Leaves’ Eyes – “The Last Viking” 2CD / 2LP coloured vinyl / DVD (AFM Records)
Battle Helm Rating
Already renowned for albums like “Vinland Saga” (2005) and “King Of Kings” (2015), Leaves’ Eyes now bring their Viking Sagas to a grand finale in “The Last Viking”, a monumental tribute to Harald Hardrada, the last Viking King whose death at the Battle Of Stamford Bridge in 1066 brought the Viking age to an end. Through 14 tracks of symphonic bombast and suave gothic beauty, the tales of Hardrada’s life and death unfold though the sounds of mighty drums, nyckelharpas, fiddles and war horns, joining modern instruments to bring epic closure to this chapter in the 17-year history of Leaves’ Eyes. With stirring Nordic melodies and muscle bound warrior choirs, ‘Chain Of The Golden Horn’ adventurously chronicles, through the dual vocals of Elina Siirala and Alexander Krull, Hardrada’s dangerous escape from Byzantium, where a heavy iron chain was hidden in the Bosporus waters to wreck hostile ships. Bringing synths and crunching riffs into the medieval mix on ‘War Of Kings’, the trade-off between Siirala’s angelic tones and Krull’s roars adds the vocal splendour to match the fire inflamed all the more by dramatic orchestrals and some seriously wild guitar soloing to top off the already heavy epic atmosphere of this song brilliantly. Bursting with gothic magnificence is ‘Dark Love Empress’, told through Siirala’s operatic tones and massive choirs about the vengeful empress Zoë, who when the Viking hero refuses to be one of her many lovers has him locked in the Byzantine dungeons as expressed vividly in its stark contrast of dark tranquillity and charged metallic bombast of symphony. Drawing in catchy pagan fiddles to match irresistible folk melodies along with fast guitars and double bass drums to lead the charge on ‘For Victory’, it’s actually the vocals that once again prove to be overwhelming in coming at you from multiple angles, be it Siirala’s highs, Krull’s roars, warrior shout outs – or just all of them attacking at once! For lovers of the Celtic touch, then there’s the bonnie ‘Varangians’, which is a singalong rhyming knees up jig mixing traditional piped styles with a more modern touch that might raise a few smirks to purists but proves that Leaves’ Eyes aren’t afraid to try new things and maybe have a hearty laugh along the way too, just as true warriors should. However, concluding on an utterly serious note is the 10-minute title track ‘The Last Viking’, which went well beyond epic and more into a film score and at times could’ve been almost ritualistic such is its emotive depth. Opening to the sound of deep horns as if in a mist shrouded fjord, the atmosphere builds as all the instruments deliver their magic while Siirala and Krull add their own passion both as solo voices and even more so together through their stirring trade-offs, and as the tempo increases to include heavy warrior headbanging passages, ethereal moments and even acoustic touches, it’s nothing short of an opera! Leaves’ Eyes pull it off superbly, brilliantly closing off this electrifying album tribute to Harald Sigurdsson and indeed, a saga of their own making.