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Leaves’ Eyes - Symphonies of the Night
Written by Max Levites   
Saturday, 09 November 2013

Leaves’ Eyes - CD Review
Symphonies of the Night
Leaves' Eyes - Symphones of the Night

A new Leaves’ Eyes album is always something to get excited about, and thus far, I’ve never not enjoyed one of this very talented band’s records. In fact, I gave their previous effort, Meredead, a perfect score in my review! The bar being set so high, I didn’t know what to expect from Leaves’ Eyes this time around. Would the band try something new, or stick to their guns? Would they continue becoming more and more folky, or go back to their roots? How could it possibly be better than Meredead?

Symphonies of the Night starts off in a very promising way. “Hell to the Heavens” is easily one of the heaviest and most bombastic songs the band has ever done. Though bombast is something this band has never lacked, here they take it to new levels. Liv switches flawlessly from her sweet crooning to a soaring operatic vocal backed by Alex’s deep growls, which for once don’t seem entirely out of place as has been the case on a few of the band’s past releases and almost completely absent from Meredead. The song is very representative of the rest of this release, as this--dare I say it-- epic trend continues throughout the album. “Maid of Lorraine” and “Galswintha” are full of excellent and bombastic symphonic passages, as is “Hymn to the Lone Sands.” These songs are actually some of the best symphonic metal tracks I’ve heard in years, and also bring a new-found heaviness to this band that has somewhat played down the metal elements in past releases.

However, epic does not always mean good, unfortunately, and the prevalence of bombast on this album can get a bit excessive. A good example is the title track, “Symphony of the Night”. It’s the 5th track on the album, at which point we still haven’t had a significant break from Leaves’ Eyes new desire to be as bombastic as some of their symphonic metal counterparts. It becomes all the more obvious when the song itself isn’t as good as it could be. The transitions are awkward, as are some of the melodies, and though there are some high points, the song doesn’t live up to its counterparts on the album and is made all the worse for it. The same can be said of “Angel and the Ghost” and “Eleanor of Provence,” the latter not being completely terrible but almost entirely forgettable, despite some nice old-school gothic metal touches. Liv, though a great singer, sometimes over-uses her operatic register and the whole effect turns out to be a little excessive. “Angel and the Ghost” had the potential to be great, and if the band had just restrained themselves a bit, toned down the symphonics and operatics just a touch, this could’ve been a fantastic track. Instead, when the next track, “Nightshade” begins, one almost wonders when the orchestra and blast beats will come in. They never do, thankfully, and that particular track, though a bit lacklustre, is a welcome break from the excesses of some of its companions. “Saint Cecilia” serves the same purpose, but this song is actually quite pleasant, a beautiful ode to the patron saint of music the lyrics describe.

The folk elements, so prevalent on the previous release, are played down on this album, but where they show up, they are used to great effect. “Galswintha” begins with procession-like drums and features folky guitars and flutes that really give the song a medieval atmosphere to fit with its story (more on that later!). Uilleann pipes, tin whistles, dulcimers, and all sorts of instruments are smartly used to give the songs just the right amount of atmosphere without sounding cheesy, as folk metal bands are sometimes wont to do. “Hymn to the Lone Sands” even features pipes floating atop one of its heaviest passages, creating a very interesting juxtaposition. The contrast between hard and soft is generally a common feature of symphonic metal bands, but Leaves’ Eyes have managed to perfectly balance heavy and light elements on this album, Liv and Alex’s voices contrasting one another like they never have before as well as some excellent transitions between acoustic passages and heavy guitar riffs.

Though there is much new on this album, there are definitely a few references to some of the band’s older material. “Fading Earth” is reminiscent of some of Njord’s more rock-inspired moments, while the closer “Ophelia” hearkens back all the way to Lovelorn, and provides some much-needed variety to the record.

Leaves’ Eyes have always included some historical elements in their music, especially since Vinland Saga, and though they’ve moved away from the viking themes so prevalent in previous releases, Symphonies of the Night pays tribute to some of history and fiction’s most fascinating women, from Hamlet’s tragic princess Ophelia to Joan of Arc. Having myself recently written an extended (and rather unorthodox) research paper on the visigothic princess Brunhilda and her unfortunate experiences with the Merovingian dynasty, I was extremely excited to hear “Galswintha,” which tells the story of Brunhilda’s sister, married off to the cruel King Chilperic and strangled by his jealous mistress Fredegund (who some say is the original inspiration for the “evil stepmother” archetype). I urge you, wonderful readers, to research their story, arguably one of the most fascinating and bloody tales in European history, full of covert love affairs, backstabbing, incest, and all types of murder.

History nerd-gasm aside, Symphonies of the Night has a lot to offer both fans of Leaves’ Eyes and symphonic metal in general. Though some tracks miss the mark, or are perhaps entirely forgettable, the highs on this album are some of the best tracks in Leaves’ Eyes’ now-extensive repertoire. The album shows that the band is able to move forward and continue tweaking and evolving their sound, more-or-less successfully. The more bombastic and heavy they become, however, the more I begin to miss the sweet melodies and beautiful ballads of Vinland Saga, something I think set Leaves’ Eyes very much apart from other bands in the genre. Though I wouldn’t say Symphonies of the Night is the band’s best record to date, knowing my tendency to vastly change my opinions on Leaves’ Eyes albums for better or for worse the more I listen to them, there is a very real chance this album just needs some more time to grow on me, so it’s definitely worth giving it a few spins before making a final judgement.

P.S. Dear Leaves’ Eyes, if you were to do a whole album about Brunhilda and the Merovingians, that would make me the happiest man on earth. Also, it’ll make an amazing record. Just a thought...

8 / 10

Standout tracks: “Hell to the Heavens” “Maid of Lorraine” “Galswintha” “Saint Cecilia” “Hymn to the Lone Sands” and “Ophelia.”

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