Symphonic metal outfit LEAVES’ EYES is well known for its forays into Viking culture, having released a number of albums on this theme, most notably 2005’s “Vinland Saga,” 2015’s “King of Kings,” and 2018’s “Sign of the Dragonhead.” Chronicling the life and final battle of Norway’s King Harald III, called Hardrada (“the hard ruler”), their newest concept album, “The Last Viking,” sees the band returning in top form. History comes alive on 23 October 2020 when their eighth album is released via AFM Records.
Described in the press release as monumental, epic, and powerful, “The Last Viking” is all that and more, as it details the final chapter of the Viking age. Devout scholar of “everything Viking related” -vocalist Alexander Krull wrote the concept and lyrics for his album, making sure it’s all historically accurate and musically memorable as “the sagas of Hardrada are full of drama, emotions, and the everlasting fights for power” (to quote the press release). Beautiful and elegant moments counterbalance the angrier and heavier parts of the album, making the flow of the music feel more dynamic yet well-balanced with a neat ebb-and-flow to it. The listeners don’t get too much of the same tempo with some songs being more upbeat than others, and I not only appreciate this diversity of sound, but I find it to be one of the strengths of the album. While the obvious star is Finnish soprano Elina Siirala, who gets to use her magnificent voice in many more ways from operatic and graceful to rockish and direct, giving the songs delicacy and power, Thorsten Bauer and Micki Richter’s dual guitar attack and solos are simply stunning, melodic, and well-executed throughout.
Released as the first single, cinematic “Dark Love Empress” is a hauntingly beautiful track that features superb choral arrangements and gorgeous vocals from Elina Siirala, whose darker timber gives the lyrics so much gravitas. The music is restrained to let her shine while the guitar solo is the ice-icing on the cake. Taken from their 2019 EP, “Black Butterfly” is repurposed as a duet with Clémentine Delauney (VISIONS OF ATLANTIS) who adds a new twist and dimension to this song as her vocal tone contrasts and complements Elina Siirala’s richer voice, while Alexander Krull’s scarce harsh vocals bring the mood down a bit. Completing the trio of symphonic-oriented tracks is “Night of the Ravens” (also from the 2019 EP) where chiming keys, melodic guitars, and droning bass only enhance the vocal delivery. To offset these songs and create that sense of ebb-and-flow to the music that I mentioned earlier, the album offers such up-tempo tracks like “Chain of the Golden Horn” and “Serpents and Dragons” whose speedier guitar parts, pounding drums, and growls from Alexander Krull give heaviness to the album, grounding it.
No album about Vikings is complete without a few battle anthems, and standout track “War of Kings,” with its complex vocal work and layering that emulates solders’ chants, and looming guitar work is the perfect war cry. Not far behind, the folky “For Victory” and Celtic jingle “Varangians” lift up the mood and delight with the sound of such medieval instruments as the nyckelharpa and fiddle while the vocal melodies are catchy and easy to sing-along to as we get to hear a different side of Elina’s voice. A crunchy riff opens “Flames in the Sky” which marches along at a mid-pace with chugging guitar lines and pounding drums, while the vocals are soaring. If these songs don’t get you pumped for battle, not sure what will. The ten-minute epic and bombastic album highlight “The Last Viking” as well as muscular “Serkland” make more use of Alexander Krull’s growls being some of the heaviest tracks on the album. The final piece of the saga comes in the form of the melancholy sounding “Break into the Sky of Aeon,” where a piano melody surfaces here and there to break the tension of the intense delivery.
To sum it up, “The Last Viking” offers everything one could possibly want from a metal album, symphonic or otherwise – glorious vocal parts, hefty guitar lines, and over the top solos, cinematic moments, hooky choruses, and a rich sound. It is a well-crafted offering that makes good use of all the charm and poise that symphonic metal has to offer and plays on all of LEAVES’ EYES’ strengths as musicians. Fans of EPICA, old NIGHTWISH, or late XANDRIA, as well as anyone else who was underwhelmed by “Sign of the Dragonhead” should definitely give this album a listen – you won’t be disappointed.
Written by Andrea Crow
- Death of a King
- Chain of the Golden Horn
- Dark Love Empress
- Black Butterfly (ft. Clémentine Delauney)
- Serpents and Dragons
- War of Kings
- For Victory
- Two Kings One Realm
- Flames in the Sky
- Night of the Ravens
- The Last Viking
- Break into the Sky of Aeon
Elina Siirala – vocals
Alexander Krull – vocals
Thorsten Bauer – guitar, bass
Micki Richter – guitar
Joris Nijenhuis – drums
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