“There are times when people need stories more than they need nourishment, because the stories feed something deeper than the needs of the body.” – Charles de Lindt.
For many a year, music has been a fundamental method of storytelling all over the world; from the time before we had the written word to record our history or our tales, there have been scops and skalds, grigots, ashiks, udgatars (no, I don’t know what they are either) and of course, minstrels and bards. These poets and musicians would travel around their native countries and tell their songs, sometimes factual, other times elaborated stories or myths that had been passed down through word of mouth. Before we had writing to record historical events, this was one of the only ways to keep history and mythology alive. In the modern world, radio, CD’s, television, books, plays and films indulge our need for stories and music. However, generally speaking, our modern stories and music don’t cater for ‘the something deeper’ that de Lindt is referring to. The contemporary stories and music of this modern world don’t minister to the needs that we all have. This leads to a yearning for better stories and for music that nourishes our souls and stimulates our spirits, for this is their quintessential purpose.
For my second female fronted metal band review of the week we turn to German-Norwegian symphonic rock group Leaves’ Eyes who are well noted for their albums inspired, not only by nature but, by legends of ancient history and mythology. Leaves’ Eyes comprise ex Theatre of Tragedy vocalist Liv Kristine who is supported by Alexander Krull (vocals) Thorsten Bauer (guitar, bass), Sander vander Meer (guitar) and Felix Born (drums), who are all members of the band Atrocity. The band’s first release was 2004’s Lovelorn, a concept album filled with mermaids, love and tragedy. This was followed in 2005 by the Leif Eriksson inspired Vinland Saga and 2009’s Njord which, literally, put the listener aboard the Viking’s journeys across the world. In 2011 Leaves’ Eyes released Meredead where folk instrumentation, thrilling heaviness and classic orchestration were used to invoke a captivating mysticism of past cultures.
2013 sees the release of Leaves’ Eyes most ambitious album to date, Symphonies of the Night combines all the brilliance of their previous releases to tell the stories of eleven heroines from breathtaking legends and the history books. Clad in a perfect sound featuring a real orchestra, choir, uilean pipes, Irish whistle, fiddle and dulcimer it produces a musical firework. Intrigued dear friend? Then read on.
This fantastical musical journey begins with our introduction to the lush singing voice of Liv Kristine as she gently introduces us to Hell to the Heavens, this is swept away by a crashing guitar riff and the growling counter vocals of Alexander Krull before we are feted by a classic operatic section that showcases the range of Liv’s voice, the hard edged guitar and lavish strings providing a nice backdrop. It is already evident that this is a polished performance combining elements of symphonic rock with a more operatic style, somewhat akin to Epica. The introduction of lighter, string backed, sections to contrast the harder edge of Krull’s growling and the heavy guitar is genius and I love the bombastic, operatic ending. The light tinkling of piano shouldered aside by another crunching riff and quality guitar announces Fading Earth, another heavenly vocal performance with a seriously catchy chorus adding to the air of quality that hangs all over this release. Epic drumming and a real driving edge to the riff wrapping up the whole package, one more quality slice of symphonic rock pie is accompanied by a super smooth solo that adds to the velvety feeling of class on show. Maid of Lorraine has a heavily Celtic inspired opening before the thunderous riff and great vocals take over, more of the beauty and beast counter vocals on show. The majestic, operatic vocal of Liv matched perfectly by the harder growling of Krull. It is a hard and heavy melting pot of strident guitar, thumping drums and bass and growling vocal that is always counterbalanced by the opulent melody of the female voice on show, the symphonic elements standing front and centre. A tribal drum melody accompanied by acoustic, folk heavy guitar and the dulcet tone of the tin whistle is a really striking introduction at the start of Galswintha, this runs for a while before the pace and tempo are lifted by a seriously cool guitar note, reminiscent of rocking Celtic bands. The beauty and the beast vocal combination takes over the song with that Celtic influence prominent in the background, it all combines perfectly to produce a classic, folk metal inspired track. This magical soundscape runs along at a serious pace before coming to a thunderous conclusion. A nice, sonorous bass is the lead into the title track Symphonies of the Night, laid back and low. The pared back vocal joins the mix before the foot is lifted of the brakes and off we go, Liv’s dulcet tones lifting in pitch and intensity as the guitar and keys break out to bring a sweeping and grandiose feel to the proceedings. The superb, catchy chorus complete with the operatic style of vocals really stands out. A grand, orchestral feel is central to Saint Cecilia, gentle, emotional vocals and urgent strings key to the atmospheric feel of the track. The complete absence of guitar, a gentle military feel to the drums and simple fiddle all contribute to what is a heartfelt softer contribution to the album.
Acoustic guitar accompanied by soft piano and gentle fiddle are the main constituents of the lead in to Hymn to the Lone Sands, this is soon cast aside by a great guitar run and growling vocals before we are treated to some quality interplay between the beauty and the beast vocals of Liv and Alexander. The whole track has a suitably bombastic feel to it with the urgent edge to the vocals, pounding drums and classy guitar runs backed by a vibrant fiddle. A seriously elegant solo just adds to the quality feel, especially when you get the twin guitars joining in to give us another epic track on what is, already, a beast of an album. The shortest track on the album, Angel and the Ghost, has a nice, gentle intro before that hard edged guitar kicks in with more of the mellifluous vocals, which rise up into the song. A nice orchestral section underpinning Liv’s spoken vocals precedes a short but very sweet solo followed by another interplay between Liv and Alexander and this little piece of musical delight is complete. Eleonore de Provence is introduced by a superior vocal that overlays a great string section and then things kick off with a mesmerising guitar riff that then backs up a complex vocal section comprising of Alexander’s growls interspersed with more of Liv’s smooth vocal sound. The sumptuous and grandiose feel that pervades the whole album is present in spades on this track leaving you breathless with the brilliance on show. There is a delightful break in the middle complete with quality orchestral ambience that builds up to an epic guitar solo before we are treated to more of that aura of musical excellence that is ever present, this fantastic song is a fitting centrepiece to this epic album. The delightfully pared back ballad Nightshade is a wonderful little slice of musical joy. It has a real enchanting feel to it complete with a captivating Celtic quality that backs the sensuous vocal performance that is central to the whole ambience of the song. There is no gentle introduction to final track Ophelia just a pounding riff overlaying the keyboards and thumping drums before things slow down a bit and a soft vocal narrative begins. Once more, we are treated to a near flawless piece of symphonic rock, you guys know I’m no lover of cookie monster vocals but, for some reason (maybe it’s the interplay with Liv’s beautiful operatic voice) on this album it even works for me. A nicely understated solo slides in with perfection and then the whole grandiose experience continues, perfectly judged, to a grand finale.
We, as authors, often say that something has hit us out of the blue, unexpectedly and without any prior knowledge. I can, truthfully, say that I had no idea what to expect with Symphonies of the Night and have been totally blown away by the brilliance of this release, a magnificently bombastic musical experience that weaves a fantastical storyline in your mind and leaves you breathless. I think Leaves’ Eyes have produced an album that can be classed as being at the pinnacle of its genre and I cannot see any reason why it should not be a massive success. I consider my soul nourished and my spirit stimulated and would seriously recommend a dose of Leaves’ Eyes latest to anyone.