Listen-Back: Happy Birthday to Eye of Melian’s debut album

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Let’s set the scene: I’m in the Target Pharmacy during the sweltering summer of the Midwest in June of 2022 and I get a push notification from Spotify that an artist I follow had published an album. Now, I’m usually on top of release dates and new album announcements, so it caught me off-guard to see something I wasn’t already aware of. EYE OF MELIAN was a band I had followed for a bit because I’m a huge Johanna Kurkela fan and I knew Martijn Westerholt because of DELAIN, because they had opened for NIGHTWISH. I had saved the EOM singles and added them to some playlists but I hadn’t kept tabs on them really, and therefore hadn’t realized that the midsummer release date of Legends of Light had arrived at last. Fantasy literature was something I had enjoyed as a teenager into early adulthood, but it had fallen by the wayside as I aged and moved on to other things. I’m usually a treasure trove of niche ’90s sci-fi references and a big video game nerd, which you’ll soon find out as you read this. 

Now, sitting on the uncomfortable plastic seats as people shop around me, I popped in an earbud and began to listen to the album. Immediately two things became incredibly clear. One, I was an idiot for not paying closer attention, because it was exactly what I wanted to hear from the musical world, and two: I really should read more because what these people were describing was immediately captivating and some genius worldbuilding.

As a child, I would check out fifteen or twenty books biweekly and somehow just ended up moving from physical books to ebooks and then not reading at all. I consider myself an amateur writer and fiction enthusiast, but I had no idea how much I had been missing out on. Since then, I have begun reading actual books again and have tried to rectify my errors by catching up on all the wonderful literature that I have missed. 

So before anyone tears me apart for my obvious obliviousness, know that I have not read anything by Tolkien – at least not yet! I have books in a queue on my shelf that I’m working through once I finish the Patrick Rothfuss novels, so please know that I fully intend to immerse myself in that world. I do however, have enough knowledge from interviews with the band and being alive in the early years of internet meme culture to know about Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as films, but that is all I’m familiar with. 

Some of the songs don’t have lyrics on Spotify, which caused me to grab my vinyl for this and look it over once again. It really is a work of art, especially considering that EYE OF MELIAN is an independent band without a record label. I won’t pretend to understand the music industry but I do know that creative freedom is something that bands such as AURI or ALTAMULLAN ROAD have been given with authentic and passionate results. 

There’s a certain something magical about musicians being given free rein to do what they want and make beautiful art. It’s almost like putting enormous expectations on people doesn’t always yield the most authentic result. Who knew?

When the first track, “Doorway of Night,” began to play, my immediate thought was that it was going to be calm and, while I was not wrong, I was also mistaken. You can tell when someone is an avid reader because they naturally evoke imagery of what you see and feel without it being handed to you. “Day’s golden hue yields to the moon” and “Soft and silver light will shine with the memory” immediately catapult me into a sensory state that I can barely describe. The synesthesia of music and associating it with colors is an immediate way to put any image into my mind. Perhaps it’s the artist in me talking, I’m not sure. Regardless, it works quite well. 

I also had no idea what the Two Trees were (I have since rectified this error), yet I could picture them in my head! The chorus is simple phrasing, yet incredibly effective, delivering just enough detail to create this whimsical and resplendent image in one’s head. This track also has guests! Troy Donockley (NIGHTWISH) plays flutes and pipes on this and two of the tracks, while Shir-Ran Yinon (ELUVEITIE) plays violin and viola on four total tracks on this album and it’s all the better for it. There is another guest that we’ll chit-chat about later too!

The music begins to build as we, the listener, start to run up a snowy hill that Martijn Westerholdt and Mikko P. Mustonen have built with incredible composition and pristine orchestrations. When we stop to catch our breath, Johanna’s snowy sunbeam of a voice pushes us over the edge and we tumble downwards in a silvery spiral under the moon we come to a stop and hear the familiar clipped chants describing the trees and silver lights. “Doorway of Night” as a whole feels almost like a lullaby sung to lull little creatures in the woods into a gentle sleep. 

Now that you’ve been escorted into a dreamy state of ruminating about trees, “Vita Nova” begins and takes you on the most epic journey you’ve ever ridden sidecar on. Just like the previous song, Robin La Joy has chosen shortened phrases instead of prose to set up the song, which in my honest opinion, is the perfect pairing for Johanna’s crisp and frosty long notes. I’m serious, if I had to liken the sound to anything, it’s the ice cavern in Skyrim where you go to find Bloodcursed Arrows to shoot into the sun with Auriel’s bow. 

The song immediately places us on a ship with “Voyaging across the sea, the way unknown” and “summoning me far out to sea.” When the dark edge of maps is mentioned, I can feel myself swaying with the waves on a boat and smelling the salty brine around me. The feeling of weather worn parchment of a map slips through my fingers! Just like that, I want to explore and go off on adventures!

The song builds slowly and by the second time the chorus repeats, you’ve come down with a serious case of the shivers, and not the “shiver me timbers” type! When I first heard this song as a single, I was flabbergasted! It was so fantastical – so ethereal – that I really believed it was recorded in front of a live orchestra with people throwing roses and giving a standing ovation. Part of me wants to hear it in acoustic form, but part of me knows that these songs are so perfectly crafted that separating the music from the vocals just seems like breaking a locket in half. 

As the song comes to an end, you’re left on an emotional precipice – the calm before the wave crashes down. Now, I’m not afraid of water, but the intensity of the last 30 seconds followed by the mellow repetition of the song’s title makes me exhale slowly like I’ve just run away from Davy Jones himself. 

“The Homesong’s Call” is a gorgeous tune and a perfect respite after the heart-pounding end of “Vita Nova.” The lyrics for this one remind me so much of Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland and when I stop and close my eyes, I think of a lone individual walking up a hill in front of the setting sun and lamenting their choices. Did they lose all hope and come home with a heavy heart and head hung in sorrow? Are they weather-worn and finding a place to call their home after years as a traveler? “Home is a distant memory” can be interpreted in so many ways that I won’t even begin to unpack it, while all the lunar and star metaphors are instantly calming. 

Now I’m reminding you, fellow Traveller, that as I’m listening to this for the first time, I’m still at Target. By this point, I’m closer to the front of the line but we all know how busy pharmacies were in the US last year. Even though it was ridiculously hot out, I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes! The fantastical nature of the tracks so far had transported me to some other realm and every creative synapse in my brain was firing. It made me want to make things! How often does a single album or song catapult us into creativity? Exactly. 

So, while I waited to refill my medications, “Under the Grey Sky” graced me with its presence. At first, listen, I wasn’t completely captivated, but that’s not an insult in the slightest. You see, I had just gone through the emotional ringer with the first four tracks and needed some respite. So while my brain was working, it was overwhelmed and I had not prepared myself for what I was feeling. It grew on me immediately afterwards though, and by now it’s one of my favorite songs on the album.

The chorus of this one is incredibly catchy! I highly recommend putting it on and grabbing your cat so you can dance with them and if you don’t have a cat, a human works too I suppose. A shallow dive of the lyrics “Midnight dance in the sun / can you believe?” Makes me want to put on my Little Goth on the Prairie dresses and dance under the moon with a bunch of women who live in the woods. “Shadow dance, blackest light” talks about our dreams but then “Dream in colors all aglow” has some incredible story potential, if you’re looking for a sign to start writing that novel you’ve been putting off. Imagine a world that only had the darkest shadows so that all colors look even brighter against it. Exactly. It’s why I love stained glass so much. Deep black lines serve to make all the illuminated colors that much more beautiful. 

Next up comes “The Bell” and boy, do I have some feelings about this track. For years “When It’s Time” by ALTAMULLAN ROAD has unabashedly been my number one on my Spotify “On Repeat” but that song and this one have been dueling it out since this one’s release. Who will end up as the winner? Me, obviously because they’re both amazing songs and we don’t need to make everything a competition!

The Bell” is my favorite song on the album for a few reasons. The major one is that it’s got an overwhelming melancholic-yet-bittersweet message about how time passes regardless of what you’re doing or what’s happening. The beginning is smooth as fresh tree sap and is only made even more beautiful by Shir-Ran pushing a galvanized iron knife into our hearts with her stringed accompaniment. Seriously, it almost sounds like someone wailing into the abyss. I am such a fan!

For such a sweetly sung song, it really highlights the nature of time and how it manages to swoop and rush without being corporeal. “None can escape the hand of time” is nice because it’s quite true – time knows no dividing factors amongst sentient beings. It’s non-discriminatory and affects us all regardless of any characteristics we may have. 

As a Sad Goth Girl™ who grew up in the ’90s, I love cemeteries and always have. There’s a certain aura of respect and reverence that happens when you’re surrounded by gravestones. I think the architecture is beautiful and I’m very glad that EYE OF MELIAN decided to use the image of gravestones in their music video for this. 

Speaking of, this track’s music video showcases all four members of the band in their natural habitats. Robin is writing away in her notebook, scribbling down all the ways for us to lament our mortality while Martijn plays the piano off in the distance. Mikko directs the orchestra with a Vincent Price -style grin on his face and Johanna delivers the most gut-wrenching of comparisons about life and time with the sweetest all-knowing smile. In short, this song is definitely one that makes you sit back and really think hard about life and how short it can be. 10/10 made me ugly cry at Target. 

So while I’m wiping tears off of my face and avoiding eye contact with anyone in the waiting area, “Everstrong” came waltzing into my life. This one has evolved in my heart over time. Most notable on this track is Martijn and his vocal contribution! I actually really liked hearing him add his own twist to the song. In the interview I linked above, there is an explanation of what “Everstrong” is and how it came to be. This song is about fighting battles and valor. Sisu, if you will!

My personal attachment to it is that it gives me visceral flashbacks to the Xena: Warrior Princess series finale. Now, none of you know me in real life but I have a very strong emotional attachment to Xena and I even have “Warrior Princess” tattooed on the back of my thighs. So, even if you have no idea what Xena is or who I’m even talking about, just know that this song sums up her entire character arc and basically reduces me to fangirl tears each time I hear it. 

All of us want to be brave and heroic in our own ways. Valor comes in all forms, whether you win a battle internally or live your life by a code of honor. Perhaps it is being your authentic self to the world or defying insurmountable odds. Either way, little acts like this are what I personally connect “Everstrong” with. 

When I close my eyes, “Wings of the Dawn” makes me think of being an owl in flight, looking over a vast horizon where the sun is just beginning to peek its head out from the darkness. I’m an early bird and a sleepy girl, so I love watching the sun rise and set to begin and end my days. There’s a comfort in knowing that the sun will rise and fall no matter what happens. And while I do love the sun, I love the moon even more. I find a sense of peace in looking at the moon, I find myself humming this tune when I do. The mystery and feminine divinity surrounding the moon are fascinating to me. And no, before you ask, I do not have the key to the moon.

The next song, “Adrift in Eternity” is pretty unique in that it has a fraternal twin, which I will talk about later on. This particular piece of music has the most incredible build throughout it that peaks with Johanna singing so precisely and astutely that I actually get chills each time I hear it. The music builds alongside the vocals and it leaves me breathless even though I know how it ends, I’m thrilled each time. When this song comes on, I immediately want to walk down to the Mississippi River and meander along the path that stretches alongside it for hours. I’ve said it before, but water imagery is the first way to ensure that I adore a piece of music and well this did just that. 

At this point in my Target journey, I’m full-on crying while laughing at myself and people are staring. But, I had committed to the album and now I was hooked! 

Light” is a piece that’s written by Johanna and features the other guest on the album, Leah! I can’t help but somehow relate this again to Skyrim because both of them have sung covers of “The Dragonborn Comes.” Besides that, the overarching theme of being restless with more water imagery makes me think of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I know, I can’t relate everything to video games. But, I actually can. In fact, I can do it for all the tracks on this album, I just chose not to because not everyone is emotionally attached to their PlayStation like I am. The lyrics for this one are cryptic and incredibly poetic. Their voices together are simply divine and I can only hope that this isn’t the end of any Leah and EOM collaborations. 

By the time I got to “Rainfall” in my listening journey, I was at the front of the line. Yes, this was a very long wait at Target. As it played, I imagined a battlefield, the morning after. There’s a scene in The Witcher television series’ season one finale where The Great Battle of Sodden takes place and the subsequent episode is just wide, looming shots of destruction and scorched terrain that’s been absolutely obliterated. It gives me symbolic baptismal vibes, whatever that means. 

Now I left Target a weeping mess and immediately realized that I had missed an entire crowdfunding campaign somehow. While in the car, I ordered the vinyl and some shirts from their website because if something could evoke that kind of reaction from me, I needed to play it often and loudly. Which I do, to everyone’s absolute joy!

When the vinyl came, I noticed some bonus tracks: an alternative version of “Light” and instrumental versions of a few tracks. The one that caught my attention was “Ainiaan,” the Finnish version of “Adrift in Eternity” that was written by Johanna. The theme is similar but the lyrics are different. Whereas the aforementioned track is about sailing hand-in-hand with someone in the moonlight, “Ainiaan” is more about journeying with someone into a place of endless time and being swept away by them. 

It sounds pretty similar other than the obvious differences but I was so excited to hear Johanna sing in Finnish! I think the language itself, while being difficult to learn for most people, is beautiful! Also, to have the lyrics be printed and translated back into English on the vinyl sleeve? So cool. Literally so cool. I’m a language nerd who is so fascinated by learning other languages and while I only speak English fluently, I’m capable of talking like a toddler in six. 

I’m already in awe of polyglots and I love all music in all languages, so it felt like a little treat to be able to hear something in Finnish alongside some absolutely outstanding composition and musical accompaniment. And just like “Adrift in Eternity,” I am consistently overwhelmed and reduced to tears each time I hear it. Alternatively, you can buy the track on bandcamp or purchase their vinyl on their website, because it isn’t on Spotify or Apple Music. 

The last thing I want to highlight about this band is how they are entirely self-made. Yes, they had guests, but even their crowdfunding campaign was done entirely by them. You don’t ever get to see things like that happen unless you venture out into your local music scene. But this quality of production and attention to detail from their gorgeous album artwork down to their engaging social media presence, is a gift. I can only imagine how much hard work and energy was put into this and you can tell that they are just so very proud of it. Which, they should be. Making art like that is an act of defiance against those who aim to cut off the flow of creativity and care about profits above all else. Music is meant to be shared, and I am so thankful that these four decided to share theirs with us. 

So, happy birthday, hyvää syntymäpäivää, and gefeliciteerd to “Legends of Light”! We hope you enjoy it on this year’s midsummer eve!

Written by Kathy Criswell