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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.