Leaves’ Eyes – Sign of the Dragonhead (2018)

LeavesEyes_SignDragonhead3.5 out of 5 Stars!

One thing I can say about Leaves’ Eyes—despite the occasional lineup changes through the years, the group possesses an unwavering style, and one that is moderately enjoyable, for the most part. This staunch consistency, however, is not without its problems, which I’ll address below, yet on a positive note, it makes the group instantly recognizable. High production standards, complex song arrangements, often-bombastic orchestrations with choirs and the inclusion of whistles, fiddles, bagpipes, and archaic instruments such as nyckelharpas, and stellar musicianship grace each new Leaves’ Eyes’s release, thus allowing fans to know exactly what they will be getting without even having to sample tracks before making the purchase.

Yet when it comes to Sign of the Dragonhead, there is one notable difference, one that had the power to seriously alter the band’s style since the previous album (2015’s King of Kings), and that’s the addition of a new vocalist. In general, a band altering a lead singer is always risky business. I mean, no one generally notices whenever a keyboardist, drummer, bassist, or guitarist is replaced in most groups, unless that particular musician is so utterly unique as to have a trademarked sound. But when a singer, the very voice of the band, changes from one album to the next? Well, things can (and often do) take a drastic turn when it comes to an act’s overall sound. Especially—as in the case of Leaves’ Eyes—a highly recognizable sound, thanks in no small part to singer Liv Kristine, who’d fronted the group since it burst onto the scene in 2004.

Now, although vocalist Elina Siirala is not entirely “new” (having already appeared on the group’s 2016 EP Fires in the North) she’s new to me since I hadn’t heard that particular release. So, with Sign of the Dragonhead being my first exposure to Ms. Siirala voice, I am happy to report that her range, tonal quality, and manner of delivery are in keeping with what I’ve come to expect on all Leaves’ Eyes’s albums. In fact, had I not known prior to hearing this album about the change in lead singers, I might not have noticed anything different. So bravo to the band members for selecting a gifted vocalist who could jump aboard ship (a Viking vessel, no doubt) without causing any serious disturbances in the otherwise calm and consistent waters.

And as always, the material the band chose to record for this new album is often spirited, typically melodic, and generally better than numerous other female-fronted groups in this genre, with several tracks going above and beyond. For me, a handful of tunes really stood out, their choruses and riffs proving happily memorable and annoyingly repeating in my head at the oddest of times.

In my estimation, “Riders on the Wind” is probably one of the finest songs the band has recorded since its inception, with Siirala’s melody lines floating atop both full and rich instrumentation and a driving and head-bopping rhythm. The tune also includes all the bells and whistles (literally) associated with the group’s sound—grand orchestrations and choirs and all those odd instruments the band adores employing, perfectly encapsulating—in the proverbial nutshell—the band’s overall style in the space of only four minutes. Actually, a similar state of musical affairs as described above revolve around “Jomsborg,” “Shadows in the Night,” “Across the Sea,” and the masterful “Sign of the Dragonhead,” all tracks representing everything the band is about within three to four minute bursts, with the title tune especially sounding even more imposing and ostentatious, if that were even possible.

Thankfully, the band successfully toys with dynamics as well, merging both lighter (acoustic piano and guitar) instrumentation with the typical “metallic” grandiosity on the more intricate “Like A Mountain” or the gentler “Fairer Than the Sun,” which add welcomed breathing space to the sometimes-overblown majesty of the other surrounding tracks.

Now, with all that said, there are, however, a few tracks that don’t quite work for me. For instance, the instrumental “And Waves” is basically a celebration of all things Celtic that I feel goes on, even at three minutes, a bit too long. Other tunes don’t ring entirely triumphant as well, such as “Völva,” with a chorus that simply doesn’t grab me, and “Fires in the North,” that seems a tad disjointed with different sections linked together and varying melody lines not quite gelling into anything cohesive or memorable.

Moreover, the album’s closer, the lengthier and ambitious “Waves of Euphoria,” suffers from an entirely different dilemma—and this is one of those negative consistency issues I alluded to in the opening paragraph—the continual inclusion (and an unnecessary one for Leaves’ Eyes and any other band that tragically includes them) of the horrific “grunts and growls” male vocals. Sorry, but these completely unmelodious and indiscernible explosions of demonic vomit simply annoy me to no end and always lessen the enjoyability factor of most tracks on which they appear, especially when they take center stage, which happens on this otherwise engaging epic. If I wanted to hear orcs spewing nonsensical words at me in some guttural foreign language I’d rather replay The Lord of the Rings trilogy, thank you very much.

This last factor played a large part in not only forcing me to instantly lower the volume on my stereo, but also to lower my overall rating of the album. Additionally—and back to the consistency issue again—even though fans of Leaves’ Eyes will likely not be disappointed at this collection of tunes (or even those hellish male vocals) I wonder just how many new followers the band will muster with this release. Sorry to say, but even though most of the tunes are commendable and the musicians certainly know how to write some engaging melodies—and can orchestrate the pants off of many other groups in the Symphonic/Gothic Metal genre—I can’t help feeling that I’ve heard it all before on previous albums by the band. Yes, there is a high level of consistency in the group’s overall sound, and even in the Viking-inspired lyrics, but this begs the question as to whether Leaves’ Eyes is moving forward at all, or is the band simply parroting previous material?

These days, I can’t help feeling it’s mostly the latter since everything does seem a bit too samey from one album to the next. Yes, it’s enjoyable material for the most part, but unfortunately, it’s also nothing truly new.

Album Currently Not Available At Amazon
To Be Released 01/12/18

Leaves’ Eyes – Njord (2009)

LeavesEyes_Njord3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Years ago, when I first discovered groups such as Nightwish, After Forever, and Within Temptation—female-fronted Symphonic/Gothic Metal groups—I also happily stumbled upon Leaves’ Eyes from Germany.

Singer Liv Kristine has a magnificent range and style of delivery. More rock-oriented as opposed to operatic in overall nature, her voice nevertheless soars above the often-grand and occasionally folksy musical arrangements like a songbird in flight. My only pet peeve about this group—the same pet peeve I have with Epica and several other bands in this genre—and the reason I don’t typically rate the band’s releases higher on my scale, is the cheesy, jarring, and annoying-as-hell insertion of undecipherable “growling/beast” male vocals the band continues to employ, which basically destroy much of the beauty that is otherwise to be found on each album.

With that being said, Njord, the band’s third full-length release, still has its moments of greatness, such as on the grand and majestic opening title track, as well as the heavily symphonic compositions “Take the Devil in Me,” “Northbound,” “Emerald Island,” and the lengthy, multi-part “Froya’s Theme.” The band’s lush and dramatic rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” is also quite special. And despite the silly “beast vocal” garbage that pops up on too many tracks, the album can thankfully be savored without too much difficulty.

But a final note to all Symphonic Metal groups: Please, PLEASE, if you truly need to use these male “growling/beast” vocals to satisfy some deep-seated craving of which I am unaware, I beg of you to do so sparingly and give us fans of actual music a break from this unnecessary and insufferable noise. (And my apologies to anyone who disagrees with me on this point, but that’s just my opinion.)

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The Shadow Theory – Behind the Black Veil (2010)

ShadowTheory_BlackVeil4 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 2010, I heard about The Shadow Theory, a semi-supergroup including bassist Kristoffer Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), drummer Johanne James (Threshold), guitarist Arne Schuppner (Complex 7), vocalist Buddy “Devon Graves” Lackey (Psychotic Waltz/Deadsoul Tribe), and unknown keyboardist Demi Scott. Therefore, I eagerly snatched up Behind the Black Veil, the multi-national band’s debut album, anticipating a high level of musicianship, yet I didn’t know quite what to expect regarding the music itself and simply wished for the best.

It turns out, the band, while playing a cross between savage Heavy Metal and Folk Metal, with Progressive and Symphonic Metal elements thrown into the mix, sounds rather unique at times. Indeed, imagine a band such as Jethro Tull incorporating a sinister Doom Metal atmosphere into its style, and that’s a fairly apt description of some of the material on offer here. Plus, the addition of Lackey’s occasional flute insertions, acoustic guitar sprinkled throughout, and even a background orchestra on various tracks, just contributes to the illusion.

The song “Selebrate” [sic] is where the Tull influence is in abundance, since the song sounds as if it could have come from a heavier version of the Aqualung, War Child, or Benefit albums. Moreover, the opening track “I Open Up My Eyes,” as well as the bombastic “A Symphony of Shadows,” the eerie “The Black Cradle,” and the atmospheric “A Candle in the Gallery,” are interspersed with Lackey’s flute passages, so again, Tull immediately springs to mind, although one of a dark, thrashy, sinister, and even psychotic nature (just take a gander at the cover art, which mirrors the musical atmosphere). Although Lackey doesn’t sound like Ian Anderson for the most part, there are occasions where some effects are thrown onto his voice and, once again, guess which band comes to mind?—yep, you guessed it, Jethro Tull. And if that wasn’t enough, on the version of the album I have, there’s also a twelfth bonus track of, none other than, Tull’s “Sweet Dreams.” So there!

Regardless, The Shadow Theory is unique if only for the fact that I can’t think of any other “heavy” band that’s so liberally influenced by such a generally “non-heavy” band as Jethro Tull. Of course, other tunes or passages occasionally bring to mind various and diverse Prog-Metal, Doom Metal, or even Stoner Metal groups such as Landskap, Black Symphony, Savage Circus, Orne, and even Pain Of Salvation (no shock there, considering Gildenlöw’s presence), so please don’t be deceived by my “Tull-heavy” review. Nevertheless, if you like the idea of a creepy Prog-Metal version of Tull, with numerous quirky parts included, then you’ll probably enjoy the music on offer here.

Sadly, considering all the years that have passed since the debut’s release, and also that Gildenlöw is now working with For All We Know, it seems likely that Behind the Black Veil may be The Shadow Theory’s sole album. Although I would certainly welcome additional material, I’m unsure if the talented group is still in existence or is now only a memory.


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Nightwish – An Overview


Albums In My Collection

– Angels Fall First
– Century Child
– Dark Passion Play
– End Of The Era
– Endless Forms Most Beautiful
– Imaginaerum
– Oceanborn
– Once
– Wishmaster

An Overview

One of the best female-fronted bands, not only in this genre/style, but of all time…although these days the females seem to change quite often. Nevertheless, each of the gals who has fronted this band has better than average talent and is each, in her own right, unique and instantly identifiable.

Tarja Turunen, the first and the longest reigning (thus far) of the three vocalists, is perhaps–at least to me–the singer who best “fits” the overall Nightwish sound and “image.” Not only did she contribute her unique style to the band’s output for the first ten years of their existence, but she is probably the singer who most inspired the “ultimate sound” that so many other bands adopting a similar style have most attempted to duplicate through the years. The band undoubtedly hit their most successful period with Tarja fronting, and will most likely (should they ever break up) be the singer most “known” within the band.

Tarja’s replacement for two albums (one damned good–Dark Passion Play–and the other release, considered way below average–Imaginaerum) was Anette Olson. Thankfully or horribly (depending on which Nightwish fan you ask) she did not attempt to duplicate Tarja’s style, but contributed her own brand of vocals that, for better or worse, placed another “identifiable stamp” on the band. In my opinion, Anette’s contribution to Nighwish was generally successful, and I liked much of what she did. Certainly the girl has talent galore, but the question remains as to whether she was actually “appropriate” for a band of this style since her vocals might have been better suited for a band with a more “pop” direction. Nevertheless, Anette did her job, and probably faced one of the biggest fan-backlashes in music history because some Tarja fans can get quite venomous. Be that as it may, Anette recently decided to leave the band (or was she pushed out?…we may never know the full truth). I wish her luck, and she deserves success in her own right.

And now, another singer has stepped in to the fill the front-girl shoes, albeit temporarily…Floor Jansen, formerly of After Forever (an excellent act!) and currently with ReVamp (another excellent act!). Anyway, Floor is one of my FAVORITE female vocalists, her style unique and her spot-on, robust delivery nothing short of spine-tingling. I must say, I’m seriously torn between the idea of Floor becoming the permanent replacement for Anette. Initially, when I learned that Tarja had left the band back in 2006, I immediately wished for Floor to become her replacement. Her voice is stellar yet different, but not too different from Tarja’s that the change in singers would be too jarring for longtime fans of the band. She was (to me) the OBVIOUS replacement, and for all I know, she might have been offered the opportunity. But the timing of Tarja’s departure from Nightwish (at their high-water mark) and Floor’s non-availability proved wretchedly bad, with After Forever still kicking ass (also producing their high-water mark album) and not breaking up until just after Nighwish had already selected Anette. And now, with ReVamp still an active band (from whom I’ve been patiently awaiting another album, damn it) I’m not sure how I feel about Floor joining Nightwish on a permanent basis. She definitely “fits” the style of the music, and I can picture her successfully contributing to some more powerful albums, but what would happen to ReVamp should this occur? Who knows, which is the reason for my floundering.

Regardless, Floor is a terrific (temporary) addition to the band, and should Nightwish eventually ask her to join them, I will (more likely than not) welcome her with open and enthusiastic arms. (An update to my original overview, which was written several years ago: Nightwish has indeed roped Floor into joining them as their new vocalist and have released their first album with her at the helm, Endless Forms Most Beautiful.)

The bottom line, though, whether you’re a fan of Tarja’s, Anette’s, or Floor’s, is that Nightwish has set a high standard for Female-Fronted Symphonic Metal, has inspired hundreds if not thousands of “wannabe” bands, and has generated album after album of high-quality material. If you haven’t checked them out in the past, do so now…before they change singers yet again…

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Arven – Music Of Light (2011)

Arven_MusicLight3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Germany’s Arven is a band of mostly females (except for the drummer). After hearing only a few tracks on Music of Light—the band’s debut album—I realized Arven had strong potential when it came to its songwriting. The band’s musicianship proved quite adept, and the singer capably handles melodies both forceful and mellow.

Although I originally expected Arven’s music to be nothing more than a clone of other Symphonic/Gothic Metal female-led bands such as Nightwish or After Forever, I quickly discovered the band is somewhat different, adding both medieval and folk influences into its overall sound, and the vocals are not overly operatic either (although on some tracks they do possess that “operatic falsetto” quality, though not in abundance), but are more rock-oriented. I also enjoyed the prominent use of atypical instruments, such as flute, or violin/fiddle, on some of the tracks, so again, the group delivers more than the standard fare, to my relief and admiration.

I’m unsure if Arven is still together, since the second album was released back in 2013, but I do hope the group hasn’t fallen apart like so many others. The world can always use more talented acts with skillful females at the helm.

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