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Leaves' Eyes - "King Of Kings" (CD)

Leaves' Eyes - "King Of Kings" CD cover image

"King Of Kings" track listing:

1. Sweven
2. King of Kings
3. Halvdan the Black
4. The Waking Eye
5. Feast of the Year
6. Vengeance Venom
7. Sacred Vow
8. Edge of Steel
9. Haraldskvæði
10. Blazing Waters
11. Swords in Rock

Reviewed by on September 7, 2015

"...if there is one thing proven in the last ten years - its [Leaves' Eyes]' dramatic increase in songwriting ability, with hook after hook and chorus after chorus."

Even if you cannot relate to the symphonic metal aspect of Leaves’ Eyes, you simply cannot deny this band’s love of historical storytelling. Every album seems to scour the history books to bring out some of the lesser known tales. On 2013’s “Symphonies of the Night,” frontwoman Liv Kristine championed female historical figures. This time out, the band dips its sword back into heathen blood in the all too familiar realm of Vikings.

The theme feels like a homecoming for the band, having penned such classics "Vinland Saga" (2005) and "Njord" (2009) in it's early history. "King of Kings" may just top them all, though some may find some of the tunes treading a bit too close to the equally familiar Nightwish territory. However, if there is one thing proven in the last ten years - its the band's dramatic increase in songwriting ability, with hook after hook and chorus after chorus.

What sets Leaves' Eyes apart from the classic symphonic metal acts is akin to what sets a Toyota Highlander apart from most SUV's. If you will allow the silly analogy - the Toyota Highlander is a SUV built on a chasse of the Camry, one of the most dependable passenger vehicles ever made. To put it in musical terms, Leaves' Eyes are built on a foundation of Atrocity. The distinctive death dirge of Alexander Krull and serrated riff gorge of Thorsten Bauer, Leaves' Eyes separates itself from the pack and far and above the pack. Of course, with Liv Kristine you have one of the originators of the genre. Make no mistake about it, if it weren't for the now patented Bauer/Krull dynamic, a song like "The Waking Eye" could have easily been mistaken for new era Nightwish, nearly avoiding the hole that all symphonic metal acts inevitably fall in.

One of the more interesting history lessons taught on "King of Kings" is of "Halvdan the Black" - a Viking king who perished at the age of 40 when he drove his horses across a road that lay across a pond that was partially melted. The body of the revered king - known to bring "good seasons" - was divided into four parts and buried into what is known as "Halfdan's Mounds." The band turned the song into the first single/video for the album. Trademarks of both Leaves' Eyes and Atrocity combine for one of the best of the bunch, anchored by Krull's always impressive grunts in the chorus. Combine that with the insanely melodious "Vengeance Venom" (preceded by the folksy intro "Feast of the Year"), the Equilibrium-esque melody on "Edge of Steel" (featuring Epica's Simone Simons), and the album's finest hour "Blazing Waters," a near 8 minute epic saga rich with symphonic beauty and progressive elements featuring a guest appearance by the stunning Lindy Far Hella (Wardruna).

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the overall improvement in both sound and choir/background vocals, which compliment the folk elements (a la Eluveitie) perfectly. "Haraldskvæði" (named for the 9th century Norweigian poem written by Þorbjörn Hornklofi) is a beautifully scripted folk style ballad, and it represents one of Kristine's shining moments on the album. On sound, Krull continues to improve as a top shelf producer as "King of Kings" is the by far the best sounding release in Leaves' Eyes history.

Another consistently improving aspect of Leaves' Eyes performance is in the strength of Liv Kristine's voice, which has exceeded expectation in its "metal strength" on every release since "Meredead." Up to that point, I felt she sounded almost too sweet against any metallic soundscape. However, on the last two efforts her vocal style has not only fit into what the band is trying to convey musically, but it has become a true strength. In reviewing "Symphonies of the Night" (and at the risk of sounding like a broken record), I raised the point that Leaves' Eyes has become so much better since the resurgence of Atrocity's sound on "Okkult." I can't help thinking that it was that writing/recording session which propelled Leaves' Eyes current hot streak of near perfection, which continues here. This isn't to besmirch the band's past efforts, but the growth, cohesiveness, songwriting and sound are all light years better in 2015.

"King of Kings" is the follow-up winner to "Symphonies of the Night." While no one track can top songs like "Galswintha" and "Hell to the Heavens," the album borrows elements from the band's Viking past with some of the ferocity of its predecessor to reforge the Ulfberht sword and make for one of the group's most enjoyable albums to date. Though some of the material treads the line of Nightwish, Leaves' Eyes has one of the originators of the scene at the helm in Kristine, and she grows in strength on every release. For an old warhorse like your author, it is the death dirge of Krull and beefy trademark riffs of Bauer that gives "King of Kings" the edge.

Highs: Krull & Bauer infuse a bit of Atrocity, which sets Leaves' Eyes apart; songwriting continues to excel.

Lows: Some of the material falls in to the inevitable "symphonic metal trap" - treading too close to Nightwish.

Bottom line: Even with a queen at the helm, Leaves' Eyes is still the "King of Kings."

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)