When does a symphonic metal band become more than a symphonic metal band? When they become heavier? Lighter? More resonant of other genres? Less ‘symphonic’, for want of a better description? In a recent interview with Banger TV, Elina Siirala, Leaves’ Eyes new(ish) vocalist, claimed that the band were more than ‘just’ a symphonic metal band, pointing to their extensive use of traditional folk instruments, dual vocals and moments of pure metal heaviness as proof. Is she right?
After listening to their latest album, Sign of the Dragonhead, released in January this year on AFM Records, the answer simply must be “yes”. The album – the band’s seventh, and first with Siirala at the helm, after she replaced original vocalist Liv Kristine – is more reminiscent of Eluveitie than anything Nightwish or the like have ever released, with a veritable treasure trove of traditional instruments and a distinctly Nordic folk feel. And though the broad themes are the same as previous releases, with each song telling tales of Vikings, Nordic kings, battles and seafaring, …Dragonhead marks a distinct and (one assumes) deliberate attempt to distance themselves from traditional female fronted symphonic metal.
That’s not to say they have abandoned the symphonic sound; far from it, as the title track, which opens the album, amply demonstrates. From Siirala’s beautiful, powerful vocals, to the choir intro and suitably overblown guitar work, this is symphonic metal at it’s finest. The same goes for the glorious, goosebump-inducing ‘Like a Mountain’, the fast-paced and thrilling ‘Shadows of the Night’ and the eight-minute epic album closer ‘Waves of Euphoria’, which ebbs and flows gorgeously, adds in some brilliantly bonkers military-style snare drumming and finally slides breathlessly into a euphoric (ahem) crescendo at the end.
There’s no denying the heavy use of a more folk metal sound, however. The sea-shanty vibe of ‘Across the Sea’ is a perfect example, as is ‘Jomsborg’, with a classy riff that matches the traditional instruments like a mirror image; the almost Celtic ‘Vӧlva’ – which means ‘female shaman’ in ancient Norse; and beautiful ballad ‘Fairer Than the Sun’. In fact, the two best songs on the album – the spinetingling ‘Rulers of Wind and Waves’, which one could easily imagine being played beside a fire pit at a feast, and ‘Riders on the Wind’, with its driving beat and brilliant combination of modern metal and traditional instruments, are folk metal whichever way you look at them; the latter of the two is, in fact, the closest thing to folk metal nirvana this reviewer has ever heard.
In this modern era of heavy metal, more and more bands are casting off the shackles of narrow genres and gleefully straddling two or more within their music; with Sign of the Dragonhead, it appears that Leaves’ Eyes are doing very much the same. Symphonic metal? Folk metal? Symphonic folk metal?? Stuff it – when an album sounds this good, who the hell cares?
Review by Melanie Brehaut