Review: Leaves’ Eyes: The Catalogue

Review by Brian Kelman
© Ethereal Metal Webzine
10/12/2015

On a miserable rainy Saturday morning in August of 2012 I
typed in my search bar ‘symphonic metal bands’. One click later I started a list
of what ended up being about two dozen of them. I bookmarked their official web
sites and Wikipedia articles (especially for the discography section) and
copied out an album list for each to Notepad. After a little reading I chose
Leaves’ Eyes to start with and sampled their songs online. Liking what I heard
I bought an album (Njord) from Amazon.ca and it arrived the following week. As
it turned out, they have become my most listened to artists after Tarja.

Leaves’ Eyes is a Norwegian-German Metal Band formed in 2003
by Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull (from Stavanger, Norway and former singer of
Theatre of Tragedy), and the entire line-up of Atrocity, led by Liv’s husband
Alexander Krull (from Ludwigsburg, Germany). In time, Liv and Alexander have
been able to create a band that evolved beyond anything either had done before.
They have transitioned to Symphonic Metal from their original Gothic roots.
This was done by moving into a more melodic sound; a sound that has given the
songs of Leaves’ Eyes an ‘epic’ quality right from the beginning of their
formation. The guitar parts and riffs in particular provide a solid foundation
to build upon because they flow from one melody to the next (thanks in large
part to the talent of one of the main songwriters for the band Thorsten Bauer
on guitar and bass). Building upon brutal heavy metal deeply tuned guitars,
bass and drums are the contrasts and complimentary features of choirs and
classical, folk and acoustic instruments Leaves’ Eyes is a band that has, by
their third album, produced a fuller symphonic and folk sound into their metal
repertoire that compliments the rest of the instruments instead of overwhelming
them.

Liv does not possess the vocal power to blow the roof off a
building like Tarja and others in this sub-genre. Although her vocal ability
has increased in strength, power and range with each release Liv’s vocals are
still delivered in a beautiful yet more delicate manner. This is an observation
rather than a criticism per se. What Liv possesses in abundance is the ability
to create an atmosphere that is thoroughly enchanting. The angelic vocals of
Liv are backed up by the ‘beastly’ growls from Alexander, identified under the
vocal style as “beauty and the beast”; a style she helped pioneer with
Theatre of Tragedy who first released an album where every song featured this
approach (their self-titled 1995 album). Alexander’s harsh vocals are a
poignant counterpoint and contrast to Liv’s. As a whole, Leaves’ Eyes has
developed the ability to create a larger than life epic ambiance that is second
to none in the sub-genre.

The lyrics of Leaves’ Eyes, written by Liv, have many
inspirations: her personality, birthplace (especially Norwegian nature and the
sea), as well as literary and historical influences (in particular Nordic
mythology, the Viking Sagas and Liv’s degree in English and German). Taken
together she writes concept albums revolving around particular themes concerned
with the Viking Age: the Sagas and legends of Norse history/mythology as well
as punctuated by the love of the rugged beauty of nature found in Liv’s native
land. Most impressive is Liv’s ability to lyrically make larger than life
mythic and historical characters step out of her imagination and make them
real.

All the albums and EP’s are primarily produced, mixed, and
mastered in their own studio Mastersound Studio by Alexander Krull (with
support credits to Liv and Thorsten). Alexander is a master of arrangements
(ie. he arranges the drum tracks for the album, and those of the Nordic and
symphonic elements). He is also a master of production. The production work on
each and every album is exceptional despite an increase in the level of
complexity for each album. For example, on King of Kings the song Blazing
Waters contained 350 separate tracks to coordinate. Find out how he did in my
review of the album below.

Although only Liv, Alexander and Thorsten remain as the
original members, Leaves’ Eyes have never had any problem filling out the
lineup (for studio and live performances) with high quality musicians. The
result has been that they have never released a bad or subpar album.

To date, Leaves’ Eyes has released six studio concept
albums, one single, five EPs, and one live 2CD/2DVD set.

Albums List

Lovelorn (2004) 3.8/5

“I grew up by the sea…..” So begins Norwegian Love Song as
chapter I on Leaves’ Eyes first saga Lovelorn; a tale of a Sea Maid with a
sometimes haunting and melancholic atmosphere but always a melodic one.
Conceptually, Lovelorn celebrates the reawakening of nature in the Norwegian
spring, the sea and, by contrast, unfulfilled love of the sea maid. Did Liv
write Lovelorn because she was homesick for Norway? Perhaps; she had been
living in Germany with Alexander since 1996. Also, in the previous year she
learned she was fired from her ‘hometown’ band, Theatre of Tragedy, via email
and they posted the firing notice on the band’s website, too. Sound familiar?
Using music as a personal catharsis often turns into self-indulgent tripe, but
Lovelorn doesn’t come across as such.
Whatever the deep seated motives beyond those identified above, Lovelorn
is a very good debut album despite having more than the usual number of ballads
for a metal release. For a newly formed band’s whose relative ‘newness’ to
playing a style that was different from the usual of Atrocity and Theatre of
Tragedy, while keeping the Gothic feel of the latter, says a lot about the
experience and competent professionalism that all the musicians brought to the
creative process. The building blocks for the band’s evolution into what they
are today were skillfully laid down here. Song wise Norwegian Love Song, Tale
of the Sea Maid, For Amelie, Into Your Light (that included Liv’s sister Carmen
as a guest vocalist), Ocean’s Way, Temptation and the title track are notable
standouts.

Vinland Saga (2005) 4.0/5

“1000 years ago a Viking ship left Norway in the spring…..”
and so begins Leaves’ Eyes second saga Vinland Saga, released in 2005, and
inspired by the voyage of the Norse explorer Leif Erikson and his discovery of
Vinland (a.k.a. Newfoundland/America). Along with the historical fact of Leif
being blown off course for Greenland to eventually find Vinland, Liv was
inspired by her own experience of leaving her homeland. She has also mixed in
an element of romantic fiction. One of Leif’s crewmen was Tyrkir the German
(and with Liv’s husband being German) she created a romantic love story of him
leaving his wife behind. Liv displays superb skill in weaving this additional
thread within the greater context and the risk of coming across as sappy was
avoided. It really added a greater depth of atmosphere to the album as a whole.
The introductory title track Vinland Saga and Farewell Proud Men create an epic
atmosphere of optimistic hope, wonder and adventure. However, once the euphoria
of the great adventure wears off in time, much of the remainder of the album is
not presented in the chest thumping glory seeking death be damned perspective
one would expect from say Amon Amarth (which is a band that is a personal
favourite of mine so this is an observation not a criticism). Rather, it provides
plenty of room to weave within the historical context a thread to explore the
fear and longing of the explorers and the women they left behind; of Tyrkir’s
feeling of being lost in a small ship in a very large ocean and the worry of
his wife that her man won’t return home someday. Some notable favourite songs
are their first anthem Elegy, Leaves’ Eyes, New Found Land, Solemn Sea, The
Thorn and Twilight Sun. All things considered, Vinland Saga is a very tasty
slice of Viking melodic metal. Some fans and critics consider this album as
their favourite from the band.

We Came With the Northern Winds: En Saga I Belgia [Live-2CD
& 2DVD] (2009) 4.0/5

The first DVD features almost two hours of documentary about
the history of the band with in-depth interviews of the band members at home,
in studio and on tour. It is very informative and allows the viewer to see the
members of the band as real people. The second DVD contains live footage of a
Leaves’ Eyesconcert at Metal Female Voices Fest in Wieze, Belgium, on 20
October 2007. It shows Leaves’ Eyes as very dynamic and entertaining live act.
The two CDs replicate the concert soundtrack. The play list includes a fine
selection from their first two albums. One of the props on stage at the
Festival show included a Viking long ship. A very cool DVD/CD set.

Njord (2009) 4.8/5

“The God of Storms will you hear me…..” Complete with the
sound of water washing the shore, thundering drums and Nordic chanting so
begins Njord, the third saga by Leaves’ Eyes. Njörðr (Njord), a God among the
Vanir clan in Norse mythology and father of the deities Freyr and Freyja (or
Fröya), is associated with the sea, wind, storms at sea, and seafaring. Njord
has a much broader concept than its predecessors. Yet be prepared for another
journey through Nordic history and myth.

The lyrics are written in 8 languages (English, Middle-high
German, Middle English, Gaelic, Norwegian, Icelandic, French and one
“self-made” linguistic fictional phonetic sequence). The lyrics
mainly deal with characters from northern mythology (e.g. Njord, Fröya’s Theme,
and Ragnarok), or with places and historical events (e.g. Scarborough Fair,
Emerald Island, Irish Rain, Northbound and Les Champs de Lavande). Last, but
not least, My Destiny follows up anthem Elegyfrom Vinland Saga, plus Take the
Devil in Me and Through Our Veins are excellent metal staples. For the first
time the heavy metal guitar riffing foundation was enhanced by a full orchestra
(the Lingua Mortis Orchestra, Minsk, Belarus, directed by Vitor Smolski, the
now ex-Rage guitarist) and a choir (Al Dente Choir, Kleinbotwar, Germany,
directed by Veronika Messner). Also new are uilleann pipes and Irish whistles
(on the Scarborough Fair cover and Irish Rain). Leaves’ Eyes realized the
musical promise foretold in their first two albums: the integration of all the
musical elements that I detailed in the lead above has created the masterpiece
that is Njord. This has been my favourite album since I first listened to it.
Would their latest release surpass it?

Meredead (2011) 4.6/5

“I close my eyes forever/Forever and evermore/One lonesome
sigh a time between/Let the spirits in/Let my spirit sing…..” And so begins
Leaves’ Eyes fourth saga Meredead (‘dead by the sea’ or ‘sea death’) their most
ambitious production yet; an epic that expands the bands musical inspiration
into a more pronounced Celtic/Nordic folk influence. I have to admit that I did
not like the album at first because of the greater emphasis on the folk vibe.
But in time it grew on me and I have to say that if I’m in my favourite coffee
shop with my Walkman and my Kindle, it is my go to album to read by because of
the atmosphere that I originally had my doubts about. The uilleann pipes and
Irish whistles are back on select songs, but what threw me off at first was the
prominence of some other new instruments, a number of guest vocalists that
shared lead and backup vocals, and a lot of songs sung in Norwegian that
augmented the ubiquitous heavy metal guitar riffing foundation. Liv’s sister
Carmen guested on the epic Sigrlinn. Anette Guldbrandsen is a guest vocalist
for two traditional Norwegian folk songs, Kråkevisa (Crow’s Ballad) and Nystev
(New Stave) as well as for Veritas and Mine Taror e rei Grimme. Maite Itoiz
(Elfenthal) was a guest vocalist on Etain and Meredead and baroque guitar on
Tell-Tale Eyes (that also included John Kelly from Elfenthal providing vocals).
In addition, the music is seasoned with the nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle), a
Scandinavian folk instrument, a fiddle, and a flute for some songs. The
orchestra and choir remain the same from Njord, but Alexander’s vocals are used
rarely (Sigrlinn and clean vocals on Empty Horizon). Also included are more
straight-forward numbers like the cover of Mike Oldfield’s To France and Velvet
Heart. In time, I grew to appreciate how melodic the Norwegian language sounded
when sung despite having no clue as to what they were actually singing about.
Meredead is as intricate as it is varied but Leaves’ Eyes has hit upon the
right mix of classical, folk and metal.

Symphonies of the Night (2013) 4.2/5

Leaves’ Eyes fifth saga combines all the brilliance of their
previous releases and turns up the Gothic influences to tell the stories of
eleven heroines from the past, both historical (ie. Joan of Arc in Maid of
Lorraine, the murderess Visagoth Galswintha, Eleanor of Provance the Queen
consort of Henry III, and Saint Cecilia the patroness of musicians), and
fictional (Shakespeare’s Ophelia, the unnamed witch symbolizing persecution
through the ages in Hell To The Heavensand the adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le
Fanu’s Gothic novella ‘The Dark Blue’ with Laura’s seduction by the female
vampire Camilla in Symphonies Of The Night).

The album features the same orchestra, choir, uilleann
pipes, Irish whistles, fiddle and dulcimer. Like previous albums, Symphonies of
the Night features songs sung in different languages, including English, Middle
English, Norwegian, French and Irish. This album is heavier (ie. in terms of
sound, atmosphere and lyrical content) than Meredead and the beauty and the
beast vocal style are back in full force (ie. Maid of Lorraine is their best
song to date featuring this vocal trade off). Liv’s vocals have never been
stronger than on this CD. A few pointers from Elfenthal’s Maite Itoiz has
allowed Liv to access more power from within herself allowing her vocal reach
to evolve for the better. Because there are a couple of songs I’ve never been
able to get into (and I won’t name them here so as not to unduly influence you)
I’ve rated this a little lower than their previous two albums.

King of Kings (2015) 4.9/5

Leaves’ Eyes sixth epic saga King of Kings is historically
based and has a personal connection for Liv. Her birthplace, Hafrsfjord, was
the location of the final battle in the 9th Century (around 872) when Norway
was unified under one Viking King by Harald ‘Fairhair’ (b. 850 – d. 932). The
album is tightly focused on this historical figure’s life and lead up to the
epic battle and beyond. King of Kings is an album that does what Leaves’ Eyes
does best: paint pictures with an epic sound track that includes Nordic folk
instruments (ie. the nyckelharpa, uilleann pipes, flutes and whistles), big
choirs (the London Voices Ensemblewhose credits include: Star Wars, Lord of The
Rings, The Hobbit and Harry Potter etc.), big drums, a Viking choir, a big
orchestra recorded and directed by Victor Smolski (the Lingua Mortis Orchestra,
Minsk, Belarus, and also referred to as the White Russian Symphony Orchestra)
all built on the solid foundation of heavy metal guitar riffing. Liv’s vocals
are superb. She has given herself plenty of room to put her greater range and
power on full display. Two guest singers compliment Liv’s vocals perfectly:
Simone Simons (Epica) and Lindy Fay Hella (Wardruna-who collaborated with
Trevor Morris composing the music score for Season 2 of the Vikings series). As
one would expect for Leaves’ Eyes, the elements of Nordic music and the epic
power of metal and classical music come out very naturally on King of Kings.

Sweven leads off the album where the enchanting violin, pounding
drum beats, the Viking chant and the sung and spoken vocals creates an
atmosphere that takes us back in time to ‘witness’ the monumental event of the
birth of Harald Halvdansson. The Gods whisper that a great future king has been
born. The spoken part of Sweven is by Leon Krull. This leads to the title
track, King of Kings that gives voice to the prophecy about Harald. Orchestra,
choir, and heavy metal guitars crash the shore of our senses but leave room for
Liv’s soaring ‘beauty’ and Alexander’s guttural ‘beast’ vocals. The London
Voices combined with Liv provide the first spine tingling moment of King of
Kings. Expect more throughout. Halvdan the Black begins with a similar audio
sortie. Halvdan (known to ‘bring good seasons’) was Harald’s father who
belonged to the House of Yngling (Odin’s son’s line). It tells the story of his
untimely death the age of 40 when he and a mounted party attempted to cross a
lake they believed was frozen. It wasn’t. Legend has it that Halvdan’s body was
divided into four parts and buried in what are known as ‘Halvdan Mounds’. This
event thrust 10 year old Harald to the throne of Vestfold. The Waking Eye
returns to the prophetic atmosphere of envisioning his triumph of uniting
Norway in the only way he could: in battle. Check out the excellent videos on
YouTube for all three songs. Noteworthy is that Leon Krull stars as young
Harald and his father Alexander as the older Harald. The Viking ‘horde’s’ are
played by the 40 man Viking re-enactment group Vaerjaborg.

Feast of The Year and Vengeance Venom are superb
Nordic/Celtic numbers with pipes and whistles but also includes some really
excellent drumming and enthusiastic vocals. Within the context of the tale,
Harald’s defiant release of the Finn is worth remembering for later. Symphonic
metal returns with Sacred Vow. Harald fell in love with Gyda, the daughter of
King Eirik of Hordaland but she would only accept his marriage proposal if he
did one little thing: unite the kingdom under his rule. She doesn’t ask for
much does she? He took a ‘sacred vow’ not to cut his hair until he succeeded;
hence, the ‘hair’ moniker although it was more ‘Tanglehair’ than ‘Fairhair’ by
the Battle of Hafrsfjord. Edge of Steel, another heavy symphonic metal anthem
and features guest vocalist Simone Simons of Epica. It gets us girded for
battle along with a little help from the Finn. After the haunting lament of
Haraldskvaedi, named after a 9th century poem penned by Þorbjörn Hornklofi,
comes the album’s real gem: Blazing Waters. It is a seven minute epic that
takes you on a roller coaster ride of soft acoustics and gentle vocals to super
heavy guitars that turn it into a riffing juggernaut, death metal growls and
soaring vocals. The atmospheric beginning and ending to the song features guest
vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella from the Norwegian dark folk band Wardruna. Blazing
Waters steps out of imagination and becomes a vivid and real battle in the
mind’s eye. Closing out the album is a return to the Nordic vibe with Swords in
Rock. Inspired by a monument constructed long after the battle feature three
massive swords thrust into the bedrock at the site. Swords in Rock commemorate
Harald as a folk legend long after his reign. The acoustic version on Disc 2 of
the Deluxe Edition would not be out of place as a sing-along in any pub that
boasted Celtic/Nordic roots. Look for this song to be a sing along staple of
future Leaves’ Eyes live shows.

Two bonus tracks, one a ballad (Spellbound) and the other a
symphonic metal head banger (Trail of Blood), are nice bonuses to conclude the
album.

Last year when I reviewed Xandria Sacrificium I noted that
they had scaled the symphonic metal mountain all the way to the top.
Well…..Leaves’ Eyes has supplanted them at the summit with King of Kings. It
will take a mighty effort from the bands in the sub-genre to top this album!
Who’s up to the challenge? We shall see.

Single

Into Your Light (2004)

Released three months after Lovelorn, this EP includes three
versions of Into Your Light (album, radio edit and acoustic remix version) plus
the non-album song Leaves Whisper. Also included is a multimedia section
including screen saver.

EP’s

Elegy (2005)

Released a few weeks in advance of Vinland Saga, it includes
the single and album versions of Elegy. Nom-album tracks include: Senses
Capture, Winter’s Poem, and Mot Fjerne Land. Lastly, a demo version of Solemn
Sea is included.

Legend Land (2006)

Released a year after Vinland Saga, it includes the album
and extended versions of Legend Land. Non-album songs are: Skraelings, Viking’s
Word, The Crossing and Lyset. I consider this the best of the EP’s.

My Destiny (2009)

Released a month before Njord, it includes the album and
remix versions of My Destiny and the album version of Northbound. Non-album
tracks include The Battle of Maldon, Nine Wave Maidens and an acoustic version
of Scarborough Fair.

At Heaven’s End (2009)

This EP is a bonus CD included with the Njord Special Fan
Edition. All tracks are non-album and include some, but not all, of the tracks
on the My Destiny EP. The common non-album songs included are The Battle of
Maldon, the acoustic Scarborough Fair, Nine Wave Maidens and the My Destiny
remix. Additional non-album songs not on the My Destiny EP are: At Heaven’s
End, Angus and the Swan, and an acoustic Irish Rain. Also, there is a My
Destiny videoclip.

Melusine (2011)

Released a few days before Meredead, it includes non-album alternative
tracks previously released. Included are: a remastered The Battle of Maldon, a
sonic mix of To France, an acoustic Legend Land and an alternate version of
Tell-Tale Eyes. Melusine is a previously unreleased song in any version and was
also released as a video (but the video clip is not included on the EP).

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