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A good album, but their weakest so far - 70%

TrooperOfSteel, April 10th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2011, CD, Napalm Records

When I think back over the duration of German/Norwegian symphonic/gothic metal band Leaves’ Eyes, I am surprised that their latest album ‘Meredead’ is only their fourth. It seems as though they have been around longer than that and it was eons ago when I first listened to “Norwegian Love Song”, the opening track of the debut release ‘Lovelorn’. Maybe this confusion could be related to lead vocalist Liv Kristine and her long stint with the now retired Theatre of Tragedy, of which she fronted for 10 years (1993-2003). Nevertheless, ‘Meredead’ has arrived and there are some subtle changes to their sound, which is really featuring more folkish elements, but nothing hugely massive. There are also a few songs sung in Norwegian but I’ll come back to that later on.

In the three Leaves’ Eyes releases before ‘Meredead’, they have not released a poor or average album. All three have been of a very good quality with great and memorable tracks. With slight differences of each disc, Leaves’ Eyes were beginning to include more folkish elements into their songs and also more symphonic elements as well. The gothic metal tag is still there, but just to a lesser extent. ‘Meredead’ is a little difficult to get into more so than their previous albums, mainly due to the slower tracks on the disc. With a heavier folk influence this time round (using instruments such as Baroque guitars, Uileann pipes, whistles, mandolins and fiddles), Leaves’ Eyes have included two traditional Norwegian songs; “Kråkevisa” and “Nystev”. Aside from those two songs, there are three more tracks (including the bonus track “Sorhleod” that are not sung in English; rather in Old English and also Norwegian.

There are some tracks on the CD which do miss the mark and that is a real first for Leaves’ Eyes. I speak of the short Norwegian sung track “Mine Tåror er ei Grimme”, which really should have been just made an interlude as it is frankly quite boring and directionless. The two traditional Norwegian tracks are a nice idea and I can understand the relevance of them being folk songs and all, but they don’t really seem to fit on a symphonic/gothic metal album and I can only suspect that listeners would play them initially but then skip them the next time round.

“Tell-Tale Eyes” is a slow folk acoustic ballad, with Liv sharing the vocal duties with Elfenthal (a folk/medieval/fantasy band) co-vocalist Jon Kelly. This one will be either hit or miss, depending on how much listeners like or dislike acoustic folk songs. Lastly, the album opener “Spirits Masquerade” is a slow but brooding semi-folk track that unfortunately takes a while to get off the ground, and doesn’t quite grab you as much as an opening track should. I personally would have put it a bit further down into the track-list and started with “Étaín”, which is far more catchy and upbeat, and features the other co-vocalist of Elfenthal, Maite Itoiz singing background and choir vocals.

For the more typical Leaves’ Eyes tracks, go no further than the wonderful and catchy “Velvet Heart”. In the same vein as previous album tracks like “Farewell Proud Men” and “My Destiny”, Liv Kristine again shows why she is one of the best female metal vocalists in the world. The better tracks continue with “To France” (a cover song, originally performed by Mike Oldfield), which is another semi-folk song which has a kick ass and memorable chorus that you can’t help but want to sing along with. The title track “Meredead” is an interesting track, combining folk elements with Leaves’ Eyes’ typical gothic/symphonic metal. Maite Itoiz makes another appearance throughout the track both with backing duties and choirs, with the track overall being a success.

“Sigrlinn” is another crossover folk/gothic metal track that is arguably the heaviest song on the album, not to mention the longest at almost nine minutes. The track also features Liv Kristine’s husband Alexander Krull and sister, Carmen Elise Espenæs, who is the lead vocalist for the Nordic folk metal band Midnattsol. It’s a family affair indeed with a great combination of vocals; Carmen, who is a folk metal singer, Liv with her exquisite angelic tones and Alex who has a raspy and husky growl. Lastly, there is “Empty Horizon”, an impressive heavy-ish ballad with Krull singing clean background vocals as well as big choirs for that bombastic and epic feeling.

Overall, while ‘Meredead’ is a good album by Leaves’ Eyes, there are less catchy and less kick ass tracks than on previous releases. Sure this time round, there is a strong folk concept throughout the release, in a way Leaves’ Eyes re-discovering their traditional Norwegian roots, but I have to say that the quality of the tracks produced here is not as potent as they have been before. It is a little disappointing, but with that being said, fans of Leaves’ Eyes should still have no problem picking this one up and enjoying it; however it just may take a bit more time to reach that level of enjoyment. In short, this disc will need a few extra spins than you would normally expect. Folk metal fans may also find this CD to be of interest to them, but really this one is for the die-hard Leaves’ Eyes fans.

Originally written for www.themetalforge.com

Leaves eyes cry every night for you - 76%

Liquid_Braino, October 27th, 2012

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.