Leaves’ Eyes – The Last Viking Review

Leaves’ Eyes is a band I hear about plenty, but whose music I seldom actually hear. A few samples here and there, a sliver of news-worthy drama over there, a conversation once in a while — that’s it. So it’s a bit odd that I wound up with the responsibility of reviewing their latest output, The Last Viking, but then, sometimes not knowing about band-land drama is good for the weary reviewer. Whatever’s going on, or went on, or may be happening whenever, all I know is that this is music, and I am a reviewer, and I haven’t heard from this German symphonic power metal group in some time. So I present to you my opinions. May you enjoy of them always.

Leaves’ Eyes begin their sixty-four-minute symphonic foray as pretty much every hour-long symphonic foray does; with a mood-setting, largely-instrumental (read: narrations and chants) introduction. “Death of a King” is forgotten as soon as it passes, and the album proper kicks off with “Chain of the Golden Horn,” which shows promise for fifty seconds before transforming into an unfortunate microcosm for The Last Viking’s troubles. It kicks off with a surprisingly catchy lead and good performances across the board, but by the sixth or so time that same shrill lead shows up, it has long crossed over from “catchy” to “too much.” Vocally, things start off strong, with Elina Siirala offering a big, confident performance, and quickly deteriorate when Alexander Krull begins growling over the designated “heavy” parts of the song. Here, the riffs are limited to mindless chugging, while the growling offers no heft, weight, or anger of any sort (think early Epica), while sounding suspiciously like the vocalist’s is performing and eating at the same time. By the end of the song, the promise is shattered entirely… and there’s still an hour to go.

These issues crop up again and again throughout The Last Viking, and Leaves’ Eyes turns mainly to the genre’s most tired ideas to manage them. Very often, themes are repeated to the point of irritation. To combat this, the age-old trope of “playing it again but with a higher pitch” for the last chorus of the song occurs constantly throughout (“Serkland,” “War of Kings”). I can guess who the band’s influences are by the way that “Dark Love Empress” sounds way too much like Within Temptation’s “Jillian (I’d Give My Heart),” and tracks like “Varangians” invoke Nightwish-style folk metal (lightly-used whistles and flutes plus lots of chanting) over traditional “viking metal.” Most songs on the album will also, at some point, feature chanted operatic vocals atop loud choirs and grand orchestrations that overtake every other instrument. While I’m not saying these tropes are explicitly bad, predictability in a style of metal that has scarcely innovated in the past decade is a serious detractor, especially on such a long album.

None of this is to say, mind you, that I hate The Last Viking, or even that it has no redeeming factors. While I might argue that Siirala’s voice is occasionally too nice for the music (the call-to-battle chorus of “Varangians” is delivered way too cheerfully for its theme), she is certainly a capable singer, and offers a lot for what she’s been given. “For Victory” is a strong folk metal tune1, and “Serkland” is downright enjoyable, with a catchy chorus, cool lead melody, and heavy moments that give Micki Richter (guitars) and Thorsten Bauer (bass, guitars) a few moments to shine. But for every song in this short list, there are six others, and the bottom line is that The Last Viking sounds too much like itself, and too much like its genre, to stand out in any meaningful way.

I can hear that Leaves’ Eyes bring a lot to the table, and can see why they’re a well-known band. The Last Viking does little to convince me of their merit, however. Throughout The Last Viking, Leaves’ Eyes apply cliché after cliché, tired trope after tired trope, and flatly refuse to offer anything original or hard-hitting, which makes The Last Viking a disappointing album… to say the least.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AFM Records
Websites: leaveseyes.de | leaveseyes.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/leaveseyesofficial
Released Worldwide: October 23rd, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Though every time I hear the chorus, I grimace a little — “fight for victory!”? Why else would you be fighting?
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