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Leaves’ Eyes - King of Kings
Written by SC Staff   
Tuesday, 01 September 2015

Leaves’ Eyes-CD Review King of Kings
Review written by Max Levites & Justin Boyer

 

Kings of Kings 

 

 

CD Info
11 Tracks
AFM Records
English Lyrics
Max: 9.0/10
Justin: 8.5/10


With a new Leaves’ Eyes album on the horizon, it is the perfect time to have two reviewers from Sonic Cathedral weigh in with their different opinions about this new album. Even though Justin does not happen to be much of a fan of Leaves’ Eyes, he seems to agree with Max that this latest offering is hardly lackluster in the slightest. So before even reading further on, Leaves’ Eyes fans should be relieved to know that this latest offering entitled King of Kings lives up to its ambitious title.

Max:

To be honest, having been disappointed overall with the last one, I was a little nervous about a new Leaves’ Eyes album. I wasn’t sure whether Symphonies of the Night was a mere blip on the band’s otherwise stellar record, or an omen of things to come. Thankfully, the former turned out to be true, and Leaves’ Eyes have delivered another excellent album in the form of King of Kings.

Where their last effort was a bit over-ambitious and relied too heavily on bombast to make its point, King of Kings is more toned down and as a result sounds far more organic, like the band stopped trying so hard and just let the music flow. Don’t worry, though. There is still bombast aplenty, but it doesn’t sound as forced as some of the tracks on Symphonies. In fact, the album is actually quite fun, especially when it embraces its folky nature. “Swords in Rock,” the album’s closing track, actually sound like the most fun this band has had in a while with their music and would certainly make a fine addition to their live sets. We also see Liv using her normal singing voice more often, leaving the operatic register for when it has the most impact. The effect is overall more pleasant and, again, sounds less forced.

Thematically, the band goes back to their Viking roots both musically, rediscovering their folky side, and lyrically. Leaves’ Eyes is no stranger to concept albums, and this one is actually quite a personal one for Liv. The story follows the Harald Fairhair as he fights his way to become the first king of Norway, culminating in a final battle that took place in Liv’s birthplace of Hafrsfjord. Perhaps this musical and spiritual return to her roots is the reason the album sounds far more organic than the last. This is familiar territory for the band, yet the effect is still refreshing, and the album takes the best part of Leaves’ Eyes more recent musical ventures and combines them with old magic of the first two albums.

While this is no doubt an excellent album, I do wish the band would tone it down even further. What made Vinland Saga and Meredead so fantastic was that they took the time to slow down a bit every now and then. The band is exceptionally good at ballads, yet the closest thing to a ballad on King of Kings is the 9th track, “Haraldskvadi.” Even then it’s more of a folky interlude than a ballad. It would be nice if the album were to take a few breaks in between its more epic passages, excellent though they are.

Is this the best Leaves’ Eyes album so far? Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer Vinland Saga. However, I at least have reason to hope. Leaves’ Eyes are back in true form and this is an album I will certainly be listening to for quite a while.

Score: 9/10

Justin:

For some odd reason, the Scandinavian metal band Leaves’ Eyes’ most recent album King of Kings imbues, or floods, one’s musical senses with a rich current of multifarious musical elements without ever being anywhere near as overwhelming as their previous offerings. Remarkably, my very first impression, upon hearing this album for the very first time, was great relief that there seemed to be a focus and purpose with respects to the glut of bombast that this band has a tendency to overdo in two very equally unpleasant ways; they either go for complete and utter nebulous chaos in the form of over-the-top bombast or just unadulterated, purely silly camp with the way the bombast becomes silly or satirical (if it was intentional).

With regards to the camp, some of their past albums have come across as more cheesy than serious, or perhaps the band never really took their material so seriously that it became effectively banal and silly in effect. Well, I am glad to say that King of Kings manages to take the Viking warrior motif in stride, and it manages to delve deeper into the wider creative potential for their sound. In effect, they bring forth something more controlled in its musical reach. For once, their music has much greater appeal to me, as someone that has in the past been a very ambivalent listener to the two equally undesirable extremes of Leaves’ Eyes’ sound.

So I was pleasantly surprised with this most recent album of theirs, particularly upon listening to their second track on the album, titled “King of Kings.” It is easy to assume for any first-time listener that this song is the title track, for the album itself bears the same regal title. The song begins with an eerie music box, which made me think suddenly of the way the same type of moody, foreboding music box sound effect is utilized in the soundtrack of the second Pirates of the Caribbean film. In some ways, the music box is used for great effect as a great atmospheric lead-in of sorts that really grants the listener some inkling of the atmospheric mood that this album carries.

In many of the subsequent tracks in this album, this deceptively calm musical effect, a crafty use of subterfuge, then quickly explodes in a rich, though controlled storm of relentlessly rage-filled guitar chords, along with an incessantly pounding, almost thrashing percussive beat of the drums. These things are all used more wisely within this album unlike other Leaves’ Eye albums. Also, another great surprise with just this one track and other tracks was the marked improvement of Liv Kristine’s vocals. Being the lead vocalist for the band, her range was sometimes underused in past albums. And it is a great surprise that her sometimes muffled soprano notes in past albums are given a chance to have clearer vibrato and more sustained, meaningful notes. And “King of Kings” also makes effective use of the growling, which never becomes a cheap gimmick at any point in this album. It is used to really embolden the violent, primal side offered by the drums and guitar tracks for many of the songs throughout the album.

Other standout tracks, in addition to “King of Kings,” includes “Sacred Vow,” where the emotive power of Liv Kristine’s voice is given more ample opportunity to really shine. We often do not see this dimension of her voice in other albums, as it sometimes gets lost within the dissonance of either extreme bombast or a campy type of banal sound. Within “The Waking Eye,” we get an impressive showcasing of the keyboardists’ abilities, as the soothing piano riff is played right alongside the chaos of the fiercer instrumentals that quite literally feel embattled with the more moody piano pieces. There seems to be that type of strife reflected in all of their albums, reflecting the many dimensions evident within the Viking lifestyle, which was a life that could feel partially overwhelmed with gratuitous violence with some blossoming moments of peace even if it is often tempered with sorrow for the deceased lost in battles. This theme of Viking battles and the legacy of this culture that left an indelible impression upon Scandinavia are beautifully rendered at intervals in their past album, but this strong historical legacy left by this bygone culture seems even more pervasive and effectively portrayed within this album. I believe that this is mostly due again to a much stronger focus, as to the way each song never overstays its welcome, and they remain nonetheless engrossing and emotionally-impacting to the listener.

Closing out the album is the second-to-last track “Blazing Waters” that best encapsulates just how far this album has come, as compared with their past offerings. The song is essentially the closest metaphorical sensation one has to musically being assailed by a tidal wave of visceral chaos that feels purposeful and thrilling without ever encroaching on the distant shorelines of either extremes of their sound in past offerings. It is almost an ironic feat of moderation in some sense, though it really never reaches the point of becoming nauseating or pure anathema to the listener. Liv Kristine’s voice, in particular blazes with a fierce, though controlled angelic power that is bewitching to the listener, and strangely placating in the midst of so much stormy rage as offered by the fierce growls and thick layer of violent guitar chords and fierce percussion clashing. It is a worthy, rewarding bombastic piece that has an overall point and it never devolves into mindless excess during the whole of its seven minute length

Even though I really enjoyed this album for the most part as compared with their past albums, I still find the histrionics of Leaves’ Eyes’ lyrics, while poetic, largely unappealing for some odd reason that I cannot quite pin down. I had no real, sincere interest in their past endeavors, so even having the strong desire to return to listen to this album marks this as a very strong effort from this band. I look forward to where their sound will progress from this point forward. King of Kings is certainly the first album of theirs, where I am finally taking this band seriously.

Score: 8.5/10

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