German band LEAVES’ EYES have been around since 2003, and in the 15 years they have been active at this stage they have grown to be quite the popular band as well. “Sign of the Dragonhead” is their seventh full length studio album, and is released through German label AFM Records on January 12th 2018.

There is an elephant in the room as far as this album is concerned. Or perhaps a dragon is a more suitable symbol. Whatever allegory you feel like using, founding member and vocalist Liv Kristine isn’t with the band anymore, and the story as to how and why is, to put it diplomatically, disputed. This being the case, there are fans that are glowing in their support of the band’s former lead singer and will approach this album from a negative point of view due to this.

From a technical and musical point of view, the new lead singer Elina Siirala strikes me as a more than competent singer that fits the premises of this band like a glove. Just about a perfect match as far as I can tell, with a voice that suits the compositions here very well indeed.

As for the music itself, this isn’t an album that will deliver any surprises. If anything I get something of a feeling that this is a rather safe production, one where few chances have been taken. The greater majority of the songs are short, less than four minutes long, and as such there aren’t really too many opportunities for any idea to be overly explored. Especially as this is a band that use a fairly wide array of elements in their material for what is, pretty much, a fairly straight forward metal band.

Contrasts is what drives this album onward. Between the clear, operatic and soaring lead vocals of Siirala, the grunts of the male backing vocals and the layered, choir-oriented male and female backing vocal textures. As well as between the darker, harder notes of the guitar and the flowing, lighter toned symphonic textures. Most songs will alternate between gentler and harder sections, and will at set points erupt into majestic, almost Wagnerian operatic or symphonic surges. There’s also a fair few folk music flurries to be found, more Scandinavian inspired than Celtic to my ears, although there are a couple of cuts where my impression was that the Celtic bits ruled the day as well. Then again, I’m by no means a folk music expert, so these are subjective impressions rather than statements of fact.

Symphonic metal with a liberal amount of folk music details then, and a slick and well performed specimen of this kind too, to my ears at least. And on the final two cuts, Fires in the North and Waves of Euphoria, my impression is that the metal aspects of the band’s sound was given a bit more emphasis too, creating a slightly more dark and bombastic conclusion to this production.

Just about the only song here that might be divisive will be the more atmospheric laden folk music explored on Rulers Of Wind And Waves. A beautiful little thing to my ears, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if this little creation would be played through the PA as the song that precedes the band entering the stage when they are playing live. To my ears this track is tailor made for such a purpose.

If you enjoy straight forward, uncomplicated symphonic metal with a strong flavoring of folk music incorporated, Leaves’ Eyes have been one of the bands of choice for a number of years already. “Sign of the Dragonhead” is another case in point for why this is the case. Arguably a tad predictable and safe, but it is still a high quality album of it’s kind that rarely if ever disappoints.

My rating: 78/100

Track list:
Sign of the Dragonhead // Across the Sea // Like a Mountain // Jomsborg // Völva // Riders on the Wind // Fairer Than the Sun // Shadows in the Night // Rulers of Wind and Waves // Fires in the North // Waves of Euphoria

Links:
http://www.leaveseyes.com/
https://www.afm-records.de/en/

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