Oftentimes when an established band like Leaves’ Eyes has a change in their lead singer, it typically changes the whole sound of the band – either for better for or for worse. In this case it was definitely for the better. Long time lead singer Liv Kristine left the band not long after the release of their previous album King of Kings and they replaced her with Finnish vocalist Elina Siirala of Angel Nation. With most bands, a change of lead singer could be a make-or-break type of situation. In the case of Leaves’ Eyes, Elina brings a welcome change to the band. While both Liv and Elina are sopranos, Elina brings a slightly deeper voice with more of a strong operatic sound to the band, and in my opinion, boosts the level of the band up a notch or two. Mixed with Alexander Krull’s growls, you have a good combo of the “Beauty and the Beast” approach, being one of the first bands to feature this type of vocal combination. Even though the band hails from Germany, you could swear they’re from Norway with the recurring themes of Vikings and battles. Rounding out the band is Thorsten Bauer on guitar and bass, Joris Nijenhuis on drums, and Pete Streit also on guitar. Aside from including the typical band instruments, Sign of the Dragonhead takes on a more folk metal approach with instruments such as the Nyckelharpa, Uilleann Pipes, Fiddles, and Whistles. The album is a follow up to their previous album King of Kings, continuing the story of Harald Fairhair – the first king of Norway. As a whole the album takes on a whimsical and light-hearted approach that doesn’t always take itself too seriously.
The album starts out of the gate with the strong title track Sign of the Dragonhead showcasing Elina’s strong operatic vocals along with the magnificent voices of the London Voices Choir along with crunchy guitars and Alex’s growls (though subdued).
Next is Across the Sea, where the song transports the listener through a musical journey of a fun and whimsical up-tempo song. The song features backup harmonies that help elevate Elina’s vocals. Alex’s growls are dusted in a few places and adds to the song.
Like a Mountain starts off with a solo piano with Elina’s smooth-as-silk voice that captivates the listener, and then dives right in with crunchy guitars and what I call choir synths to provide robustness to the song. There are a few slow passages and the song takes off again with a wall of sound until the end.
Jomsborg definitely shows the folk side of the band. The song alludes to the Jomsborg Vikings, who were composed of selected warriors and adhered to a special codex who were loyal only to their leader. If there ever was a song that would help rally the troops into a victorious battle, this would do it. Crunchy guitars, growls and Elina’s vocals are intertwined nicely here.
Völva starts off with native folk instruments and dives right in with crunchy guitars for a unique and wonderful combination. The flowing melodies are driven by a Gaelic folk metal sound that reminds me a lot of Eluveitie. It’s a fascinating epic where Alex’s vocals are properly showcased.
Riders on the Wind takes a turn from the previous songs, with a fuzzy guitar sound, folk instruments, and harmonies. But at times the song tries too hard to have too many elements and some of the elements get lost. For example, the ending of the song repeats the refrain a few too many times.
Fairer Than the Sun is a power ballad that slows things down considerably, with more mellow sounds and harmonies which highlights the angelic vocals of Elina as she takes you down green meadows and fields. With Shadows In The Night, Alex‘s growls perfectly complement to the choir and Elina‘s operatic vocals.
Rulers of Wind and Waves is an instrumental that focuses on Celtic folk elements that sets up the listener for the next song Fires in the North, which is another sonic blast of symphonic goodness complete with layered harmonies of both clean vocals and growls. Midway through the song there is a short key change that sends the listener on to another Viking battle.
The album closes with the eight minute journey Waves of Euphoria that starts off of slow and soft, but pulls you back in with the signature fast tempo that a power metal fan would love. This features more of Alex’s growls than any other song on the album. Overall, this is my favorite track on the album that provides a fitting ending to an album that pulls you in and keeps you there the entire time.
However, with all that being said, I really wanted to like the album. Sadly I felt that Sign of the Dragonhead album had all the right elements in it, but it just didn’t gel together into a cohesive whole. Instead you have a lot of interesting parts that somehow didn’t line up. It felt like it was rushed and repetitive. One has to wonder if the band felt like they had to prove themselves with a new singer, but maybe too quickly. Though there were a couple of songs that I did like (Waves of Euphoria and Völva), this album will probably go back on the shelf for a while before I decide to listen to it again.