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Yes, the title is a dumb reference to a The Guess Who tune, but still, whenever I hear this band brought up, "These Eyes" always pops up in my head. Anyways...
Alexander Krull is one of those distinctive buggers whose been involved with one of the most gratifying, astounding and memorable metal albums I've ever had the pleasure to own (Todessehnsucht), and one of the most rancid, steaming shit-logs ever compressed into a compact disc (Werk 80). With the Atrocity brand tarnished beyond redemption, I'm not surprised that his later venture with partner Liv Kristine would become his new flagship band, and as it turned out, a hell of a successful one. Leaves Eyes' focus on embellishing somewhat gothic, symphonic metal with a healthy dose of traditional European folk music is not some sort of revelatory creation they conceived, but they definitely took the style and added their own unique flair while increasingly piling on the more folkish elements of their sound to their output with each successive effort. Meredead, as of now, is probably their most forward yet backwards thinking release yet, forward in that the music and arrangements are becoming more professional and complex in scope, and backwards only in the sense of increasingly drawing inspiration from music and prose from bygone eras.
With every song draped with at least some range of Uileann Pipes, fiddles, flutes, mandolins and shit, at times the album feels almost as if it could be found within the "world music" section of the few remaining record stores just as easily as the metal/rock section. It's not a bad thing since the execution of the playing is certainly of high quality, but such medieval and jaunty sounding folk music combined with power-tinged heavy metal can make for an uncanny mixture that doesn't always jibe with my tastes. It's almost similar to watching a cable TV medieval fantasy film in which Anglo-Saxon knights and princesses are masters of kung-fu and the climax involves a motorcycle chase across the fields of Eriador. It can be quite entertaining, and I can admire the cinematography and stuntwork, but at some point in time I have to just stand back and think about just how fucking absurd and ridiculous this whole package seems. Hybridizing such different genres from different eras can make for some fascinating creations, as well as other things that common sense should have intervened before any attempt was made in the first place. Thankfully enough, Meredead is somehow able to toe that fine line between interesting and embarrassing through the sheer competence of their writing skills and seeming knowledge of Euro-music from ages past.
Don't get me wrong though, this isn't some new-age tripe with a guitar solo thrown in; there's plenty of metal to be had as well, and even death growls rear their ugly jaws during the epic "Sigrlinn". The guitars are heavy, but not pushed dramatically up front as to drown out the other instruments to any degree. The whole concept still constitutes metal though, and as much as there are elements that recall the days of dancing around the maypole with elves, gnomes and trollops, much of the material is similarly rooted in the symphonic metal stylings that recall Liv's former band moreso than Alexander's Atrocity.
The degree of these folksy ingredients varies concerning each track. Regarding a few cases, such as the otherwise excellent cover of Mike Oldfield's "To France", they really didn't need that little extra layer of olden junk, but I suppose it adds continuity to the overall theme of Meredead, thus as a whole the album benefits from it even if a couple of individual tracks suffer a bit in my opinion. The variances also range from the bombastic opener to a pure folksy cut in "Tell Tale Eyes", with plenty of room in-between for different shades of heaviness and fluffiness depending on each track. A song like "Nystev" works pretty damn well as some metalized hoedown, while on the other side of the fence, "Empty Horizon" clings tightly to a gothic metal ballad format, with Alexander unfortunately chiming in during the chorus with a dopey clean delivery.
Liv herself has a whole cast of guest characters to help churn out the lyrics, and this isn't just a bonus, but an actual necessity to give these tunes some real juice. As a singer, she's come a long way from her early Theatre Of Tragedy days on a technical level, but she still just sounds too feather-weight and non-distinct to carry a whole album by herself without inducing me into a long slumber. Having that choir belting away during "Spirits' Masquerade" adds a strong level of intensity to the heavy sections, and "Étaín" packs more of a punch with the female singer from Elfenthal lending her more operatic voice to the mix. This is one of those cases where I welcome a whole parade of cameos since Liv's style seems more at home with the mellow stuff, although I will concede that she pulls off "To France" flawlessly with an ethereal gothic vibe.
This album turned out to be a grower for me, and maybe in a few months this sort of Viking Riverdance metal shtick will worm its way into my resistant heart. The music is talented, some of the shit is pretty damn catchy, and there's no shortage of adventure, including the use of various languages comprising the lyrics. For now, though, I still find myself pulling back when things get a little too "Lai-di Lai-di Da" for my tastes. Yet if you find this sort of deal appetizing, I would suggest you start munching on Meredead because for what it is, it does it well.
Ya know, what can you say about Leaves' Eyes that you don't already know? They're European, they play symphonic metal with some folky touches, they sing about vikings a lot, and they have yet to release a subpar album--sure, some are weaker than others, but bad material does not exist for these guys. Good news, everyone! Meredead does nothing to change this tradition!
Like any other good Leaves' Eyes release, you've got your metal tracks, your folky tracks, and the songs that mix both styles in varying ratios. In that regard, it's just like every other album they've released...which is good, because as I've mentioned before, consistent quality is what these guys are all about. Oh, one thing did change with Meredead: Alexander Krull's vocals have been cut way, way down and are barely part of the formula anymore. And there was much rejoicing.
Now then, the songs themselves. Remember "Emerald Island" from 2009's Njord? We have a very similar song, thematically, with "Étaín," a classy tune that starts off with a quiet acoustic guitar and swiftly leads into that sweet folk-laced metal we know and love. The drummer does this pretty cool war drum-like effect with his double bass pedals, and it kicks ass. Liv's vocals also deliver nicely here, giving us one of her best performances on the album. Great song.
Just about every song has something to remember: "Spirits' Masquerade" has a pounding chorus with some great orchestral stylings, "To France" has a wonderful intro and some of the most infectious vocal lines you'll hear, "Meredead" is a wonderful ballad that delivers on all fronts, "Tell-Tale Eyes" is a fantastic acoustic-slash-duet piece that doesn't seem so out-of-place on a metal album as you'd suspect, etc. etc. There's not a lot I can condemn this album for (especially now that Alexander Krull is not allowed near the mic), but there are a few complaints to be had.
First off, "Veritas." You're a dumb and boring interlude track. You don't even lead into the next song. Useless useless useless. NEXT! "Sigrlinn" is pretty generic and samey, it's way too long, and it features Krull with his obnoxious vocals. "Mine Tåror er ei Grimme" is a decent little folk song, but it's not terribly interesting, and it also feels a bit samey. If you like it, great; if not, eh. Finally, the guitars aren't too awfully prominent in the production, which I know will drive some of our reviewers here bat-shit insane. It didn't bother me much while listening, but some crazy people listen to metal for the guitars. What a strange group they are.
But anyhoo, that's Meredead, the newest Leaves' Eyes classic. If you're not a fan of these guys, this miiiight change your mind, but I wouldn't bet any big money on it; and of course, if you're already following these guys' heels like a lost puppy as I do, you're going to enjoy yourself. As usual.