This autumn after two-year gap the German/British band Leaves’ Eyes has presented their eighth full-length album “The Last Viking” in a long-term partnership with a German label AFM. Leaves’ Eyes from the first days has chosen for their lyrical themes the Nordic culture, and “The Last Viking” tells the story of the king of Norway Harald Hardrada, whose life was eventful, vivid and full of dangers. To match Harald’s adventures the music follows in their steps – epic, cheerful and driven, but the cover art completes the whole image with the Scandinavian mythology and battle scenes.
Leaves’ Eyes needs no further introduction, the band was created 17 years ago by the mastermind of Atrocity Alexander Krull and singer of Theatre of Tragedy Liv Kristine, but the remaining members of Atrocity completed the full-fledged band. Atrocity is a truly unique phenomenon on the metal scene, they have started from primitive and heavy genres, but soon they’ve found a path to more individualistic stylistic experimentations, making themselves one of the emblematic German metal bands. But Theatre of Tragedy has generated a whole trend in the gothic scene, before emerging themselves in brave electronic explorations. Seemingly, with this kind of experience and miraculous line-up, how unusual and striking Leaves’ Eyes should have turned out, but alas, they’ve chosen to play generic symphonic metal with a slight touch of folk music. And after the departure of Liv (or her actual firing), the Finnish singer Elina Siirala has replaced her, successively integrating into the band with her beautiful trained voice and charismatic confidence, but still the fans desperately miss the angelic voice of Liv Kristine, because her singing was like a shining beacon to fatigued wayfarers.
Actually, there’s nothing left of gothic mysteriousness on their last records, especially after the departure of Liv Kristine, and now their principal accent is based on symphonic epicness and smart embedding of female voice. The attempts to flirt with ethnic elements, accentuating the Viking theme are definitely praiseworthy, because these folk metal songs (“Chain of the Golden Horn”, “War of Kings” and “Varangians”) are the strongest and the catchiest. The gorgeous orchestral arrangements and the use of non-traditional instruments like mandolin, horn and violin can also count as the real highlights. These elements truly diversify this long and smooth record, but that’s not enough to find something exceeding the average level of hundreds of similar symphonic metal albums.
The most part of the songs is performed in mid-tempo, but the jolliest and folkish songs sound far more lively and rapid, but “The Last Viking” also offers more pensive and slow compositions, like the half-ballad “Break into the Sky of Aeon”. Typical heavy metal instrumental breaks and chords are memorable and easy to catch up, thanks to the recognizable guitar style of Thorsten Bauer. His guitar skillfulness is one of the highlights on this album, together with academic soprano of Elina. Speaking about the singing techniques, the current songstress of Visions of Atlantis Clémentine Delauney has adorned the last year hit “Black Butterfly”. The relatable growling of Mr. Krull also added some familiar distinctiveness, but in a graduated and measured way. The minimalistic approach is obtained by the use of ritualistic drum solos (“Death of a King”, “War of Kings” and “Two Kings One Realm”), but the romantic ambience is provided by the tender violin (“Black Butterfly” and “For Victory”). The longest and craziest song is the title track “The Last Viking”; it is full of surprises, like the oriental music, disjunctive time signatures, occult elements and acoustic passages. And if there were more such pertinent experimentations, the length (more than one hour) of the album could be truly justified and even welcomed.
Female fronted symphonic metal isn’t experiencing its prime time right now, Leaves’ Eyes managed to latch on the scene more than 15 years ago, thanks to innovative musical vision and star line-up. But now they follow their own rules, plunging themselves more and more into the world of clichés, forgetting about originality and thinking only about static perfectionism. Only the Nordic theme makes them exceptional, but they follow it meticulously for 17 years, so despite the high-quality material and professional attitude, they begin to repeat themselves stronger with every new record.
Release date: October 23, 2020
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