourite metal subgenre of mine, and one that is pretty popular across the greater metal fanbase. Bands like Nightwish and Within Temptation are always very popular, and for good reason, but there are plenty of other great bands that do not get quite the same amounts of hype or exposure. Leaves' Eyes are one such band, and they have been releasing consistently good albums since their formation in 2003. Symphonies of the Night is their fifth album and their first since 2011's Meredead. In my opinion, Meredead was a great album that took the band to new places musically. It was a very diverse album mixing light and shade well and utilising many different languages throughout. The band's folk elements were very prominent on Meredead and overall it was not as heavy as their previous work. In that respect, Symphonies of the Night is more similar to 2009's Njord than Meredead. The big guitars, drums and harsh vocals are the emphasis here, and they create and excellent backdrop for frontwoman Liv Kristine's delicate vocals. The one thing that I felt Meredead was lacking was Alexander Krull's big presence. His distinctive growls were only heard on one song, the excellent Sigrlinn, so the 'beauty and the beast' vocal partnership the band are famous for was not really in force. Although he delivered some effective clean vocals on Empty Horizon, I felt that Meredead did suffer slightly from not utilising more of his vocal talents but, despite that, it is still a great album. Thankfully, on Symphonies of the Night, his vocals are back in full force! As usual, he has also handled the songwriting, production, programming and orchestration of the album which makes him a key player in the band's sound. Overall, the production is very good. The orchestrations are lush and everything sounds big, as it should on a metal album. My only complaint on this front is that the guitar tones used on the album are a little stark. While this sounds great for Leaves' Eyes' brother band Atrocity (check out their very good July 2013 release Okkult to see what I mean) it sounds a little bleak for Leaves' Eyes. In my opinion, a much warmer tone would have suited the songs a bit more. Guitarists Thorsten Bauer and Sander van der Meer return and, this time, van der Meer has been more involved with the songwriting which is nice to see. Once again, as on the band's last two albums, Bauer also handles the bass guitars. Symphonies of the Night also marks the debut of drummer Felix Born who has been playing with the band since 2012.

Hell to the Heavens gets the album off to a very strong start. With an accompanying video, this song is similar in style to Leaves' Eyes 'singles' of the past. It starts gently before the big guitars and Krull's vocals come in to kick off the album properly. The chorus is very bombastic and Kristine shows off the classical side of her voice to dramatic effect. It does not really break any new ground for the band, but it is the sort of song that fans of the band will greatly enjoy - which is probably why it was chosen as a single. Fading Earth is next and this is a much more basic song that focuses on the melodies. There are some nice guitar leads in the song's intro (something which the band do not use as often as others) and chorus really shows off Kristine's voice. She is a very underrated vocalist in my opinion and her performances on this album are brilliant throughout. There is a short guitar solo in the song too which, again, is something the band uses sparingly. Maid of Lorraine is one of the album's highlights in my opinion. The 'beauty and the beast' vocal partnership is used to good effect here with Kristine and Krull trading off sections of the song. Folky melodies weave their way in and out of the song and sees uilleann pipes and other traditional instruments mix with the guitars to create a really nice atmosphere. Heavy sections and dreamier sections blend together so well to create a mini epic and one of the best songs of the band's career so far. The folk elements are pushed further to the front on Galswintha and it sounds more like the materian found on Meredead. The acoustic-based intro has a distinct Celtic vibe to it, and this continues even once the heavy guitars and drums join in. Kristine's vocals really shine on this song. During the gentler acoustic sections she sounds playful but during the heavier sections she unleashes her full power to compete with Krull's backing vocals. She has never been as powerful as singers like Floor Jansen or Tarja Turunen but she has her own strengths and in my mind is just as good as those ladies in her own way. Symphony of the Night is another song that really makes good use of her extensive vocal styles. As the song's title would suggest, this is the most overtly symphonic song on the album. The chorus really is beautiful with Kristine's vocals floating easily over the metal elements and the tight orchestrations. Although the band do rely on the song's chorus a little more than perhaps they should (it is repeated maybe a couple of times more than necessary), it is so good that it barely seems to matter.

The next highlight is the dynamic Hymn to the Lone Sands. The first, more acoustic part, is sung in a different language (I apologise, I am not very good with languages so I do not know which one it is) but they return to English for the more bombastic remainder of the song. Again, it is a proper duet between Kristine and Krull. It has a slightly progressive feel with lots of different distinct musical sections and tempo changes. There are also a few nice instrumental sections which see lead guitars duelling with uilleann pipes, and both instruments get their own solos. The guitar work throughout this album is much more inventive than on previous Leaves' Eyes albums. Angel and the Ghost is a much more simple affair but the melodies are once again forced right to the front of the song. Krull's demonic vocals really make this song what it is, and it shows that his growls are just as key to the band's sound as Kristine's classical stylings. After a dramatic spoken word section from Kristine, we are treated to another guitar solo before the song's choir-backed chorus draws it to a strong close. Éléonore de Provence is another beautiful piece of music that Kristine transforms into something special with her angelic vocals. Again, Krull also has a prominent role in the song's delivery. I know that I keep talking about this, but I think that Symphonies of the Night is the album that he has sung on the most. I am glad that the band are finding more ways to integrate his growls into the music. Born's furious drumming during the chorus combined with Kristine's beautiful vocals are a contrast from heaven and it is one of the album's standout musical moments. The next highlight is the album's closing number Ophelia. Like Maid of Lorraine, it has that mini epic feel to it and is second only to Frøya's Theme from Njord in the band's best album closers list. The vocals are as powerful as we have come to expect and a Thin Lizzy-esque twin guitar section towards the end just gives the feeling of an excellent climax. It is a fitting end to what is overall a very consistent album. In my opinion, out of the five studio albums they have released so far, this album is my favourite of theirs. It has everything that you would want from a great symphonic metal album and the folk elements are done with true love and respect for the genre. Plus, the expansion of Krull's role as a vocalist and some more inventive guitar parts throughout the album just take the songs to the next level. This is definitely an album that I can recommend highly!

The album was released on 18th November 2013 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Hell to the Heavens.

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