So it finally arrives, the new album by symphonic metallers Leaves’ Eyes, prior to which we got an indication as to the future direction the band would take with the release of the “Fires In The North” EP released in late 2016. Like all Leaves’ Eyes albums “Sign Of The Dragonhead” renders historical literature in a sonic format and as the band forges ahead with ever more grandiose arrangements this album harvests every nuance from previous albums and distilled them into this ambitious and highly engaging album that will appease established fans but also surprise with the incorporation new elements.

The album hits us with the title track as its opener and the moment the choral vocals, courtesy of the London Voices soundtrack choir, pour from the speakers you are funnelled into an opulent soundscape as a plethora of effects are embedded producing a song that is instantly memorable. Each track is different, demonstrating a fluidity in the song writing as the Celtic inspired “Across The Sea” follows and has various additional instrumentation, used across the album, such as nyckelharpas, fiddles, uilleann pipes and whistles. The chorus to “Across The Sea” is infectious, rousing and overtly anthemic the track is ultra-bouncy and will become a set favourite if played live. “Like A Mountain” has a ballad start with isolated piano and Elina’s mournful vocals before the symphonics are gracefully executed, allowing Elina’s voice, who is breath-taking on this song, plus the choral backing to be passionate and soulful.

The distinct metallic riffing of “Riders On The Wind” meets the Celtic touches head on producing an exceedingly catchy tune that will surprise fans but will also make you smile as the song imprints on your memory effortlessly. The contrasts in emotion within the songs is excellent veering from blissful happiness to heart breaking serenity the latter typified by the enchanting and beautiful “Fairer Than The Sun” where Elina demonstrates why she is perfect for Leaves’ Eyes and whilst I’d say her higher tone is little less than Liv’s, her overall vocal range is wider and has afforded a new dimension to the band.

There is a theatricality to the album as sound effects, and percussive strains are added which “Rulers of Wind And Waves” clearly delivers and leads into “Fires Of The North” which fans will be familiar with as it has been in the live set over the last year. Closing this soundscape is the epic “Waves Of Euphoria” which has an elaborate and lavish opening sequence with the choral vocals being spine tingling and overlapping with the symphonic arrangements that blanket the song before shifting the tempo into a heavier more metal territory. In some respects the song is the heaviest on the album, allowing Alex to add his growled vocals that contrast nicely with the extravagant and sublime music arrangements.

I approached this album with a hefty dose of trepidation but having listened to it, absorbed it, critiqued it, harshly at times on my first few listens in my notes, “Sign Of The Dragonhead” is a great album, easy to listen to but equally challenging and testing new frontiers in this new phase of the bands existence.

(8.5/10 Martin Harris)