Monday, September 14, 2015

Album Review: Leaves' Eyes - King Of Kings

There's an odd trend in metal right now for bands to take up history as a subject, writing albums that aim to serve as much as textbooks as they do entertainment. You have bands like Sabaton and Hail Of Bullets telling the history of war, while others have taken up the cause of various kings and queens. The former I can understand, since war and metal do share inclinations that would bring them together. I'm not sure I understand the appeal of writing about royalty, since I can't see why any of us would be so interested in giving credence to such a painful system of rule. It's very much like how I can't believe the American media spends so much time fawning over the movements of the British royals, when we fought a war a couple centuries ago precisely so we would be free of them.

Leaves' Eyes steps in with their new album, telling the story of Norway's first king. Since I don't know his story, I'm not going to be judging the album's historical accuracy. Let's just see how it stacks up as a piece of symphonic metal, shall we?

All albums of this sort apparently must have a symphonic introduction, which we get here in the form of "Sweven". It's a harmless two minutes of violins and folk atmosphere, but it's also useless time that doesn't do anything to ramp up the first real song, since it starts with it's own form of an introduction. That track is the title track, and it sets the statement of how Leaves' Eyes is out to make an album that is massive and epic. Unfortunately, trying to be epic and actually being so are very different, and this song proves that point. There are big guitars, big choirs, and big strings, but the composition itself is stock-in-trade metal. The extra layers of sound don't change the fact that it's a very conservative song, one that doesn't have much of a riff or a melody beyond a few drawn out notes, so the whole of the composition doesn't add up to much that's interesting.

"Halvdan The Black" tries to improve on things, built from a sturdier metal riff, but there's a disjointed nature to the writing that doesn't work. The verses drop down into drum-and-bass emptiness for no real reason, and the chorus strips away Liv's melodic voice for a staccato shout that's backed up with poorly done rough vocals.

"The Waking Eye" follows the same basic formula, but has more of a melody to follow in the chorus. Letting Liv sing is obviously the band's best bet, so why they don't write material to highlight her voice is a mystery to me. I suppose that's why the guitars drop out in nearly every verse, but that's a writing cliche that is just as annoying, since the songs can never maintain any sense of urgency if they have to always slow and soften to accommodate her.

"Vengence Venom" is more fun, with it's Celtic influences, and it's slightly more spritely pacing. By the time we reach the mid-point of the album, we've already heard everything there is to hear, and a verdict can be rendered. "King Of Kings" is one of those albums that tries so hard that it can't possibly hit its mark. Writing epic metal takes a songwriting perspective that is different from slapping extra layers of sound onto a regular metal song.

That latter approach is what I hear with this record. It's standard metal that gets dressed up with extra fancy bits, but they don't change the core of the sound. Leaves' Eyes is writing regular power/traditional metal songs, and they aren't doing it especially well. There are a few good tracks here, but the album comes across mostly sluggish and bloated. Liv is clearly a good enough singer to build a sound around, but she is never given the space and melodies to shine. It's a shame, because I'd like to hear her really let loose and see what she could do here. As it stands, "King Of Kings" is more interesting in theory than it is in sound.

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