Leaves’ Eyes ~ O2 Academy, Islington 10.11.2015: Gig Review

On Tuesday night I went to see symphonic/folk metal band, Leaves’ Eyes play the O2 Academy in Islington. Liv, Alex et al were accompanied by Diabulus In Musica from Spain and supported by London-based EnkeliNation. The venue was not exactly the most packed out I’ve ever seen it, but the eclectic crowd was full of energy and all three bands fed it back three-fold.

Swords In Rock

Being a rather lonely gothic metalhead amongst my friends, and with my usual gig buddy Beth unable to attend due to teaching obligations in Birmingham, I decided to strike out on my own. I arrived at the venue within plenty of time and took my place in the queue to eat my dinner (a rather sad salmon and cucumber sandwich). Whilst waiting, I got chatting with a man who has made a hobby out of attending rock and metal gigs. He told me that since the beginning of this year, he has been to at least 120, and that Leaves’ Eyes was his fifth show in seven days. He also works full-time as a criminal investigator and functions on about three hours of sleep a night. What a dude. Sir, I salute you!

Having come straight from work I wasn’t exactly dressed for the occasion, so the first thing I did when I got inside was buy myself a girlie-fit T-shirt with the album artwork from King of Kings printed on it. I took my time eyeing up the rest of the merch on offer – mostly T-shirts featuring various artwork from the album with tour dates on the back – and tried to secure myself a copy of King of Kings on limited edition red vinyl. The lady on the stall said she couldn’t look after it for me while the gig was on, so I resolved to try and nab one on the way out if there were any left. I parked myself two rows from the front and stayed there, making friends and trying to stubbornly ignore an incredibly bolshy, drunk blonde woman with no sense of personal space, who kept shoving in front of me and would later spend the entirety of Leaves’ Eyes’ performance of ‘The Waking Eye’ screaming into my left ear (she wandered off eventually to molest a couple of bald gentlemen in the front row instead, thank goodness).

First up was the local support, EnkeliNation – a melodic rock/metal band founded by classically trained opera singer and Finnish expatriate Elina Siirlana. The band also includes guitarist Shadow Venger, drummer Benjamin Tarten and bassist Julia Cadau. To see a woman on this scene in any position other than the lead singer was incredibly refreshing and it certainly made them stand out in all the right ways. I am not familiar with their stuff, nor indeed have I ever even heard of them before, but they had a passionate fanbase dispersed throughout the audience. Although I could not help but feel that Elina’s vocals seemed to suffer a little bit live, as though she were running out of breath, EnkeliNation certainly put on a solid performance and I will check out their debut album, Tears of Lust, in my own time.

Next up were a band I was really looking forward to see: Spanish symphonic metal act, Diabulus in Musica, fronted by an impressively pregnant Zuberoa Aznàrez. Zuberoa’s gorgeous operatic vocals were accompanied by grunts and growls from keyboardist Gorka Elso who also seemed to be controlling the bass through the use of a computer. Odei Ochoa – usually the band’s bassist – handled the guitar work in place of a regrettably absent Alexy Kolygin. Drummer David Carrica was also in attendance. Beautifully lit by a moody red and gold light reminiscent of the colour scheme used in all their album artwork, Diabulus In Musica dominated the stage, let down only by poor sound configuration that swamped Zuberoa’s powerful vocals in the lower octaves. Whilst I own a copy of their latest album, Argia, I am still not overly familiar with Diabulus In Musica’s work and therefore wasn’t able to pick out individual songs, but it didn’t matter. Every song got the crowd cheering, head-banging and throwing up their horns. The band looked positively overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response and they promised to return to England in the future.

After a bit of a wait, the band we all came to see, Leaves’ Eyes, emerged onto the stage amidst a roar of applause. Accompanied by a Viking re-enactment group, Jomsborg Ulflag (a collaboration unique to the London leg of the UK tour), they opened with a storming rendition of ‘Halvdan the Black’. Whilst the Viking re-enactors loomed in the background banging their shields like war-drums, lead vocalist Liv Kristine subtly sauntered her way onto the stage with her soft, distinctive voice, shortly followed by growling husband Alex. He positively exploded into view, grabbing the crowd by their proverbial horns and whipping everyone up into a frenzy in no time. The O2 Islington Academy stage is not the biggest, and given the Viking presence in the background, the crowd were all very close indeed to the band during the opener. It felt very intimate and helped crank up the atmosphere, doing an excellent job of filling up the room.

The setlist, packed with a suitable blend of old and new, well-known and obscure, was as follows:

Intro: Sweven

1. Halvdan The Black
2. Sacred Vow
Liv Kristine3. Farewell Proud Men
4. The Waking Eye
5. Symphony of the Night
6. Melusine
7. Edge of Steel
8. Into Your Light
9. Galswintha
10. My Destiny
11. Swords in Rock
12. Hell To The Heavens
13. King of Kings

Encore 1:
14. Elegy

Encore 2:
15. Blazing Waters

Outro: Mot Fjerne Land

Highlights for me included: Liv hitting notes during ‘Symphony of the Night’ so staggeringly loud and so unbelievably high that it could have shattered glass and certainly made every hair on my body stand on end; heavy rocker ‘Melusine’ that I’d never actually heard before; the inclusion of one of their earliest songs ‘Into Your Light’ on the setlist; the gallivanting revelry of drinking song ‘Swords In Rock’ which got everybody jumping, dancing and singing along; and a soaring, haunting rendition of my favourite track from the latest album, ‘King of Kings’. For the final song of the night the band performed the epic naval battle song ‘Blazing Waters’ (which incidentally has grown on me immensely since my initial review of the album). The Vikings came back on stage, led by a sword-swinging Alex dressed in his King of Kings album-cover getup as Harold “Fairhair” Hårfagre, first King of Norway. It was a truly spectacular end to the night and everyone left feeling pumped and ready for battle!

As the lady on the merchandise stall had promised earlier, Liv Kristine came out afterwards to meet with fans and hand out signed leaflets promoting her solo show at the Camden Underworld on 20 December later this year. Having dashed from the main room quickly before chaos could descend, I picked up that copy of King of Kings on vinyl I had promised myself and took my place in the queue/scrum to meet Liv. I didn’t have to wait very long, despite the madness. She was so very nice and sweet and immediately signed my record without me even having to ask, handing me a leaflet to go with it. I said thank you to her for putting ‘Into Your Light’ on the setlist because it was my absolute favourite song of theirs, and she told me that yes, she could see that because I knew all the lyrics! Cue mortified embarrassment that Liv apparently noticed me losing my proverbial shit during this song (she did point, grin, nod and clap at me halfway through but I thought she was gesturing to the crowd in general… nope). I then asked if she would kindly let me take a picture, to which she said, “Of course!”, thus making me insanely happy and grateful, as evidenced by the crazed look in my eyes:

Meeting Liv Kristine

I had such a good time and would definitely see these guys play again. Thank you, Leaves’ Eyes! Until next time!

Leaves' Eyes Crowd Photo

Verdict: 4/5

My next gig will be Nightwish at their sold-out Wembley Arena show on 19 December. Perhaps I’ll see some of you there?

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


Be sure to check out all the bands mentioned above’s official websites:

http://www.leaveseyes.de/
http://diabulusinmusica.com/en/
http://www.enkelination.com/

Jomsborg Ulfag’s website:

http://ulflag.com/

To read my review of Leaves’ Eyes latest album, King of Kings, click here.

All photos included in this blog taken by me, except the photo from the stage which was taken from Leaves’ Eyes Facebook page. I am actually in that photo! Can you see me?

King Of Kings by Leaves’ Eyes: Album Review

King of KingsKing of Kings is the sixth studio album from German-Norweigan symphonic and folk metal band, Leaves’ Eyes. Formed in 2003, the group is fronted by former Theatre of Tragedy singer, Liv Kristine. Her gorgeous, soft melodic vocals are accompanied by the death-growls of her husband, Alexander Krull, whose band Atrocity form the remainder of the line-up:

Liv Kristine Espenæs Krull: clean vocals
Alexander Krull: keyboards, growls
Thorsten Bauer: guitar, bass
Pete Streit: guitar
Joris Nijenhuis: drums

The lyrical content of Leaves’ Eyes albums almost always revolve around Norse mythology and Viking history, and King of Kings is no different. This is a concept album about the life of Harald “Fairhair” Hårfagre, the first King of Norway, whose naval victory at the Battle of Harsfjord in 872 united Norway into one country. The end result is quite simply stunning.

Tracklisting:Leaves' Eyes

  1. Sweven
  2. King Of Kings
  3. Halvden The Black
  4. The Waking Eye
  5. Feast Of The Year
  6. Vengeance Venom
  7. Sacred Vow
  8. Edge Of Steel (feat. Simone Simons of Epica)
  9. Haraldskvæði
  10. Blazing Waters (feat. Lindy-Fay Hella of Wardruna)
  11. Swords In Rock

The album opens with the introductory track ‘Sweven’, which is an old Norse word for “dream” or “vision”. With its gorgeous folk opening, fiddle, harpsichord-sound, steady drumbeat and Norweigan lyrics, the title seems completely perfect as we are transported back in time to Harald’s childhood. It runs seamlessly into the album’s title track, ‘King of Kings’, which quite frankly is the best symphonic metal song I have heard in a long, long time. Whilst ‘Sweven’ served as an introduction to this track, ‘King of Kings’ serves as an introduction to the album itself, introducing the concept and themes of what is to come. Continuing in the vein of its predecessor with dream-like chimes and percussion, it then storms through with stirring choirs in the form of the London Voices choir. The symphonic elements from the White Russian Symphony Orchestra positively soar alongside Liv’s pure, faultless vocals and Alex’s understated growls. The effect is absolutely outstanding.

Things turn up a notch for ‘Halvden The Black’, a song about Harald’s father (there is some debate as to where the ‘Black’ in his name comes from, whether it be his hair colour, the colour of his skin or the ice-covered river he drowned in). The opening bars and battle-chants remind me a little of the soundtrack to Skyrim (an RPG video-game by Bethesda, 2011). The choir and Alex’s growls are much more prominent here, conjuring dramatic images of death and destruction. The effect is very exciting, and bound to be a lot of fun to hear and play live… I have a ticket to their upcoming gig at the O2 Academy, Islington on 10 November, and I can’t wait!

The next track, ‘The Waking Eye’, starts out as though it is going to be a lovely ballad with Liv’s beautifully soft vocals but soon develops into something a little more mid-tempo. ‘The Waking Eye’ has a slightly Eurovision feel to it and although it’s not a personal album highlight, I think it is one of the more accessible songs Leaves’ Eyes have put out. It was the lead single from the album and it’s a good choice because the breakdown is surprisingly heavy, which acts as a good taster for the overall sound of King of Kings.

The fifth track ‘Feast of the Year’ is a short, pipe-ridden interlude that leads into the rousing, galloping riff of ‘Vengeance Venom’. This is a celebratory-sounding Viking feasting song that invites the listener to fill up their drinking horn and go dance around the mead hall. The lyrics however tell of a disagreement between Harald and his father over some stolen food and a Sami suspect, whom Harald saves and in turn earns the trust and aid of the Sami people. Despite cries of ‘vengeance, venom, pillage, plunder!’ this song has such an infectiously joyous feel to it, and is another personal album highlight.

‘Sacred Vow’ brings us back to a more symphonic, epic sound with a truly great sing-along chorus. The lyrical content deals with Harald’s proposal of marriage to Princess Gyda Eiriksdatter of Hordaland. She refused and demanded that he first become the sole ruler of Norway. In dedication to his cause, Harald gave a sacred vow to cut neither his beard nor hair until he had fulfilled Gyda’s wishes, hence how he came to be known as Harald “Fairhair”. In ‘Edge of Steel’ Harald makes good on his vow and goes to battle against all those who oppose him. Here I think is where the album falls down a little for me. I was really excited to see from the track-listing that Simone Simons was to provide a guest vocal on this song, however considering how soft and light Liv’s voice usually is compared to Simone’s powerful operatic soprano, it’s actually really very difficult to pick her out (hint: from what I can hear, she alternates with Liv during the verses and sings alongside her during the chorus). In fact, if I didn’t know Simone was there, I would never have known! This was a big disappointment for me, and overshadowed my perception of the track as a whole, but it been growing on me since.

Things slow right down during the truly beautiful ‘Haraldskvæði’, a song based on a poem of the same name which consists of a conversation between an unnamed Valkyrie (handmaids of Odin who conduct slain Norse warriors from the battlefields to Valhalla) and a valravn (a supernatural raven of the slain). It is a homage to the fallen warriors of battle, and the soft pipes in the background alongside the chants of the London Voices choir give it a distinctly Lord of the Rings feel (which makes sense as the London Voices choir also worked on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack).

The climax of the album and Harald’s life comes in the form of ‘Blazing Waters’, which features spiritual chanting from Lindy-Fay Hella of Nordic-folk band Wardruna before morphing into a heavy medieval-sounding track with some truly fantastic electric violin, crashing guitars and aggressive, haunting vocals. Every symphonic metal album has an ‘epic’ song on it that lasts a bit longer than the others, and this is King of Kings’ one, telling the story of the great Battle of Harsfjord. At this stage for me personally, it’s not the most memorable or standout of tracks, but that may simply be a matter of simply getting used to it and unpicking all the layers. It does have an absolutely gorgeous ending though with some more ambient vocals from Lindy-Fay. In fact whilst writing this review it has grown on me massively already.

Sverd I Fjell by Martin F.
Photo by Martin F. The Sverd I Fjell monument was created by sculptor Fritz Røed from Byrne and was unveiled by King Olaf V of Norway in 1983. The largest sword represents Harald “Fairhair” Hårfagre and the smaller swords represent the petty-kings he defeated. The monument as a whole is said to represent peace, as the swords are thrust into rock and thus can never be moved.

The albums closer, ‘Swords In Rock’, is named for the monument of the same name (or Sverd I Fell in Norweigan) erected in 1983 as a monument to the Battle of Harsfjord, bringing us back to the modern-day and the present. With sword-slash sound effects, cheesy wolf howls and a galloping fiddle perhaps a little overly reminiscent of ‘Vengeance Venom’, this light-hearted fun track is on the face of it an odd way to end such an intense listening experience as King of Kings, but makes sense I suppose in the context of looking back through history.

I’ll be honest, I seem to have missed out listening to a load of Leaves’ Eyes albums between their third album and this one. In fact I’ve only ever heard two of their albums before – Lovelorn and Njord – and so I’ve always associated them with making soft, beautiful music to fall asleep to. This album is so much more epic and dramatic than I could ever have hoped for and I absolutely love it. I definitely need to check out some of their more recent releases.

Truly stunning, and one of my favourite albums of the year so far.

Verdict: 5/5

S.E. Berrow


Leaves’ Eyes official website:

http://www.leaveseyes.de/

Fancy a listen? Check out these officially-released videos of some of the tracks reviewed above:

‘Halvden The Black’: https://youtu.be/KNqfIxjKFjo
‘The Waking Eye’: https://youtu.be/GWQQ1Gxo7sc
‘King Of Kings’: https://youtu.be/c_vYIT2sxo0

Official websites of guest musicians:

http://epica.nl/
http://www.wardruna.com/

Sunday Night Piratey-Metal Goodness

I just found out that power metal band Amberian Dawn have a new album out this Friday called Innuendo… this is very exciting news! Clearly I have been living in some kind of goth-cave to have only discovered this at the eleventh hour.

Amberian Dawn | Innuendo

I still haven’t got my mitts on a copy of Leaves’ Eyes King of Kings yet either, which quite frankly is a travesty. God, payday can’t come soon enough…

Leaves' Eyes | King of Kings

Anyways, Amberian Dawn’s latest track, ‘Fame And Gloria’, is pirate-themed and pretty catchy, and seeing as my book The Mayor has pirates in it, it seemed pretty on point and I thought I’d share. Enjoy!

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


Be sure to check out Amberian Dawn and Leaves’ Eyes’ official websites:

http://amberiandawn.com/
http://www.leaveseyes.de/