In 2009 I received a promo for Liv Kristine’s ‘new’ band Leaves’ Eyes and I was curious1. The record was called Njord and as a fan of Liv’s voice and epic symphonic metal I figured for sure that I would be in for a treat. I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong. My complaints about the album were many—but a lot of it had to do with the fact that it was so compressed that it never felt heavy and the song-writing was just plain mediocre. Meredead, which followed two years later on schedule, was also a miserable record. The folky stuff was of the “let’s throw in a flute, hooray folk metal!” genre and I simply didn’t even have the patience to finish reviewing it. But because I am a masochist (and I’ve always liked Liv’s voice ffs!), I broke out Symphony of the Night when it arrived in my box.
And I was taken aback: the stuff I was hearing was good. Unlike the two previous records, it sounded aggressive and energetic. The record starts out with a melody I wanted to hear more of and a Nightwish riff worthy of the Finnish symphonic metal superstars. From there, it winds into a huge chorus that reigns metal down upon the listener in the most bombastic of fashions. Impressed with this introduction, I kept listening and kept listening and the hits kept on acomin’.
Leaves’ Eyes has a sound that is pretty easy to place in the modern context. They’re a female-fronted symphonic metal band—a thing that plops them right into a context filled with names like Epica, Nightwish, Diabolus in Musica, and After Forever—with the caveat that both Njord and Meredead had a bit of a folk influence that pushed the band into Eluveitie territory. And while Symphonies of the Night doesn’t change the formula a lot, there are two things that stand out. The first is that the album is heavier. Liv’s husband and Atrocity vocalist Alexander Krull is a far more consistent presence with his raspy growls, and the music is energetic. Tracks like “Hell to Heaven,” “Galswintha,” and “Hymn to the Lone Sands,” all feature genuinely inspired and heavy moments; and these aren’t the only ones (they’re just the best).
The other thing major difference between Symphonies of the Night and the previous two records is that the folk-influenced material has been dialed back. This, too, is a welcome change. While the folk influences aren’t entirely gone, they don’t feel forced in with the kind of ham handed klutziness of the previous attempts. Instead, the folk moments reinforce good writing and make for a unique twist on the symphonic metal genre.
But maybe the biggest difference is that while Njord was a DR4 monster2, Symphonies of the Night also backed off the brickwalling a bit, giving a more dynamic sound. While it’s still a DR6—that is, still compressed to shit, but improved!—even the little dynamic sound quality improvement makes a big difference in terms of presentation. The softs feel softer and that makes the heavy material actually feel… heavy. I also like the guitar tone here, which at times is reminscent of the Theatre of Tragedy and Tristania guitar sounds of the ’90s. And the writing—which actually borders on doomy at times, like on “Angel and the Ghost”—makes the fat tone do some real heavy lifting.
The record isn’t without its misses, though. “Saint Cecelia” drags, and while “Nightshade” has beautiful melodies and shows off Liv’s range, it’s missing the doom of “Angel and the Ghost” and the heaviness of “Hymn to the Lone Sands.” Leaves’ Eyes is at its worst when it’s producing tepid ballads and mid-paced drudgery like “Fading Earth,” and closer “Ophelia,” which is almost entirely what the last two albums were.
Ultimately, though, Symphonies of the Night is a genuinely enjoyable symphonic heavy metal record and the best thing I’ve heard from the band up to now. Next time we’ll hope that they can drop something as inspired that not only shows off their variety of influences, but their growing realization that “beauty and the beast” requires more dynamics to sound powerful.
Leaves’ Eyes // Symphonies of the Night
Format Reviewed: mp3 192 kbps
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: leaveseyes.de | facebook.com/leaveseyesofficial
Release Dates: EU: 2013.11.13-15-18 | NA: 2013.11.26
- Obviously by 2009 the band wasn’t very new, but to be frank I’d not heard the earlier material and was unaware that Liv even had a career post-Theatre of Tragedy at that point. ↩
- For fans of production and people interested in dynamics, I will start actively referring to the Dynamic Range ratings of records we get. It should be noted that all DRs are calculated from the files that I am getting from labels. These are not lossless but they are what we review, and therefore it is the sound quality we use to judge records. Click on the link for an excellent explanation of DR ratings from the amazing guys at Metal-Fi. ↩