I’ve never been a huge fan of symphonic metal, so it goes without saying that Leaves’s Eyes never really caught mine. I’m no stranger to the band, of course, as it features a well-known figure in the Metal community in Alexander Krull (Atrocity) and they have a good run in the scene since 2003, but I’ve never been one to dive into the band’s catalogue.
This made my journey through ‘Sign of the Dragonhead’ a rather pleasant one, because I didn’t quite knew what to expect, and I had no hopes to blind my judgement or anything like that. The sixth-full length by the international group comes out in January 12th, 2018, and will be the very first without the iconic and beautiful Liv Kristine, who parted ways with her lover last year (and naturally also with the band).
But fear not, my headbanger friend, because the “Beauty and the Beast” formula remains intact with the addition of another frontwoman, Elina Siirala, a well-trained soprano and leader of the similarly symphonic band Angel Nation. Picking through Leaves’ Eyes’ catalogue, I can confidently say that the entourage’s new adventure through cold seas, tall mountains and northern realms doesn’t stray too far from the other works. Siirala has a different tone than Kristine’s, but her soothing chants and mesmerizing vocal lines match perfectly with Krull’s musical modus operandi.
“Fairer Than the Sun”, for instance, is a great example of why Krull and Thorsten Bauer (guitar, ex-Enslaved) chose Siirala; beautiful and haunting, it successfully manages to grasp the band’s classical atmosphere. Other tunes like “Fires in the North”, “Jomsborg” and the epic “Waves of Euphoria” all have a Folk vibe that resembles Turisas and Eluveitie, all while maintaining the romantic aura of its main genre. The last one even has some passages that reminded me of Xandria’s latest works.
Weaker parts are also present, like the songs “Like a Mountain” and the title-track “Sign of the Dragonhead”. The first one I’m actually OK with being less dramatic and more fun, but the second one falls in a commonplace and just seems bland. Uninspired, the track feels forced and was probably made just to fit some label demand or grab some (very) casual fans to their ranks. The chorus is boring and annoying, the leads grow weaker by the minute and the supporting elements sound mechanical.
The instrumental “Rulers of Wind and Waves”, as well as the really cool duo “Völva” and “Riders on the Wind” are the most enjoyable songs here. The band chemistry flows naturally and the instrumental parts are spot on, while Siirala feels more at ease with her role, performing some great vocal duets with Krull in selected parts.
Being more serious and dense is what seems to work for Leave’s Eyes in ‘Sign of the Dragonhead’. There is obviously a need for more laid-back and accessible tracks because of the band nature, but Krull only truly shines when he’s creating darker content. This album, I fear, will raise some eyebrows in the more hardcore Leaves’ Eyes fan, especially those who are quite fond of Liv Kristine. Like I said in the first paragraph, though, this wasn’t a problem for me because I never been a fan of the band, so I was able to listen to the album relaxed. All in all, ‘Sign of the Dragonhead’ is a decent album with some considerable setbacks, but I think it will age gracefully and end up receiving a warm welcome from the fans.