Leaves’ Eyes – “Sign Of The Dragonhead” (AFM Records)
With the fireworks about Liv Kristine’s departure set to take legal form, Leaves’ Eyes have wasted no time in finding a replacement – Finnish soprano vocalist Elina Siirala, who is also the front woman for Angel Nation and second cousin to Nightwish’s own Tuomas Holopainen! With a series of festival shows already under her belt including Hammersonic in Indonesia in font of 20,000 metal heads, now comes the true test in mettle, namely this follow up to “King Of Kings”, continuing the saga of Norway’s Harald I. Right off I’d say there isn’t a huge difference between Kristine and Siirala, both being able to hit delicate and stratospheric highs, so the trademark beauty-and-the-beast style with Alexander Krull continues in fine stye, although that said “Sign Of The Dragonhead” has an arguably less Viking but more symphonic feel to the 11 tracks herein. Backed by the legendary ‘London Voices’ soundtrack choir (‘Star Wars’, ‘Lord Of The Rings’, ‘Hunger Games’) and Victor Smolski’s Almanac Symphony Orchestra from Minsk, the tales continue magnificently on ‘Across The Sea’, with the melodic strings and dramatic cellos and choir adding the bombastic element to the fire n ice of Krull and Siirala, with naturally huge and catchy melodies. On ‘Like A Mountain’ the difference between Kristine and Siirala becomes more apparent in their soprano highs, and while being matched by pitch, Siirala’s voice seems more mature (probably down to her classical training) than the softer girlie style of Kristine, not that it detracts on this romantic and tragic Icelandic love saga although she soon counters it beautifully on ‘Jomsborg’, a powerful rocker about the legendary fortress and its Baltic Viking army, where in fact Krull’s ancestors hail from! This new collaboration has also allowed Leaves’ Eyes to widen its range to take in some Celtic rock on ‘Riders On The Wind’ although the punkish style guitar and whistles might take some getting used to given the band’s traditional Viking metal approach, although the band brilliantly answer that with the superb ‘Shadows In The Wind’ which I’m guessing was written with Kristine (still) in mind with its cool guitar, smooth vocals and bombastic Nordic choirs – not forgetting another ultra catchy chorus. There’s even a folk instrumental using medieval nyckelharpas, fiddles and uilleann pipes with Siirala this time adding serene backing harmonies to create an ethereal and mythical atmosphere that showcases even more versatility to her obvious talents. Maybe that’s the essence of this album, to both reassure long time fans that very little has changed but also show them the huge potential that awaits them? Only time will tell I guess…..