Hailing from British Columbia, Canada, symphonic metal singer Leah McHenry aka LEAH draws inspiration from the metal genre and combines that with influences from Celtic and world music artists such as Enya, Clannad and Loreena McKennitt. Her debut self-released album Of Earth & Angels received international critical acclaim, landing her on “The Best Symphonic Metal Album” Metalstorm Awards for 2012. When her debut album (and subsequent EP Otherworlds) was released I gave it a listen but for some reason it never connected with me. When the time came to create her sophomore release, LEAH decided to go the route of crowdfunding to raise money for her to record and release the new album to her tens of thousands of fans. The IndieGoGo campaign was a huge success, surpassing her $25,000 goal. The new album Kings & Queens enlists high caliber metal musicians such as Timo Somers (who also produced the album) and Sander Zoer of Delain, and Barend Courbois of Blind Guardian and Vengeance, the new album is absolutely the heaviest of all her releases.
The album is filled with chugging metal riffs, soaring serene vocals, Celtic, Middle Eastern, and New-Age soundscapes. The compositions are epic and heavy and bordering on progressive metal at times. LEAH has a spectacular vocal ability that conveys passion, serenity, and power. Being a fan of Loreena McKennitt, I can see why people tend to draw comparisons between McKennitt and LEAH. Both vocalists have mesmerizing, ethereal vocal tones that envelop the listener in a world of myth and mysticism.
I am also curious as to how the scope and enormity of these songs would work in a live setting, as LEAH has yet to perform her material in front of a live audience, only time will tell if this will happen but I would love to see this happen.
Aside from LEAH’s vocals, guitarist Timo Somers gets his share of the spotlight with fantastic guitar work and spectacular soloing abilities. The production on the album is top notch and the songs are well constructed to compliment Leah’s vocals.
While I won’t do a track by track rundown of every song on the album, I will offer my opinions on my favorite tracks. The album kicks off in fine fashion with Arcadia where Leah sounds like a metalized Enya, complete with Gregorian-like chanting over galloping heavy rhythm guitars. The next song Save The World has a Delain-esque quality, which should come as no surprise since Somers and Zoer are involved. Enter The Highlands is a Celtic Metal masterpiece that burns with intensity and aggression while Leah’s vocals glide masterfully with grace and passion. In certain areas of the song I am reminded of the Anneke-era of The Gathering (particularly Nighttime Birds), which is a compliment of the highest order.
The albums most progressive sounding track, Alpha et Omega is filled with Celtic and Middle-Eastern melodies and a driving guitar rhythm.Leah’s vocals take an understated approach on This Present Darkness, the vocal melodies during the verses oddly reminding me of Madonna’s Live To Tell for some reason.
The highlight of the album for me is Palace of Dreams, with its heavy guitar rhythms, machine gun double bass drumming, and piano driven verses with a Middle-Eastern flair. The song is an epic journey with twists and turns that will capture the listener and transport them into a magical realm. Somers shines during his guitar solo sections as the song takes the listener on a journey through peaks and valleys to an epic and stunning conclusion.
The albums final track Siuil A Run, is a cover of a traditional Irish folk tune and ends the album on a beautiful note.
While Kings & Queens is an enjoyable album, it does take patience on the part of the listener to get through the album in a single listen due to its length of 14 songs over 78 minutes. While I believe that it’s the artists right to un-edited self-expression, I would imagine that the album would feel more streamlined and cohesive if it was shorter by two or three tracks. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the album and would recommend it to fans of Symphonic metal bands such as Nightwish, Delain and Leaves Eyes, or for the more adventurous metal fan that enjoys Celtic music like Loreena McKennitt and Enya.