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Where ebb and flow meet - 83%

FOrbIDen, February 16th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Scarecrow Records (Digipak, Enhanced)

Leaves' Eyes (among bands like Within Temptation, Epica, and After Forever) was one of the first bands I'd heard of when doing my deep dives into the gothic metal genre. And being the inexperienced ten year old that I was, I took what people said about this band at face value: Leaves' Eyes is a gothic metal band... but as I grew older I began to question this label a lot. Maybe it was just me trying to feel like my tastes were expanding past the first dozen or so bands that grasped my attention, but I always saw them as a symphonic folk metal act (especially in their later work, which is what I am more familiar with). But then came the day where I actually purchased a copy of their 2004 debut album Lovelorn, and it was only then that I realized Leaves' Eyes was indeed a gothic metal band. It's actually kind of jarring, not just based on the band's progression since this release, but within the band's own context. I mean, look at the artwork. Bright sandy colors that invoke the feeling of sunshine, Liv Kristine is wearing literal fishnets as though she is an interpretation of an island goddess. Nothing about the band's aesthetic invokes dark, atmospheric, moody music. And to be fair, the band only seems half way committed to that concept in general.

Leaves' Eyes was formed after the dismissal of Liv Kristine from Theatre of Tragedy. At the time, the Norwegian gothic doom pioneers claimed creative differences for splitting with Kristine, which comparing Theatre of Tragedy's progression towards metallic electro-pop, and this album released a year later, their claims were probably on hundred percent true. That being said, Leaves' Eyes was clearly meant to be a project that revolved around not just Liv's voice, but her identity as an artists and songwriter. Therein lies the problem... in 2003/2004, who was that exactly? Lovelorn is undeniably a heavy metal record, but it seems to be split between two main moods: gothic/symphonic operatics, and a warmer folksier slant, complete with acoustic instrumentation and atmospheric world music focus. I don't want to place the blame for this indecision solely on Liv Kristine, her then-husband Alexander Krull was very involved in this project and did a lot of the songwriting. But it seems that this band went in the gothic direction because that's what people would be expecting, not necessarily because it's what they wanted.

And that's not to say that they did a bad job. Liv Kristine finally gets the chance to unfurl a bit and show off her singing chops. She still has that iconic breathiness that she eventually learned to not do so much, which I think is a good thing as it tends to make the overall production sound less clean. She handles her own vocal melodies and lyrics with much more confidence and gusto than anything else she's done before, and I think the instrumentation meets her power quite well. None of the instrumentation is really spectacular, the music is heavy and adequate enough but doesn't call attention to itself. I don't think there's a single guitar riff on this album that I can hum from memory, the sonic focus of this album clearly lies elsewhere. The band essentially adds rhythm and girth, but the real draw to this record is the melodies. Lead vocals, harmonies, and various layers of keyboard and piano frills, etc. This is where most of the appeal and drama lives in this album.

The material on Lovelorn is generally strong. There are some dips in quality, most notably the title track and the emotional "For Amelie" fall a little flat; not that they're unpleasant to listen to, they just err on the forgettable side of things. Personally, I think the band is at their best when they fully embrace the identity that they made out for themselves. Songs like "Ocean's Way", "Temptation", and (my personal favorite song on the album) "The Dream" are examples of when they are at their darkest and most dramatic, and at their best. The atmosphere is rich and the melodies are strong and catchy, and the inclusion of the Alexander's beast to Liv's beauty on some of these songs adds harshness to balance out the ephemeral tone of the album. Every song does include the twanging of the folk acoustics, but it doesn't infringe upon the darker soundscape that they've made, it just adds texture. It's in the songs that are in the middle of the crossroads of the two moods (like the album opener) that it doesn't mesh as well, and makes the material come off as twee rather than worldly or progressive.

Lovelorn is a strong and pleasant record, it doesn't do anything radically new or different but it was a successful launch of Liv Kristine as the face of a new band in which she took more of an active role in the music she was singing. It was also a successful launch of this band as a whole, however there is something that did catch my attention when listening to it. That being that Lovelorn is basically an Elis record; with an addition of electronic programming, this would've essentially been a second God's Silence; Devil's Temptation. It sounds to me that as the band was writing the album and struggled for a clear and balanced identity, Krull decided to lift some from a band that he had worked with in the past. As I really like Elis, and considering what Leaves' Eyes would go on to do in the future is somewhat divorced from this debut it's not something that I particularly take umbrage with, but it did make me go "that's familiar" all the same. That's not to take away from the merits of this album. Though perhaps derivative, it is a quality offering of feathery gothic metal with a breathtaking ambience and beautiful vocals.