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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.