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Sole ruler, victorious - 85%

EyesOfGlass, September 28th, 2015

It’s pretty clear at this stage of the game that Leaves' Eyes has broken any ties with the gothic-influenced sound of Lovelorn. The album clearly aimed for a more symphonic approach that departed from the conventional gothic sound of Theatre of Tragedy, yet many songs still had this rather dark atmosphere going on, not as pronounced as Theatre of Tragedy’s, but evident enough to draw comparisons with the last works that featured Liv. Albums like Njord or Meredead are also symphonic metal albums above anything else, but there are many more influences involved on those two records that don't make them as straight-forward as Symphonies of the Night or King of Kings are. And I see that many are having problems in regards to Leaves’ Eyes going for a more straight-forward sound. I know that albums like Njord or Meredead are great because they have very powerful atmospheres and are very diverse, but I actually don’t have any complaints about the sound that Leaves’ Eyes has been aiming for since its last album, which is a more direct and guitar-driven approach coupled with the symphonic arrangements and folky nuances that they’re known for.

Stylistically, as I just said, King of Kings builds on the sound of Symphonies of the Night. The album is very guitar-centered, with a tone slightly reminiscent of Once – which you can also hear on the previous album - but still retaining that kind of heavier approach that Leaves’ Eyes developed over the past years. To put it in Thorsten Bauer’s words, “you hear a lot of metal-influenced riff guitar music”, which is actually true for some of the most riff-driven tracks on King of Kings, such as ''Halvdan the Black'' or ''Blazing Waters''. However, the guitars are not brought that up front so as to overshadow the symphonic nature of the band. The more folky songs also deliver the goods, and they’re still one of the reasons I love this band. The uplifting and jovial uilleann pipe melodies, the flutes and cellos together with the guitars, blend perfectly on songs like ''Vengeance Venom'' or ''Swords in Rock''.

The vocal department doesn’t disappoint either. Leaves’ Eyes gave Liv the possibility to demonstrate her wide range, something that she couldn’t do back in her Theater of Tragedy days (not that that was a bad thing anyway). She uses her soprano range to its fullest extent on songs like ''King of Kings'', particularly on the chorus, while others like ''The Waking Eye'' feature a softer and more melodic approach by her, very much in the vein of the band’s debut album Lovelorn. Alexander has also improved lot since his Njord times, where his grunts where barely decent. Both his voice and Liv’s complement quite well on any of Leave’s Eyes previous albums at the end of the day, but there’s no denying that his vocal work could’ve used a bit of improvement back then. Things started to get better with the previous album though, and now King of Kings shows him giving a quite competent performance with harsh growls and his occasionally deeper grunts. There are also some very pleasant surprises like the guest vocals by Simone Simons on ''Edge of Steel'' and Linda Fay Hella’s appearance on ''Blazing Waters''. Even though both vocalists deliver the goods, I still would’ve liked them to give Simons a bit more space, perhaps allow her to take the lead on some verses or to stand out more. Fay’s appearance on the other hand, provides ''Blazing Waters'' with a nice atmospheric beginning that slowly builds up until the main guitar riffs comes in and the track turns into a riffing monster.

Yes, the album is shorter and more straightforward than previous works, it’s particularly more in line with Symphonies of the Night, as I have already said a couple of times, but this doesn’t make it any worse. The fact that the band’s aiming for a more direct approach doesn’t hurt Leaves’ Eyes at all as the band’s essence remains untouched - the symphonic and folk elements are as good as they’ve always been. This only shows Leaves' Eyes songwriting quality, as they've been able to deliver in 45 minutes what albums like Njord did on one hour of playing time. Those that approach this album expecting to find the enthralling atmospheres of Njord or Meredead might be disappointed, but the album makes up for it with the actual music, which is a more than satisfying piece of symphonic metal with a Nordic folk touch.

Several steps in the wrong direction - 66%

PorcupineOfDoom, September 19th, 2015

The more I've listened to Symphonies of the Night lately, the more I realise that it is a very good album. When I first heard it I wasn't so convinced, and I'm still sure that Njord is superior. However, Leaves' Eyes previous album eventually did connect with me, and now the followup has the difficult task of living up to my expectations.

Frankly, it falls short. Maybe I need to listen to it a few more times before I can jump to that conclusion, but right from the very first song something just doesn't feel right. It's difficult to place exactly what's wrong about it at first, but pretty much everything about it is weaker than I'd expected. The songs are more heavily folk influenced than previously, despite the fact that they've always been heavily rooted in folk. I remember complaining about the lack of folk elements on Symphonies of the Night, and somewhat ironically now I'm going to complain that they're too prominent. It goes overboard really, and at times I forget that I'm listening to a symphonic metal band as opposed to a folk metal one.

I'm also disappointed to say that for the first time, Liv Kristine seems to have dropped in quality between records. Don't get me wrong, because she really couldn't get much better than on the last album, and she is still incredible. But it has to be said that she's far less spectacular here than she had been previously. I've always found that Liv shines most of all in the highest sections, and I'm left mesmerized every time she pulls out those kind of notes. But here, those sections aren't actually all that common. The last album had a simple pattern of building up to the last chorus, where everything went up an octave, thus ending every single track in incredible fashion. Maybe that sounds boring and unoriginal for an entire album, but to be honest I looked forward to it every time, simply because I knew that Liv would pull out something incredible. Here, not so much. And surprisingly, even when the high sections do feature, she sounds like she's degraded a couple of steps. No worse than on Njord, mind you, but that's still a step in the wrong direction.

Alexander Krull seems to include his voice less and less with each passing album, and I'm glad to say that this trend continues here. Because let's face it, we'd all rather listen to Liv than to some semi-growled shouts. He's far more skilled at the synth work, which is still of a pretty high quality. That being said, it doesn't seem as good as it was on the last few albums either. I don't think that it's entirely down to his playing, rather the fact that the synth doesn't work with all the folk music around it. It almost sounds like two things being forced together when they're clearly not made to go, like trying to jam the square block into the circular hole. That being said, it isn't as strong and commanding as I would like it to be.

Matters are not helped by the guitars. Normally with Leaves' Eyes you can expect repetitive riffing that only serves to qualify the band as metal. They usually add the slightest kick to the music that escalates it from rock to metal, and other than that tend to serve as just a base for everything else to build on. They do pretty much nothing else. So all you've got behind the thin veil of synth is a very obviously gap-filled series of chugs, which is not plugged by the bass because of course there is none. Now, the solo on 'Halvdan the Black' is pretty awesome. Why couldn't we get more of that? You know, something a little exciting, a little bit of inspiration. Mindless chugging does the rest of the band no favours. When there's something else going on, like at the start of 'Vengeance Venom' with the folk instruments leading the way, then the guitarists can afford to be lazy. But for the most part that isn't the case, and with Alexander's work being slightly more subdued than normal, it's a disaster waiting to happen.

Basically, everything's several steps backwards from where I'd have expected them to go. It's disappointing, and while there are a few redeeming tracks like 'Sacred Vow' and 'Blazing Waters', for the most part King of Kings is a bit of a letdown. Maybe you'll find something in this that I didn't, but for me this is far below the bar that I expected the band to be able to clear.