In 2003 the Norwegian gothic metal band Theatre Of Tragedy fired their female vocalist Liv Kristine as a result of “musical differences which could not be bridged”. Kristine was apparently either emailed the news or discovered it when it was announced on the band’s website.
She then formed a new band, symphonic metal act Leaves’ Eyes, with the then-members of her German husband Alexander Krull’s gothic metal band Atrocity backing her.
In the years since Leaves’ Eyes released five studio albums beginning with 2004’s “Lovelorn” up to 2013’s “Symphonies Of The Night” as their profile gradually increased.
Last September saw the release of the band’s sixth studio release, that I have just caught up with, titled “King Of Kings”. Joining Kristine and keyboardist / vocalist Krull are co-founding member bassist / guitarist Thorsten Bauer, drummer Joris Nijenhuis (since 2013) and new guitarist Pete Streit. All three make up the current line-up of Atrocity with Krull too.
The record is a concept piece about the first King of Norway, Harald Fairhair, who reigned in the late ninth and early tenth centuries and is regarded as having been responsible for uniting Norway into one kingdom. It kicks off with a short but very atmospheric folky / Viking metal number “Sweven” (meaning, I believe, dream) which segues straight into the title track. Operatic vocals from Kristine, harsh vocals from Krull, heavy guitars, solid drums, orchestration and masses choral backing vocals. It’s all very Epica / Nightwish-like.
First single “Halvdan The Black” is a song about Harald’s father, and is again very Epica-like, but with a folky edge not unlike a mixture of Epica with bits of Eluveitie thrown in. Next up is the second single “The Waking Eye” which is all about dreams and prophecies and is very catchy and somehow distinctively European too.
A folky (think whistles, violins, Celtic drums etc.) instrumental interlude “Feast On The Year” then leads into “Vengeance Venom”, a Viking drinking song in essence, then “Sacred Vow”. This latter song relates to the tale the Harald, then King of the Norwegian region of Vestfold, wanted to marry Gyda Eiriksdottir, the daughter of Eirik, who was King of the region of Hordaland. She refused until such time as Harald was King of the whole country.
Simone Simons, lead vocalist with the aforementioned Epica, appears on “Edge Of Steel” and demonstrates to me that, despite the very high quality of the band, Kristine’s voice – very good as it is – just isn’t quite as special as that of Simons, though I’m sure many will beg to differ. The pair do blend really well on this song though.
“Haraldskvæði” refers to a ninth century poem of a conversation between a raven and a valkrie discussing the life of Harald, and is a gentle folky number with insistent percussion and lots of chanting, giving it a real Viking vibe. This feeling carries on into “Blazing Waters”, a battle song, but this soon gives way to heavy guitar riffing and harsh vocals and a catchy chorus. This is the longest track and features a guest vocal appearance from Lindy-Fay Hella of Norwegian band Wardruna.
There is a monument in Hafrsfjord, where the Battle of Hafrsfjord took place in the late ninth century and lead to Harald becoming King of a unified Norway. The monument is named Sverd I Fjell, which translates as “Swords In Rock”, the title of the final track of the regular album. Hafrsfjord is also, apparently, the place where Kristine was born, which gives the whole thing a real connection between the stories and the voice that’s singing them. I do think it’s great when the music you listen to then inspires you to find out about things like history too!
The deluxe edition contains two bonus tracks, the lovely acoustic ballad “Spellbound” and “Trail Of Blood”, another Viking folk metal track.
In a nutshell this is classic symphonic metal with added Nordic folk, making it something that I feel is quite distinctive from the many symphonic metal and folk metal bands around. It would go well with any film or TV epic set in the Viking era too, I suspect. Well worth a listen…
“King Of Kings” tracklist:
1. Sweven / 2. King Of Kings / 3. Halvdan The Black / 4. The Waking Eye / 5. Feast Of The Year / 6. Vengeance Venom / 7. Sacred Vow / 8. Edge Of Steel / 9. Haraldskvæði / 10. Blazing Waters / 11. Swords In Rock / 12. Spellbound / 13. Trail Of Blood