Leaves' Eyes - Sign of the Dragonhead 01I don’t think I’ve listened to a Leaves’ Eyes album at the time of release since Vinland Saga came out in 2005, and yet here I am, AMG’s apparent self-proclaimed queen of symphonic metal for early 2018, giving Sign of the Dragonhead a few spins. The cover art, like King of Kings, is more evocative of bands like Rebellion and Stormwarrior than Leaves’ Eyes symphonic brethren, and the overall approach is quite similar to the band’s last pair of albums as well: mid-paced symphonic heavy metal with flourishes of folk-inspired tonality and more than occasional nods to north European nautical themes. Appropriate, as several third-party sources claim that this album is a continuation of the conceptual story begun on King of Kings, regarding Harald “Fairhair” Hårfagre, first king of Norway.

While some of the band’s fanbase has been rather worked up about the change in singers after the less than amiable departure of Liv Kristine following a divorce from keyboardist Alex Krull, I’m interested only insofar as the impact the lead singer has upon the music. Which is to say, not much. New lead Elina Siirala (Angel Nation) has a voice that I would assess as slightly deeper and huskier, her enunciation is better, and her presentation overall a little more enjoyable than Kristine’s. This isn’t overly consequential, however, as I find the band’s general formula of layering gratuitous orchestral hits and drawn out vocals over fast-paced instrumentation to be awkward and frustrating to my metal sensibilities. Take opener “Sign of the Dragonhead” as a primary example. This song might make for a cool, bombastic opening to the album if it weren’t for the childishly simple chorus, which is just flat out dull.

Leaves’ Eyes suffers continuously from this tendency to blend interesting ideas and clever musical swells with irritating oversimplification – which may be the inevitable result of a varied band like Atrocity attempting to water down some of its ideas for mass consumption and taking the practice too far. I don’t care for either band, but they’ve both experienced some measure of commercial success, so clearly I’m missing something. Songs such as “Like a Mountain,” the bare-bones ballad “Fairer than the Sun,” and “Shadows in the Night” are fraught with exhausted subgenre tropes and devoid of much of anything redeeming. Granted, Leaves’ Eyes’ approach these days is a bit more straightforward than the swirling orchestrations and effects of Meredead, but these are unacceptable. Confusing, too, is the instrumental “Rulers of Wind and Wave,” which, as a fan of ambient music, is actually pretty nifty in my book, but it’s got nothing to do with the rest of the album and could as well have been forsaken entirely without the pacing of the album skipping a beat.

Leaves' Eyes - Sign of the Dragonhead 02All right, I’ve been coming down pretty hard on this album for a while now, but there’s some stuff here that’s actually pretty cool and, for fans of the band and subgenre as a whole, will probably be redemptive of the album as a whole. “Across the Sea” is a bouncy anthem with some fun vocal turns, and a solid, folky mid-album run beginning with “Jomsborn” (Jørnsborn, if you prefer) and “Völva” culminates in the silly fun of “Riders on the Wind,” which is basically an excuse to get a beautiful woman to sing a sea shanty on a metal album1. None of it is groundbreaking in any sense at all, but Siirala has enough charm and talent to assist in carrying the band in certain places where other elements fail. The harsh vocals of Alex Krull are muddy and pretty much useless, but the full choir backing and shouted gang vocals are maybe some of the most professional I’ve heard on a metal album. It’s a pity they’re not employed in a more interesting fashion.

The end product of Sign of the Dragonhead is as the last couple of Leaves’ Eyes albums have been: pasteurized, homogenized, medieval Norwegian-flavored symphonic metal that’s been boiled down to something digestible en masse by artisan mixer/masters and programmers. This album doesn’t offend me in the least, and I wouldn’t mind hearing it as background music. I might even sing along, but there’s nothing here for me to get invested in, intellectually or emotionally. Just about everyone knows Leaves’ Eyes these days, so I’ll close this review by revisiting my most relevant comment for existing fans: I like Elina better than Liv, but it doesn’t matter because not only has nothing changed, but it sounds like you’re going to get direct competition for Leaves’ Eyes in a resuscitated, Kristine-fronted Midnattsol.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AFM Records
Websites: leaveseyes.de | facebook.com/leaveseyesofficial
Releases Worldwide: January 12th, 2018

Show 1 footnote

  1. I support this endeavor. – Steel Shanty
  • Thë Brycërøy

    Swordborn review scoring scheme: not power metal? – 0.5

    Song called Vulva? +1.0

    • Shockingly accurate.

      • My thoughts exactly.

    • Mephisto

      Camel toe would have been better….

      • Septic

        Meden Agan already has that covered

    • Brutalist_Receptacle

      Dolores?

      • Thë Brycërøy

        Queue laugh track…

    • Swordborn

      Female lead singer? -0.5

      Swords and axes are involved somewhere? +1.0

      • Thë Brycërøy

        Ok, I gotta ask, what is the deal with all the “bah, i don’t like female vocalists in metal”? This is a rather widespread opinion, here and elsewhere. I kinda sorta get it…but I can’t be the only one that’d be fine with a female version of, say, Travis Ryan or Morian or something (pick a vocalist, I don’t care) as long as they can deliver. There’s room in Metal for non-bass-playing women that aren’t operatic singers or Otep or ArchEnemy or a tacky attempt to sell more records/tickets.

        • Swordborn

          I was just being flippant, as I assumed you were with the “not power metal” comment. There are some tremendous female singers all over metal, including power metal. Some of my very favorites include Daisa Munhoz, Sara Squadrani, Brittney Hayes, and Mary Zimmer.

          • Thë Brycërøy

            Oof, got me, didn’t put -0.5 and -0.5 together on that one. The question, however, was serious – though more general. I’m just trying to satisfy my own curiosity about the logic of that stance.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Mary Zimmer is great, especially with Luna Mortis, whose only album is a hidden gem.

          • Swordborn

            “The Absence” is indeed tremendous. Zimmer’s vocals there alone are worth her being a favorite.

          • Zadion

            Fuck man, Mary Zimmer. With Unleash the Archers getting so much widespread praise last year, the obscurity of Luna Mortis is one of the metal’s gravest crimes, especially because they sound so much like Luna Mortis.

          • Thais Munk

            Thank you! I’ve never heard of Luna Mortis until now, but goddamn….their music kicks arse! :D

          • Thais Munk

            Oh, I love Daisa Munhoz’s voice :D

        • Aguy

          I dunno, man, I seek out metal bands with good female singers. The Gathering had Anneke van Gielesbergenerwhatever, Leather Leone did some amazing work in Chastain (and a lot of solo work, but I prefer her in Chastain). Grace Slick was never in metal, sadly, so we missed out on having a female Dio, but you can kinda pretend with some of her solo work. IWABO gets a lot of shit, but I dug Krysta Cameron’s vocals. Kobra and the Lotus is pretty good, though I’m not fond of the ultra-commercial, overproduced-to-a-sickly-sheen direction they’re going in. Royal Thunder is a band I’m not sold on yet, but the vocals are good. I don’t know who did the vocals for Messa and can’t be bothered to check, but she did a great job. Magali Luyten features on a number of metal albums and has an awesome 80s rock diva voice with a gritty, growly edge.

  • TheKenWord2017

    I liked Vinland Saga and Njord a lot (problems abundant in both, but I was younger and more impressionable then, so they kind of stuck with me). Meredead was OK, having the best opener since Njord (though not beating Njord for my favorite opener), and then I swiftly lost interest in this band. There were just so many better ones to look for.

  • The Akerstache

    Yep, that’s certainly symphonic metal.

    I don’t understand symphonic metal, or how popular it is. It’s easily the most derivative sub-genre in metal, and not only is it all shamelessly sucking Nightwish’s dick, they’re doing it without any of metal’s bite. There isn’t any memorable riffing, just chugging with symphonic ear worms, the choruses aren’t memorable or exciting, instead they’re just content to with their “faux-epic” writing style that gets stuck in your head just enough so you buy the album for one or two spins before you get bored. Nothing in symphonic metal exists to challenge or develop metal, it’s instead an attempt to create a “classier” brand of metal that appeals to a more mainstream audience by being as safe and tepid as humanly possible.

    • TheKenWord2017

      I agree with most of this, but I will say that it has, in my opinion, tons of potential to be really good music with message, heft, and impact. But, alas, it seems few ever reach that potential. Which is sad, because if the world were different, and symphonic metal was consistently great, it would probably be my favorite sub-genre.

      • The Akerstache

        That’s the worst part about it, it could be so great, but it falls so short so consistently. Fleshgod Apocalypse and Septicflesh are two of the best metal bands in the world right now, they;re incorporation of excellent riffs with symphonic flourishes works magnificently. But so often we get just another Nightwish rip-off, and it’s become so average and run-of-the-mill that I can’t expect anything except mediocrity from the genre.

        • basenjibrian

          Even in the case of Septicflesh, though, their best (early) album(s) predate their fixation with the symphonic flourishes. (imho) :)

    • Wilhelm

      To me, Symphonic metal is therion, haggard, and bal sagoth. When bands started to commercialize metal without any of the extreme or dark elements, we started getting show tunes with guitars now labeled as symphonic metal.

    • Brian Hudson

      Well said good sir!

    • Nukenado

      Sorry, but you’re generalizing a lot.
      Ex Deo, Aeternam, Septicflesh, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Aeternam, Orphaned Land (bar All Is One which was folk-rock), Zornheym, Bal-Sagoth, Xanthochroid and Sigh are all symphonic metal bands that sound nothing like Nightwish.
      I realize that you focus on the symphonic power metal part, but honestly, “symphonic” is as ambiguous a tag as “progressive”. There are even more bands that occasionally make use of symphonic elements rather than use them constantly. It is Nightwishcore that gets the most exposure, but that does not mean the genre is worthless.
      Even symphonic power-folk has bands that don’t sound like Nightwish. Take Alestorm for example (refer to Sunset On The Golden Age; their new album is a bit more same-y). “Wooden Leg” resembles Husker Dü more than Nightwish.

      • Jake

        Good list of bands but the argument is significantly weaker with the absence of Hollenthon. I guess they broke up. Metal in general is weaker because of it. If only more bands would write something as good as Vilest Worms or Opus Magnum.

        • Nukenado

          I’ll take that as a cue to investigate.

        • Nukenado

          A bit too groove metal for my tastes, but pretty cool.

      • Slimylimey

        You forgot Aeternam. You could easily add Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, CoF, etc. as well. As you say the word symphonic is not sufficient by itself, you need the additional qualifiers such as power metal, black metal, and so on.

        • Nukenado

          Look closely for Aeternam…
          Emperor is light on the symphonics though. I’m not a huge CoF or Dimmu fan.

          • Slimylimey

            Sorry, was being sarcastic on the Aeternam front given the double mention. Yeah, Emperor aren’t as in your face but the symphonics are still there. Dimmu was the gateway drug for me that got me digging further into black metal. I can take or leave CoF.

          • sir_c

            If you just forget for a moment what DB play, must say they do have pretty good vocalists.

      • sir_c

        I have a feeling his rant was mostly pointing to Nightwish-esque bands like Epica, After Forever, Evanescence and such, because his description accurately matches their playing style. Having to listen to that crap is about as enjoyable as the sound of a dentist’s drill in your wisdom tooth.

        • Nukenado

          I actually enjoy After Forever.

    • Danny

      I mean, I love symphonic metal, but you’re not wrong that there’s a lot of bands who fail to live up to the genre’s potential. Many of which are remarkably successful for reasons which escape me.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        …and by “reasons which escape me” you surely must mean “being fronted by a hot chick”

        • Danny

          I would disagree. I know a lot of people talk about how attractive singers are the only reason boy bands and symphonic metal artists alike have meaningful followings, but I’ve never found that a compelling narrative. Good looking band members may attract attention to a band, but
          that attention would be fleeting without the music to back it up. I highly doubt anyone loads music onto their player and spins it solely due to the attractiveness of the artist, for the simple reason that one cannot hear the symmetry of a singer’s cheekbones, nor headbang to the size of their secondary sexual characteristics. Being an A+ hottie might attract listeners, but only appealing music can keep them.

        • Nukenado

          Honestly, I’d rate a band .5 higher no matter what gender the corset-wearing frontperson is.
          I want to see Trevor Strnad or Dave Hunt wearing a leather corset! I’d have nightmare fuel to send people for weeks on end.

          • GrumpDumpus

            DOUG MOORE

    • Thatguy

      You got it.

      This has no redeeming features. I’m too sickened by it to be bothered being a smart-arse.

    • Nahuel Benvenuto

      i think you are referring to Nightwish clones and not just all not symphonic metal because there is great stuff in teh genre

  • Thë Brycërøy

    Is there some company in Scandinavia that supplies all of those black button-down shirt/jacket things JUST for Metal bands? Those are about as ubiquitous in band photos as bullet belts and corpsepaint and being a bad photo…

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      If there isn’t I’m starting it.

      • Thë Brycërøy

        I am prepared to invest as a silent partner in this worthy endeavor.

  • Jim Bob

    This band is one of those groups that always show up in my recommendations, yet are never interesting enough to be clicked.

    • Swordborn

      An accurate encapsulation of Leaves’ Eyes’ existence as a musical artist.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Swordborn sates my melodic side whilst Muppetman soothes my shadow side.
    I will not speak ill words of either.

  • Gage

    Any chance of reviewing Eidolon by Primordial Throne?

    • RuySan

      For half a second I thought primordial had a new album out.

      I hate you

      • Gage

        Awww thanks :-)

      • Danny

        Soon

  • Robin Klink

    The embedded track for my fellow germans: “So weit die See und der Wind uns trägt, Leinen Los, Volle Fahrt SANTIANO”

  • Nukenado

    The singer is not as sexy as wet, underwater Chris Bowes.
    Also not as good folk-power as Alestorm (which, to be fair is a big task.)

  • Danny

    This is the sort of thing that really should be my thing, but just isn’t. The notion of folksy symphonic metal sounds great on paper, but Leaves Eyes never felt much more than meh to me. I’ve always been puzzled by their success given this, but hey, different strokes and all. I spent some time with King of Kings as I saw them twice last year, but the record didn’t stick with me, except Vengeance Venom, which was hooky as fuck. I guess that’s the problem, they’ve never really brought the songwriting hooks required to make symphonic metal work.

  • Kyle Elliott

    Band Photo:

    Don’t miss the new season of History Channel’s Vikings where Lagertha fronts a metal band..

    Had to do a triple take to make sure it wasn’t her

  • Dan

    Symphonic metal when done well is pretty cool, but in recent years, its been mass produced and lost its way. Last year, Diabulus in Musica actually had a release the moved the needle, mostly because they stopped trying to be something they weren’t. Listen to the crazy Ring Around The Dark Fairies Carousel….

    This song sounds a bit more meaty than their last few releases at least. Still feels manufactured unfortunately. Saw them years ago at Prog Power, and it was limp at best. Her voice is more impressive to me than Kristine.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    This band has nothing on Meden Agan. Needs more camel toe

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    So, Liv leaves (lame pun not intended, yet achieved anyway) and in spite of the band being named after her (Liv’s Eyes = Leaves Eyes) Alex Krull goes and repklaces her… that’s cold.

    • Nukenado

      That’s why you don’t name bands after people. It gets awkward.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        You don’t name bands after people unless it’s your own band (Danzig, Dio, King Diamond) or the person you’re naming it after is dead (Jethro Tull).

        • Nukenado

          Doing the former requires metal cred. Better do the latter. Also I’m dissapointed you didn’t use Bathory as an example. Shame!

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Shame on me! In my defense, when I think of Bathory I think of it as the band , not some bloodthirsty countess.

    • RuySan

      They should rename the band Krull’s Hair, or some silly variation of it like Crawl’s Heir…or something.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    It’s always a bad sign when you’re watching the video and the drummer looks bored.

    • Elina looks pretty bored as well and I only saw four band members, no bass player to be found so I assume he fell into the water before filming began.

  • Patrick W. Dunne

    Man, I miss Liv Kristine.

  • The Unicorn

    Bring back Theatre of Tragedy Liv.

  • Unwanted Guest

    Bands featuring female soprano are not good for me except for those influenced by doom metal and gothic metal, for example, early Theatre Of Tragedy, The Third and the Mortal, The Sins Of Thy Beloved, Therion after theli, Draconian, and early Within Temptation.

    I think that soprano mismatchs rhythm unless it is simple beat like four-on-the-floor. I hope this tragedy ends.

  • Javier McDrifter

    Johnny, a generic sympho album for table 4, chop chop!

  • Marc Rikmenspoel

    I’ve never liked Liv Christine as a singer, and Leaves Eyes never caught my interest. However, I did see them open for Blind Guardian in 2009, and after their set, Liv wandered around the lobby of the theater, chatting with fans. I ended up right next to her, and made some small talk. However, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I mich prefer her little sister, Carmen Elise. Now, Liv has joined Carmen in Midnattsol, and we’ll see if it hurts the band…

  • Angelus
  • Jan Trębacz

    I absolutely loved Vinland Saga for its great flow, excellent string arrangements, great acoustic parts and the general warm, sort of folky feel. Ever since LE got more “operatic”, I cannot be bothered. I have tried, trust me, but to me they sound like another Nightwish clone. Mind you, I like Nightwish (especially “Once”), but I absolutely detest the hordes of their cheap wannabe clones which (for some strange reason) mostly seem to come from Germany or Latin American . Speaking of the Dutch clones (Epica/After Forever), I don’t find them as bad – while inspired by NW, they did have a bit of their own take on the music. But this is as far as I will venture into this genre right now – I used to love all those female fronted “symphonic” band in my early 20’s, in my late 30’s I find them bland, boring and devoid of any soul and personality. Plus the band they all want to sound like is is still much better in every aspect than they will ever be.