Nightwish ~ SSE Wembley Arena 19.12.2015: Gig Review

One of the last things I did before Christmas descended and all my free time went out the window was to go and see Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish – arguably the biggest in their genre – play the legendary SSE Wembley Arena with my good friends Beth and Mandy. To make things even more exciting, they were supported by Amorphis – whom Beth and Mandy particularly love – and the legendary Arch Enemy, recently joined by powerhouse vocalist Alissa White-Gluz of The Agonist fame. I am a huge Alissa White-Gluz fan, so I was just as excited to see her perform live as I was Nightwish, if not maybe secretly more so! After an absolute mission making our way up to the venue (the SSE Wembley Arena is located on the complete opposite side of London to where I live), what followed was an absolute master class in spectacle and musicianship. Although certain members of the audience threatened to spoil my good time and impact negatively on my review, it was an undeniably magical evening filled with surprises and flashes of brilliance; I am so grateful to have been there to witness one of my favourite ever bands play the gig of their lives along with a couple of very special friends.

Nightwish

First up was Amorphis: a prog/death metal band also hailing from Finland, consisting of six members, whose twelfth album, Under The Red Cloud, was released last year to critical acclaim. As previously mentioned, it was a bit of a mission making our way up to the venue and we arrived much later than we would have liked, meaning that we were still in the queue by the time Amorphis came onto the stage. Consequently, we only managed to catch the tail-end of their set (apparently they played just eight songs) so I am not able to expound much upon my thoughts beyond that I thought they sounded quite good, certainly got the crowd going, and I look forward to seeing them play the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham later this year when I go up to visit Beth!

Next was Arch Enemy, who stormed onto the stage with a single from Khaos Legions – their final album with Angela Gossow – ‘Yesterday Is Dead And Gone’. Alissa White-Gluz – a veritable streak of brilliant blue hair and spiky black armour – jumped, snarled, charged and whipped her way around the massive stage without so much as breaking a sweat, all whilst delivering the kind of vocal fry that other heavy vocalists can only dream of. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t actually think Arch Enemy is the best vehicle for showcasing Alissa’s talents and vocal gymnastics, but by God she is a much needed breath of fresh air for them.

Their setlist leaned heavily upon their latest album, War Eternal (which is understandable given that this is the album where Alissa stepped in) however there were also a few tracks taken from the aforementioned Khaos Legions along with a couple of classics from Doomsday Machine and Wages of Sin thrown in for good measure. Personal highlights for me were the wonderfully melodic ‘Avalanche’, the rallying aggression of ‘No Gods, No Masters’ and their most well-known hit, ‘Nemesis’.

Intro: Khaos OvertureAlissa

  1. Yesterday Is Dead and Gone
  2. War Eternal
  3. Ravenous
  4. Stolen Life
  5. You Will Know My Name
  6. As The Pages Burn
  7. Under Black Flags We March
  8. Avalanche
  9. No Gods, No Masters
  10. Nemesis

Outro: Enter The Machine

Alas, Arch Enemy’s time on stage was over far too soon. With their mission to whip the crowd up into a furious frenzy and get them ready for the main event accomplished, I have no doubt that they left that stage with 12,500 fans of ‘pure fucking metal’ in their wake.

Under Black Flags We March

After this, a massive safety curtain descended as Nightwish’s road crew got to work on finishing installing the massive screens and pyrotechnics; this was the first time Nightwish were headlining a stage big enough in the UK to support their full show. The mystery only enhanced the build up and our excitement bubbled to breaking point! Unfortunately a few less-than-thoughtful crowd members decided to choose this moment to shove directly in front of us and one of the girls, who wanted her boyfriend to join her, started waving her hands directly in my face. This was the first person I told to get lost before the night was over.

Breaking with tradition, Nightwish did not come on to a soundtrack taken from Tuomas Holopainen (keyboardist and songwriter)’s latest favourite film. Instead they took everyone by surprise and literally burst onto the stage with an explosion of fireworks and the sudden dropping of the safety curtain to the storming orchestral opener ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’. It was a truly exhilarating moment and set the tone of the show immediately, with everyone singing along, cheering, throwing their arms up in the air and head-banging from the word go. The noise was simply unbelievable, and sent shivers down my spine; one of the best opening songs for a concert I have ever, ever seen.

Whilst not the strongest set list I could have hoped for (my work-colleague Agnese attended their show two weeks earlier in Prague and was privy to the magnificent ‘Wishmaster’), there was a good mix of old and new with a smattering of greatest hits and no less than three monster songs that exceed the ten-minute mark:

  1. Shudder Before The Beautiful
  2. Yours Is An Empty Hope
  3. Ever Dream
  4. Storytime
  5. The CrowdMy Walden
  6. While Your Lips Are Still Red
  7. Élan
  8. Weak Fantasy
  9. 7 Days To The Wolves
  10. Alpenglow
  11. The Poet And The Pendulum
  12. Nemo
  13. I Want My Tears Back
  14. Stargazers
  15. Ghost Love Score
  16. Last Ride Of The Day
  17. The Greatest Show On Earth

Let’s get the low points of the night out of the way first. During a fantastic rendition of ‘Yours Is An Empty Hope’ – featuring rare heavy vocals from Floor Jansen and one of the highlights of the set list despite what I am about to write – a very drunk and inconsiderate oaf came right up behind me and draped his arms all over my head and shoulders throughout the entirety of the song. It was not just me who he did this too either, but several others around me. Collectively, we told him where to go, but he was so blind drunk that I don’t think he was even aware of where he was. Eventually I got so angry that I ended up moving to a spot where I couldn’t see as well, just to get away from this one individual. I was still raging several songs later, and this idiot in addition to the girl I mentioned earlier, completely ruined the first part of the night for me. I began to feel a bit better when Troy Donockley (uilleann pipe-player and fellow Englishman) arrived on the scene to gush about playing a sold out Wembley show and introduce a deliriously soaring and joyful rendition of ‘My Walden’. However, tracks 6 through 10 were pretty weak; I was actually bored during ‘Alpenglow’ and I began to feel incredibly dehydrated and ill due to the heat. During the opening bars of epic song no.1 – ‘The Poet And The Pendulum’ – I began to wonder if I was even going to be able to remain conscious.

Which brings us to the show highlights…

‘The Poet and the Pendulum’ is one of my favourite Nightwish songs ever, and I was so, so excited to see it performed live. Consequently, despite feeling like I was about to keel over and die, I forced myself to hold on in order to sing, shout, scream and thrash my way through all 13 minutes and 54 seconds of Tuomas’ magnificent ode to depression and writer’s block. Images of the enormous, ominous bladed pendulum swinging right to left dominated the backdrop to great effect, whilst vocalist Floor Jansen – whom I personally think struggles to sing Anette Olzon’s songs as well as she does Tarja’s – excelled during this performance, stepping in with her classical voice during the choir boy moments. It was truly fantastic and looked set to be my favourite performance of the night.

After ‘The Poet and the Pendulum’ had finished and the opening piano notes of the band’s most well-known song ‘Nemo’ started up, I took the opportunity to dash outside for a little bit and down a glass of water. Once I felt much cooler and less thirsty, I bought myself a Sprite then took some water back for Mandy and Beth just in time for a thundering rendition of ‘I Want My Tears Back’ from my favourite Nightwish album, Imaginaerum. From there it was pretty much relentless in terms of excellent set list choices, from the vintage ‘Stargazers’ to fan-favourite and epic song no. 2, ‘Ghost Love Score’.

However, not a single song performed that night – not even ‘The Poet and the Pendulum’ – was quite so spectacularly stunning as the show’s closer: epic song no. 3, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’.

Where to begin? What I experienced throughout this formidable finale – clocking in at a staggering 24 minutes long – can only be described as euphoric; a near-religious experience. What I initially thought was a very bloated and self-indulgent track on the record was nothing short of a masterpiece when performed live. From its ethereal beginning to its introspective end, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ catalogues the conception of life on earth through numerous eras of evolution and the dawn of civilisation, paying ode to the spectacular achievements and failings of humankind, including poetry, architecture, musical history (to which an entire bonkers section is dedicated), religious extremism and the ‘giant mushroom clouds’ of the atomic bomb. Floor showcased every aspect of her vocal range including a gorgeous operatic style during ‘Part I: Four Point Six’, futuristic growling during ‘Part II: Life’, and her trademark melodic shouting for ‘Part III: The Toolmaker’, accompanied by bassist and fellow-vocalist Marco Hietala. As the repeated refrain towards the ‘The Toolmaker’s end, ‘WE WERE HERE’ blazed across the screens, the sudden realisation that I was not only witness to this incredible band at the height of their powers in such a special, legendary venue, but also one of the ‘privileged few’ to ‘[win] the lottery of birth’ against ‘stupefying odds’ hit me like a ton of bricks.

And to top off the night, renowned scientist Richard Dawkins – the inspiration behind Tuomas’ latest work and the song’s title – came out after the band had taken their bows during ‘Part IV: The Understanding’ to read a final quote from Charles Darwin:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one. And that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Richard Dawkins

Cue ‘Part V: Sea-Worn Driftwood’, and the crowd erupts.

In conclusion, if I were to let inconsiderate members of the audience and what I believed to be a less-than-stellar setlist affect my rating of this gig, I would honestly give it a verdict of 3/5. However, because Nightwish have no control over their audience, and because of the nothing short of spectacular finale alone, I have no choice but to award the following:

Verdict 5/5

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


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

http://nightwish.com/en
http://www.archenemy.net/
http://www.amorphis.net/

Richard Dawkins Foundation:

https://richarddawkins.net/

Special shout-out to Uber for providing us with an affordable lift home after the show finished too late for us to catch a train.

All photos taken by me, Beth or Mandy (photos used with their permission), except for the picture of the SSE Wembley Arena audience which was taken from Nightwish’s Facebook page. If you look very very hard, you can see us in the bottom left-hand corner. Thanks for a fantastic evening, girlies!

 

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Innuendo by Amberian Dawn: Album Review

InnuendoInnuendo is the sixth studio album from Finnish symphonic power metal band, Amberian Dawn, and the second to feature their new vocalist; former pop singer, Capri. The band was formed in 2003 by guitarist and keyboardist Tuomas Sepälä and ex-bassist Tommi Kuri, the latter of whom very sadly passed away at the beginning of last year. Whilst classically trained and capable of singing operatically, Capri’s strong, powerful voice is incredibly retro-sounding that gives the group a distinctive edge in the symphonic metal genre. Comparisons to ABBA and the general sound of Eurovision are easy to make; Capri has portrayed Anni-Frid Lyngstad on stage and auditioned for the infamous song contest twice in the late 2000s.

The current Amberian Dawn line-up is as follows:

Païvi “Capri” Virkkunen: vocals
Tuomas Sepälä: guitar, keyboards
Emil “Empuu” Pohjalainen: guitars
Jukka Hoffren: bass
Joonas Pykälä-aho: drums

Whilst their previous album, Magic Forest, favoured a heavier symphonic metal sound with a decidedly gothic, fairytale theme, Innuendo is much rockier and more melodic. Lyrically it is less cohesive than Magic Forest, with a greater emphasis on storytelling and individual characters that vary wildly from pirates to witches to ball-hosting counts. Likewise the music jumps around from sea shanty to synth-heavy 80s and musical-theatre throwbacks. Truthfully, the heavy emphasis on melody over power and speed make this one of the more accessible metal albums I’ve listened to, but the flip side of that is that there are less layers to sort through, and thus Innuendo becomes very boring to listen to very quickly.

Amberian DawnTracklisting:

  1. Fame And Gloria
  2. Ladyhawk
  3. Innuendo
  4. The Court of Mirror Hall
  5. Angelique
  6. Rise Of The Evil
  7. Chamber Of Dreadful Dreams
  8. Knock Knock Who’s There?
  9. Symphony Nr 1, Part 1 – The Witchcraft
  10. Your Time – My Time

The album’s pirate-themed opener, ‘Fame & Gloria’, is a significant departure from anything the group have tried before. The song tells the story of a group of pirate women called the Black Doves who take over a warship and rally to arms. With cries of ‘Hey ho!’ and ‘We’re drinking!’ there are some definite sea shanty lilts to the guitar work. It’s a fun, energetic opener that doesn’t exactly set the tone of the album, but gets you into the right lighthearted frame of mind.

Next up is ‘Ladyhawk’, a song with an ambiguously avian protagonist who wishes to ‘relearn how to fly’. This is probably the most 80s-sounding song on the record with its synth-keyboards, bubblegum backing vocals and major key chorus (my opinion could be ever-so slightly skewed by the fact the title resembles the 1985 film, Ladyhawke, which also features a woman who can turn into a bird). The breakdown is really fantastic with some technical guitar work hidden throughout, and the lyrics have a really positive, uplifting message. Definitely an album highlight.

The album’s title track, ‘Innuendo’ is another standout track. With its dramatic Arabic-sounding opening, super speedy drums, talk of ‘seven cycles’, ‘sand in the hourglass’, and the sun and moon design of the album cover, I find myself thinking of the original Babylonian Zodiac and the majestic desert sands of the Middle East. The title does not refer to the more well-known definition of ‘innuendo’ i.e. a sexual reference, but instead talks of life as being a nasty trick or a deliberate insult. This is one of my personal favourite songs on the record.

Things begin to fall down a bit with the next track, ‘The Court Of Mirror Hall’. This was the first song the band revealed from Innuendo in the form of a lyric video, and said lyrics conjure images of the Count of Monte Cristo showing off how rich and fabulous his house is whilst goading a woman to marry him (I couldn’t help but think of the Masquerade scene from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) as well). Beyond that, it’s a pretty forgettable track, and a prime example of what I said earlier about the music becoming very boring to listen to very quickly.

The follow-up, ‘Angelique’, is significantly more interesting. For a start, it’s a piano-led ballad with hints of the symphonic, fae-like sound of Magic Forest. Like ‘Ladyhawk’, the identity of the protagonist is ambiguous. Is she a shipwrecked Black Dove? A siren? Maybe even a mermaid? The softness of the piano really gives Capri’s vocals room to shine, and hints of her classical training are permitted come through to great effect. At times it does border a little on musical theatre, particularly when the piano changes to forte along with a general swell of symphonic sound, but this doesn’t detract from the overall strength of the song.

Like ‘The Court of Mirror Hall’, the next two tracks, ‘Rise Of The Evil’ and ‘Chamber of Dreadful Dreams’ are completely forgettable, despite  being among the two heaviest and most power metal tracks on the record. Meanwhile,’Knock Knock Who’s There?’ is not so much forgettable as just plain horrible. Whilst arguably playful, the synth, twinkling sounds, melodic major key and child-like wonder in Capri’s vocal inflections – that made its closest musical counterpart ‘Ladyhawk’ so good – are just way, way too much here.

Things pick back up a bit with ‘Symphony Nr 1, Part 1 – The Witchcraft’. With a strong symphonic opening and a bouncy, sing-a-long melody, it tells the story of a witch hunt, only for the the point of view to switch from the mob to the witch. Despite being of a more upbeat tempo, ‘Symphony Nr 1’ has a lot in common with ‘Angelique’; the general sound of the song is very musical theatre-esque with a strong focus on the characterisation of the protagonist. The song’s closing bars also echo ‘Angelique’ very subtly, however whilst ‘Symphony Nr 1’ grabs your attention on first listen, its repetitive melody and simplistic lyrics don’t have any staying power.

Fortunately, given how erratic and bizarre the rest of the album sounds, things end on a high note with ‘Your Time – My Time’. With some fantastically fast guitar-work despite the generally mid-tempo speed, the song is tightly written with some wonderful, equivocal lyrics that echo the album’s title track ‘Innuendo’. The song is beautifully sung by Capri, the breakdown is ominous and sinister, and the fade-to-black gorgeous guitar solo is simply wonderful. This is easily the best track on the record, and my personal favourite.

Overall, Innuendo is a decidedly mediocre album that drifts a bit too much stylistically and lacks the cohesiveness that makes a truly great symphonic metal record. Though there are a couple of tracks here that I do like, I doubt very much I will still be listening to them in a year’s time.

Verdict: 2/5
S.E. Berrow


Amberian Dawn’s official website:

http://amberiandawn.com/

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

‘The Court of Mirror Hall’: https://youtu.be/dYxw1bI6rnY
‘Fame & Gloria’: https://youtu.be/vjqKk8JRzQo
‘Ladyhawk’: https://youtu.be/7H52v7RuANg

 

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/