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 Leaves' Eyes: The Catalogue

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beekay
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PostSubject: Leaves' Eyes: The Catalogue   Mon Oct 12, 2015 6:40 am

Leaves’ Eyes
Reviewed by Brian Kelman
10/12/2015



 

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On a miserable rainy Saturday morning in August of 2012 I typed in my search bar ‘symphonic metal bands’. One click later I started a list of what ended up being about two dozen of them. I bookmarked their official web sites and Wikipedia articles (especially for the discography section) and copied out an album list for each to Notepad. After a little reading I chose Leaves’ Eyes to start with and sampled their songs online. Liking what I heard I bought an album (Njord) from Amazon.ca and it arrived the following week. As it turned out, they have become my most listened to artists after Tarja.
 
Leaves' Eyes is a Norwegian-German Metal Band formed in 2003 by Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull (from Stavanger, Norway and former singer of Theatre of Tragedy), and the entire line-up of Atrocity, led by Liv’s husband Alexander Krull (from Ludwigsburg, Germany). In time, Liv and Alexander have been able to create a band that evolved beyond anything either had done before. They have transitioned to Symphonic Metal from their original Gothic roots. This was done by moving into a more melodic sound; a sound that has given the songs of Leaves’ Eyes an ‘epic’ quality right from the beginning of their formation. The guitar parts and riffs in particular provide a solid foundation to build upon because they flow from one melody to the next (thanks in large part to the talent of one of the main songwriters for the band Thorsten Bauer on guitar and bass). Building upon brutal heavy metal deeply tuned guitars, bass and drums are the contrasts and complimentary features of choirs and classical, folk and acoustic instruments Leaves’ Eyes is a band that has, by their third album, produced a fuller symphonic and folk sound into their metal repertoire that compliments the rest of the instruments instead of overwhelming them.
 
Liv does not possess the vocal power to blow the roof off a building like Tarja and others in this sub-genre. Although her vocal ability has increased in strength, power and range with each release Liv’s vocals are still delivered in a beautiful yet more delicate manner. This is an observation rather than a criticism per se. What Liv possesses in abundance is the ability to create an atmosphere that is thoroughly enchanting. The angelic vocals of Liv are backed up by the ‘beastly’ growls from Alexander, identified under the vocal style as "beauty and the beast"; a style she helped pioneer with Theatre of Tragedy who first released an album where every song featured this approach (their self-titled 1995 album). Alexander’s harsh vocals are a poignant counterpoint and contrast to Liv’s. As a whole, Leaves’ Eyes has developed the ability to create a larger than life epic ambiance that is second to none in the sub-genre.
 
The lyrics of Leaves' Eyes, written by Liv, have many inspirations: her personality, birthplace (especially Norwegian nature and the sea), as well as literary and historical influences (in particular Nordic mythology, the Viking Sagas and Liv’s degree in English and German). Taken together she writes concept albums revolving around particular themes concerned with the Viking Age: the Sagas and legends of Norse history/mythology as well as punctuated by the love of the rugged beauty of nature found in Liv’s native land. Most impressive is Liv’s ability to lyrically make larger than life mythic and historical characters step out of her imagination and make them real.
 
All the albums and EP’s are primarily produced, mixed, and mastered in their own studio Mastersound Studio by Alexander Krull (with support credits to Liv and Thorsten). Alexander is a master of arrangements (ie. he arranges the drum tracks for the album, and those of the Nordic and symphonic elements). He is also a master of production. The production work on each and every album is exceptional despite an increase in the level of complexity for each album. For example, on King of Kings the song Blazing Waters contained 350 separate tracks to coordinate. Find out how he did in my review of the album below.
 
Although only Liv, Alexander and Thorsten remain as the original members, Leaves’ Eyes have never had any problem filling out the lineup (for studio and live performances) with high quality musicians. The result has been that they have never released a bad or subpar album.
 
To date, Leaves’ Eyes has released six studio concept albums, one single, five EPs, and one live 2CD/2DVD set.
 
Albums List
 
Lovelorn (2004) 3.8/5
 
“I grew up by the sea…..” So begins Norwegian Love Song as chapter I on Leaves’ Eyes first saga Lovelorn; a tale of a Sea Maid with a sometimes haunting and melancholic atmosphere but always a melodic one. Conceptually, Lovelorn celebrates the reawakening of nature in the Norwegian spring, the sea and, by contrast, unfulfilled love of the sea maid. Did Liv write Lovelorn because she was homesick for Norway? Perhaps; she had been living in Germany with Alexander since 1996. Also, in the previous year she learned she was fired from her ‘hometown’ band, Theatre of Tragedy, via email and they posted the firing notice on the band’s website, too. Sound familiar? Using music as a personal catharsis often turns into self-indulgent tripe, but Lovelorn doesn’t come across as such.  Whatever the deep seated motives beyond those identified above, Lovelorn is a very good debut album despite having more than the usual number of ballads for a metal release. For a newly formed band’s whose relative ‘newness’ to playing a style that was different from the usual of Atrocity and Theatre of Tragedy, while keeping the Gothic feel of the latter, says a lot about the experience and competent professionalism that all the musicians brought to the creative process. The building blocks for the band’s evolution into what they are today were skillfully laid down here. Song wise Norwegian Love Song, Tale of the Sea Maid, For Amelie, Into Your Light (that included Liv’s sister Carmen as a guest vocalist), Ocean’s Way, Temptation and the title track are notable standouts.
 
Vinland Saga (2005) 4.0/5
 
“1000 years ago a Viking ship left Norway in the spring…..” and so begins Leaves’ Eyes second saga Vinland Saga, released in 2005, and inspired by the voyage of the Norse explorer Leif Erikson and his discovery of Vinland (a.k.a. Newfoundland/America). Along with the historical fact of Leif being blown off course for Greenland to eventually find Vinland, Liv was inspired by her own experience of leaving her homeland. She has also mixed in an element of romantic fiction. One of Leif’s crewmen was Tyrkir the German (and with Liv’s husband being German) she created a romantic love story of him leaving his wife behind. Liv displays superb skill in weaving this additional thread within the greater context and the risk of coming across as sappy was avoided. It really added a greater depth of atmosphere to the album as a whole. The introductory title track Vinland Saga and Farewell Proud Men create an epic atmosphere of optimistic hope, wonder and adventure. However, once the euphoria of the great adventure wears off in time, much of the remainder of the album is not presented in the chest thumping glory seeking death be damned perspective one would expect from say Amon Amarth (which is a band that is a personal favourite of mine so this is an observation not a criticism). Rather, it provides plenty of room to weave within the historical context a thread to explore the fear and longing of the explorers and the women they left behind; of Tyrkir’s feeling of being lost in a small ship in a very large ocean and the worry of his wife that her man won’t return home someday. Some notable favourite songs are their first anthem Elegy, Leaves’ Eyes, New Found Land, Solemn Sea, The Thorn and Twilight Sun. All things considered, Vinland Saga is a very tasty slice of Viking melodic metal. Some fans and critics consider this album as their favourite from the band.
 
We Came With the Northern Winds: En Saga I Belgia [Live-2CD & 2DVD] (2009) 4.0/5
 
The first DVD features almost two hours of documentary about the history of the band with in-depth interviews of the band members at home, in studio and on tour. It is very informative and allows the viewer to see the members of the band as real people. The second DVD contains live footage of a Leaves' Eyes concert at Metal Female Voices Fest in Wieze, Belgium, on 20 October 2007. It shows Leaves’ Eyes as very dynamic and entertaining live act. The two CDs replicate the concert soundtrack. The play list includes a fine selection from their first two albums. One of the props on stage at the Festival show included a Viking long ship. A very cool DVD/CD set.
 
Njord (2009) 4.8/5
 
“The God of Storms will you hear me…..” Complete with the sound of water washing the shore, thundering drums and Nordic chanting so begins Njord, the third saga by Leaves' Eyes. Njörðr (Njord), a God among the Vanir clan in Norse mythology and father of the deities Freyr and Freyja (or Fröya), is associated with the sea, wind, storms at sea, and seafaring. Njord has a much broader concept than its predecessors. Yet be prepared for another journey through Nordic history and myth.
 
The lyrics are written in 8 languages (English, Middle-high German, Middle English, Gaelic, Norwegian, Icelandic, French and one "self-made" linguistic fictional phonetic sequence). The lyrics mainly deal with characters from northern mythology (e.g. Njord, Fröya's Theme, and Ragnarok), or with places and historical events (e.g. Scarborough Fair, Emerald Island, Irish Rain, Northbound and Les Champs de Lavande). Last, but not least, My Destiny follows up anthem Elegy from Vinland Saga, plus Take the Devil in Me and Through Our Veins are excellent metal staples. For the first time the heavy metal guitar riffing foundation was enhanced by a full orchestra (the Lingua Mortis Orchestra, Minsk, Belarus, directed by Vitor Smolski, the now ex-Rage guitarist) and a choir (Al Dente Choir, Kleinbotwar, Germany, directed by Veronika Messner). Also new are uilleann pipes and Irish whistles (on the Scarborough Fair cover and Irish Rain). Leaves’ Eyes realized the musical promise foretold in their first two albums: the integration of all the musical elements that I detailed in the lead above has created the masterpiece that is Njord. This has been my favourite album since I first listened to it. Would their latest release surpass it?
 
Meredead (2011) 4.6/5
 
“I close my eyes forever/Forever and evermore/One lonesome sigh a time between/Let the spirits in/Let my spirit sing…..” And so begins Leaves’ Eyes fourth saga Meredead (‘dead by the sea’ or ‘sea death’) their most ambitious production yet; an epic that expands the bands musical inspiration into a more pronounced Celtic/Nordic folk influence. I have to admit that I did not like the album at first because of the greater emphasis on the folk vibe. But in time it grew on me and I have to say that if I’m in my favourite coffee shop with my Walkman and my Kindle, it is my go to album to read by because of the atmosphere that I originally had my doubts about. The uilleann pipes and Irish whistles are back on select songs, but what threw me off at first was the prominence of some other new instruments, a number of guest vocalists that shared lead and backup vocals, and a lot of songs sung in Norwegian that augmented the ubiquitous heavy metal guitar riffing foundation. Liv’s sister Carmen guested on the epic Sigrlinn. Anette Guldbrandsen is a guest vocalist for two traditional Norwegian folk songs, Kråkevisa (Crow's Ballad) and Nystev (New Stave) as well as for Veritas and Mine Taror e rei Grimme. Maite Itoiz (Elfenthal) was a guest vocalist on Etain and Meredead and baroque guitar on Tell-Tale Eyes (that also included John Kelly from Elfenthal providing vocals). In addition, the music is seasoned with the nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle), a Scandinavian folk instrument, a fiddle, and a flute for some songs. The orchestra and choir remain the same from Njord, but Alexander’s vocals are used rarely (Sigrlinn and clean vocals on Empty Horizon). Also included are more straight-forward numbers like the cover of Mike Oldfield’s To France and Velvet Heart. In time, I grew to appreciate how melodic the Norwegian language sounded when sung despite having no clue as to what they were actually singing about. Meredead is as intricate as it is varied but Leaves’ Eyes has hit upon the right mix of classical, folk and metal.
 
Symphonies of the Night (2013) 4.2/5
 
Leaves’ Eyes fifth saga combines all the brilliance of their previous releases and turns up the Gothic influences to tell the stories of eleven heroines from the past, both historical (ie. Joan of Arc in Maid of Lorraine, the murderess Visagoth Galswintha, Eleanor of Provance the Queen consort of Henry III, and Saint Cecilia the patroness of musicians), and fictional (Shakespeare’s Ophelia, the unnamed witch symbolizing persecution through the ages in Hell To The Heavens and the adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Gothic novella ‘The Dark Blue’ with Laura’s seduction by the female vampire Camilla in Symphonies Of The Night).
 
The album features the same orchestra, choir, uilleann pipes, Irish whistles, fiddle and dulcimer. Like previous albums, Symphonies of the Night features songs sung in different languages, including English, Middle English, Norwegian, French and Irish. This album is heavier (ie. in terms of sound, atmosphere and lyrical content) than Meredead and the beauty and the beast vocal style are back in full force (ie. Maid of Lorraine is their best song to date featuring this vocal trade off). Liv’s vocals have never been stronger than on this CD. A few pointers from Elfenthal’s Maite Itoiz has allowed Liv to access more power from within herself allowing her vocal reach to evolve for the better. Because there are a couple of songs I’ve never been able to get into (and I won’t name them here so as not to unduly influence you) I’ve rated this a little lower than their previous two albums.
 
King of Kings (2015) 4.9/5
 
Leaves’ Eyes sixth epic saga King of Kings is historically based and has a personal connection for Liv. Her birthplace, Hafrsfjord, was the location of the final battle in the 9th Century (around 872) when Norway was unified under one Viking King by Harald ‘Fairhair’ (b. 850 – d. 932). The album is tightly focused on this historical figure’s life and lead up to the epic battle and beyond. King of Kings is an album that does what Leaves’ Eyes does best: paint pictures with an epic sound track that includes Nordic folk instruments (ie. the nyckelharpa, uilleann pipes, flutes and whistles), big choirs (the London Voices Ensemble whose credits include: Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit and Harry Potter etc.), big drums, a Viking choir, a big orchestra recorded and directed by Victor Smolski (the Lingua Mortis Orchestra, Minsk, Belarus, and also referred to as the White Russian Symphony Orchestra) all built on the solid foundation of heavy metal guitar riffing. Liv’s vocals are superb. She has given herself plenty of room to put her greater range and power on full display. Two guest singers compliment Liv’s vocals perfectly: Simone Simons (Epica) and Lindy Fay Hella (Wardruna-who collaborated with Trevor Morris composing the music score for Season 2 of the Vikings series). As one would expect for Leaves’ Eyes, the elements of Nordic music and the epic power of metal and classical music come out very naturally on King of Kings.
 
Sweven leads off the album where the enchanting violin, pounding drum beats, the Viking chant and the sung and spoken vocals creates an atmosphere that takes us back in time to ‘witness’ the monumental event of the birth of Harald Halvdansson. The Gods whisper that a great future king has been born. The spoken part of Sweven is by Leon Krull. This leads to the title track, King of Kings that gives voice to the prophecy about Harald. Orchestra, choir, and heavy metal guitars crash the shore of our senses but leave room for Liv’s soaring ‘beauty’ and Alexander’s guttural ‘beast’ vocals. The London Voices combined with Liv provide the first spine tingling moment of King of Kings. Expect more throughout. Halvdan the Black begins with a similar audio sortie. Halvdan (known to ‘bring good seasons’) was Harald’s father who belonged to the House of Yngling (Odin’s son’s line). It tells the story of his untimely death the age of 40 when he and a mounted party attempted to cross a lake they believed was frozen. It wasn’t. Legend has it that Halvdan’s body was divided into four parts and buried in what are known as ‘Halvdan Mounds’. This event thrust 10 year old Harald to the throne of Vestfold. The Waking Eye returns to the prophetic atmosphere of envisioning his triumph of uniting Norway in the only way he could: in battle. Check out the excellent videos on YouTube for all three songs. Noteworthy is that Leon Krull stars as young Harald and his father Alexander as the older Harald. The Viking ‘horde’s’ are played by the 40 man Viking re-enactment group Vaerjaborg.
 
Feast of The Year and Vengeance Venom are superb Nordic/Celtic numbers with pipes and whistles but also includes some really excellent drumming and enthusiastic vocals. Within the context of the tale, Harald’s defiant release of the Finn is worth remembering for later. Symphonic metal returns with Sacred Vow. Harald fell in love with Gyda, the daughter of King Eirik of Hordaland but she would only accept his marriage proposal if he did one little thing: unite the kingdom under his rule. She doesn’t ask for much does she? He took a ‘sacred vow’ not to cut his hair until he succeeded; hence, the ‘hair’ moniker although it was more ‘Tanglehair’ than ‘Fairhair’ by the Battle of Hafrsfjord. Edge of Steel, another heavy symphonic metal anthem and features guest vocalist Simone Simons of Epica. It gets us girded for battle along with a little help from the Finn. After the haunting lament of Haraldskvaedi, named after a 9th century poem penned by Þorbjörn Hornklofi, comes the album’s real gem: Blazing Waters. It is a seven minute epic that takes you on a roller coaster ride of soft acoustics and gentle vocals to super heavy guitars that turn it into a riffing juggernaut, death metal growls and soaring vocals. The atmospheric beginning and ending to the song features guest vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella from the Norwegian dark folk band Wardruna. Blazing Waters steps out of imagination and becomes a vivid and real battle in the mind’s eye. Closing out the album is a return to the Nordic vibe with Swords in Rock. Inspired by a monument constructed long after the battle feature three massive swords thrust into the bedrock at the site. Swords in Rock commemorate Harald as a folk legend long after his reign. The acoustic version on Disc 2 of the Deluxe Edition would not be out of place as a sing-along in any pub that boasted Celtic/Nordic roots. Look for this song to be a sing along staple of future Leaves’ Eyes live shows.
 
Two bonus tracks, one a ballad (Spellbound) and the other a symphonic metal head banger (Trail of Blood), are nice bonuses to conclude the album.
 
Last year when I reviewed Xandria Sacrificium I noted that they had scaled the symphonic metal mountain all the way to the top. Well…..Leaves’ Eyes has supplanted them at the summit with King of Kings. It will take a mighty effort from the bands in the sub-genre to top this album! Who’s up to the challenge? We shall see.
 
Single
 
Into Your Light (2004)
 
Released three months after Lovelorn, this EP includes three versions of Into Your Light (album, radio edit and acoustic remix version) plus the non-album song Leaves Whisper. Also included is a multimedia section including screen saver.
 
EP’s
 
Elegy (2005)
 
Released a few weeks in advance of Vinland Saga, it includes the single and album versions of Elegy. Nom-album tracks include: Senses Capture, Winter’s Poem, and Mot Fjerne Land. Lastly, a demo version of Solemn Sea is included.
 
Legend Land (2006)
 
Released a year after Vinland Saga, it includes the album and extended versions of Legend Land. Non-album songs are: Skraelings, Viking’s Word, The Crossing and Lyset. I consider this the best of the EP’s.
 
My Destiny (2009)
 
Released a month before Njord, it includes the album and remix versions of My Destiny and the album version of Northbound. Non-album tracks include The Battle of Maldon, Nine Wave Maidens and an acoustic version of Scarborough Fair.
 
At Heaven’s End (2009)
 
This EP is a bonus CD included with the Njord Special Fan Edition. All tracks are non-album and include some, but not all, of the tracks on the My Destiny EP. The common non-album songs included are The Battle of Maldon, the acoustic Scarborough Fair, Nine Wave Maidens and the My Destiny remix. Additional non-album songs not on the My Destiny EP are: At Heaven’s End, Angus and the Swan, and an acoustic Irish Rain. Also, there is a My Destiny videoclip.
 
Melusine (2011)
 
Released a few days before Meredead, it includes non-album alternative tracks previously released. Included are: a remastered The Battle of Maldon, a sonic mix of To France, an acoustic Legend Land and an alternate version of Tell-Tale Eyes. Melusine is a previously unreleased song in any version and was also released as a video (but the video clip is not included on the EP).

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PostSubject: Re: Leaves' Eyes: The Catalogue   Mon Oct 12, 2015 9:08 pm

Great review as always Brian. I LOVE King of Kings. I am so glad I purchased it on iTunes. Based on your review and ratings, I will definitely be trying the other albums out soon.

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PostSubject: Re: Leaves' Eyes: The Catalogue   Tue Oct 13, 2015 4:56 am

Kinda strange when I see a list of 'Viking' metal bands Leaves' Eyes is always missing. Viking and Nordic culture in all its aspects has been their subject matter since day 1. Add traditional Nordic instruments that would have been heard back then and you have a real Viking/Nordic band.

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PostSubject: Re: Leaves' Eyes: The Catalogue   Sat Apr 16, 2016 5:03 pm

I guess this review of the catalogue of Leaves' Eyes was posted just in time. This may be forever known as the 'Liv Kristine Era' since she announced her departure from the band ('for personal reasons') a day or two before I posted this comment. I was hoping for a new live audio and video release from their appearance at the Metal Female Voices Festival this October. 

It got ugly real fast. 

For once a band I really like from Europe is going to appear at a venue close to where I live outside of Toronto. They will be appearing at a venue in Kitchener that I've seen bands at before, an easy 30 minute drive away from home and 5 blocks from where a good friend of mine lives so I can park in his driveway for free....lol. 

Leaves' Eyes Official confirmed my allegation that this has been in the works for some time. They decided in January to dump Liv but waited until a week before your tour starts in April to spring it on her and day of the start of the tour to tell their fans. How unprofessional. In that time their 'fans and friends' spent their hard earned money buying tickets to support them under false pretenses. They fraudulently advertised the tour with Liv but knew that she was not going to be part of it. A month after the announcement check out their page to 'Upcoming Events' for "'Leaves' Eyes -- King of Kings World Tour' Thursday May 12, 2016 at 8 PM in UTC+02 23 guests" (Colos-Saal Aschaffenburg Hosted by Leaves' Eyes Official click here:  

https://www.facebook.com/events/502434826602631/). 

Who's pictured with the band? It is still Liv! I didn't think anyone would be more inept than Tuomas Holopainen and Nightwish when it came to firing a singer and making it worse with the cover up later. They've surpassed them. Congratulations on such a monumental failure, Leaves' Eyes. 

Of course they had Elina recruited and rehearsed before making the announcement. They'd be utter fools to do otherwise. I really hate to say it but with a new singer and, I assume a new lyricist, it may be best if they got away from the Nordic theme. Otherwise it may sound like a cheap imitation of Liv's era. With a different theme it will be wholly her own and something fresh and new; a clean break from the past. Maybe they should even change their name but I doubt that will happen soon. Still play and perform the songs from the past but forge ahead into a new era.

I'm willing to give her a listen when she and Atrocity write, compose, record and release some original material. Up to then she will be singing lyrics written by and for someone else. Elina will be covering them in style but not substance.

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