Anyone who follows Ave Noctum’s reviews and those who know me know that I am a long life stalker, I mean fan, of all the work Liv Kristine has been involved in for over 20 years. I stand by the declaration that she is the best operatic and clean female vocalist to date and there are many female singers around today she has influenced over those two decades even if they don’t state it publicly. Her solo work started before Leaves’ Eyes by some six years though Leaves’ Eyes has been the staple outfit with regular releases and tours to back it all up. Since the mid 2000s there has been an alternation of releases between solo albums and Leaves’ Eyes material as this six full length sees the band take on the concept album formula again to brilliant success by going back to Norway’s first king, Harald Fairhair. The bands affection for Scandinavian chronicles and legends from Viking folklore has been a rich source of inspiration so much so that they use a Viking long boat as part of their stage shows. Never ones to shy away from the ambitious the bands previous effort, “Symphonies Of The Night”, was astounding and highly acclaimed that I felt collaboratively intertwined everything the band had learned over previous recordings into one monumental opus.
Two years have passed since “Symphonies” and during that time the band has toured everywhere, Liv has released another solo album and has gone on tour with Anneke van Giersbergen and Kari Rueslåtten as The Sirens project which I was lucky enough to see last year. This release sees the band breathe new life into their ideas for concepts both lyrically and musically as they continually strive forward setting new genre parameters and heights within the symphonic and folk styled metal sub-genres. Beginning sorrowfully “Sweven” is an acoustic piece with solemn paganistic percussion and symphonics allowing Liv’s voice to drift into the tune hauntingly with anguish and despair before leading into the title track “King Of Kings”. Without divulging the lyrical concepts explored on each song charts the story of King Harald I as a tranquil opening piece starts the tune with choral vocals sounding like a breath of wind. As the tune expands its symphonic styling the production has a softer aura and allows the subtleties of the music and especially the Liv’s vocals to float majestically throughout. The incorporation of the London Voices adds substantial depth and are famed for their vocal work on the Lord Of The Rings film trilogy and Harry Potter movies; their impact cannot be understated. Even Alex’s growling inclusions work well and have been something I have criticised in the past as they add theatricality to songs that are teeming with emotive power. Added to this we also get the White Russian Symphony Orchestra embellishing every tune with cinematic poise that is jaw dropping. “Halvdan The Black” (about the King’s father) was played during the bands recent tour as a teaser for the album and steps into more familiar Leaves’ Eyes territory with upbeat riffing and bountiful choral breaks.
The piano and lone vocal of Liv on “The Waking Eye” paves the way for the choir to add extensive texture creating a heroic amalgam of spine tingling melodies and is sure to be a long term favourite live if it is played which I hope it is when they play later this year. Injecting Celtic elements is nothing new to the band as “Feast Of The Year” leads into “Vengeance Venom”, a drinking song, and has a style like Equilibrium though not as heavy by any means of course. The tune gathers momentum with dramatic fervour as the vocals produce an anthem like atmosphere that is completely absorbing especially the chorus which is one of the bands best ever. Adding her considerable larynx to “Edge Of Steel” is one Simone Simons (Epica) as the song imbues a sense of drama with a heftier guitar riff than normal which is tempered by the symphonics and choral vocals. As the tune unfolds Liv’s voice is antagonistic to Alex’s deathly bark and matches the lyrical content of warmongering, as the phenomenal uplifting choral break allows Simone’s brilliant voice to gleam majestically.
The album hits its finale with a doublet of “Blazing Waters” and “Swords In Rock” with the former producing an alluring tearful feel with delicate vocals possessing a melancholy that leads into a riff break that is awesome and has power metal engraved into it. Bolstered by the tremendous choir vocals the song is made even more astounding by the inclusion of vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella (Wardruna). The closing lead break finale is fabulous harking back to the days of rock and metal when leads meant so much. Closing the album is “Swords In Rock”, another Celtic inspired ditty that is full of bounce and jollity as a weird howl leads into Liv’s vocals with adjoining growls. Those howls persist at various points as the tune ends the album on a punchy and memorable note.
At this moment of their career this is the perfect Leaves’ Eyes album, it has everything you would expect and some aspects you wouldn’t and in years to come this will be heralded as a landmark moment in their discography. Added to that I would love to hear this whole album played at a festival with all the extra musicians and vocalists required as it would be a fantastic event on the festival circuit next year.
(10/10 Martin Harris)