Leaves’ Eyes – “King Of Kings” (AFM Records)
Oh wow. Leaves’ Eyes have always had a reputation for producing some of the best symphonic metal around, but on this amazing album they go all the way in delivering a viking concept album that re-awakes the thousand-year legend of Norway’s first king, Harald Halvdansson aka ‘Harald Fairhair’! With painstaking research, each of the 11 songs chronicles the life of Harald from the time of his birth to the great battle of Hafrsfjord, where Harald took on three other kings in western Norway who were contesting his declaration to become the sole ruler of Norway. Given that most of the history is sketchy being taken from sagas with the most reliable source actually written 300 years after the battle, vocalist Liv Kristine has done a remarkable job, in part fulfilling a personal quest being born in the town where the battle is commemorated by the famous Swords In Rock – which needless to say is also a song on this remarkable album! Along with counter part gruff vocalist Alexander Krull, the pair spared nothing in putting together a spectacular big budget video for ‘The Waking Eye’ (which is based on Harald’s father having a vision of him becoming a king), enlisting the help of the Værjaborg viking re-enactment group to perform big battle scenes. And what about the music you ask? Well it doesn’t disappoint and is a fitting tribute to who is generally accepted as being the first legitimate king of Norway! Kristine and Krull have vividly captured the epic mood of this ancient tale in all its regality, passion and furor that few bands could hope to accomplish so grandly in all aspects that it definitely crosses into the cinematic metal arena. Using huge choirs like the London Voices ensemble, who have worked on “Star Wars”, “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”, and the White Russian Symphony Orchestra to add massive weight and atmosphere so you can literally feel the heat of what was Norway’s largest battle at that point in history, Leaves’ Eyes have moved into the big league on this aptly titled album. With a heavy Norse and at times Celtic element to the score, the material is spread between deep, passionate pieces using traditional instruments to bombastic warrior metal and glorious epic passages, in no small part driven by Kristine and Krull’s powerful dual vocal delivery and Leaves’ Eyes flamboyant musicianship – especially Joris Nijenhuis pounding viking drums! From the Celtic joy of ‘Vengeance Venom’ where Harald mercifully spares a Sami prisoner and wins favor among their gods to ‘Blazing Waters’, telling of this decisive battle in Norway’s history as 20,000 men clash through the fierce guitars of Thorsten Bauer and Pete Streit, wailing Norse choirs sing as if by Odin’s daughters themselves! Triumphantly closing with the Celtic / Norse fusion of ‘Swords In Rock’ blending beautiful pipes with a roaring warrior chorus the grand tale is finally told on this hugely impressive release worthy of the sagas themselves. Hail Harald! Hail Kristine and Krull!