Once a writer has reviewed a band, it’s standard practice for them to review any subsequent records that band releases. Unless, of course, AMG wrote the original review and is too busy masturbating over old Iron Maiden records to critique new music. As you will have noticed, this scenario arose just the other week, and that’s why it’s fallen to me to review Leaves’ Eyes‘ latest platter. In the interest of transparency I’ll admit up front that I had never listened to them prior to receiving the promo. Were I a professional writer in this situation, I would copy down some random band factoids from Wikipedia (formed 2003, features Liv “Theatre of Tragedy” Kristine plus Atrocity, sixth full-length) and pretend I already had a strong opinion of the group; however, rank amateur that I am, I went back through their discography and had a bit of a listen. So, judge the rest of my words with this is mind: I quite enjoyed the debut when they were like a more sultry Paradise Lost, but am less enamored by their more recent symphonic-styled output. As this seems to be the style they’ve settled into now, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for King of Kings.
Sure enough, after unnecessary intro “Sweven,” the title track confirms Leaves’ Eyes are staying firmly in Nightwish territory. One of the slower tracks on the album, it’s an odd choice for an opener and hardly gets the blood pumping with its clichéd chord progressions. Putting third track “Halvdan the Black” first makes more sense to me: it still sounds like a leftover from Once, but is much more energetic and has a great verse melody. These songs, along with “The Waking Eye” and “Sacred Vow,” are missing the folk influences that help distinguish Leaves‘ Eyes from the myriad other symphonic metal bands, and while Liv and co. do a decent enough Nightwish impression (and even venture back towards their gothic roots in “The Waking Eye”), they’re totally formulaic.
The remainder of the album is very folky in comparison and the contrast is welcome. The influences for these tracks are more diverse: “Vengeance Venom” and “Edge of Steel” (featuring Simone Simons) demonstrate what Eluveite or Turisas might sound like with Liv on vocals, the calmer “Haraldskvæði” belongs somewhere on the Hobbit soundtrack, and album closer “Swords in Rock” is a rousing three-minute romp that will go down a treat live. While these tracks are more diverse, the riffs and melodies are just as tired; I’ve heard most of the riffs and melodies on this album before.
This is the main problem with Leaves’ Eyes and, let’s face it, symphonic metal in general: they’ve been stuck in a creative rut for years and either don’t know how to get out or don’t want to as long as they keep selling. Even when they stray from the template with their folk leanings, they choose to play it safe by aping other successful folk-metal bands. It’s very slick and on first listen all good fun, but ultimately completely superficial and uncreative. Even the production – all warm synths, big choirs, dense guitars and a bucketload of compression – is generic.
I decided during my brief time with Leaves’ Eyes that they are the quintessential German festival band: I would have a great time watching them if I were drunk, sunburnt, and surrounded by thousands of sweaty Krauts, but I’d have no idea why their music would draw such a large and enthusiastic crowd in the first place. King of Kings is hardly a bad album and has a few fine moments, but overall it feels like a small step backwards from Symphonies of the Night, and while committed fans may be happy, it’s too tepid to win them any new listeners.