Company: Napalm Records Release: 2009 Genre: Gothic/Symphonic Reviewer: Raising Iron
Extremely well-executed on almost all fronts
With songs awash in lush tapestries and undulating melodies, Leaves' Eyes have struck a perfect balance between gothic and symphonic metal with their latest release, Njord. There's even a slight touch of pop sensibilities which appear in several of the songs (lead single "My Destiny") that lend this effort a chance at garnering broader, mainstream appeal, yet hardcore fans of the genre (and/or the band) need not fret, this is Leaves' Eyes at their best (by the way, it's worth mentioning for those who aren't aware that Leaves' Eyes is essentially the German band Atrocity and Liv Kristine – yes, formerly of Theatre of Tragedy – on vox; she and lead singer Alexander Krull of Atrocity are married). It's obvious the band has been working and reworking these songs into grist during their three year hiatus (well, Atrocity were also werking on their atrocious Werk 80 II album, God help us) since 2006's Legend Land and the payoff should be huge.
For starters, Liv's vocals here remain operatic yet poised, but she seems to have found an even richer delivery. The precise recording obviously helps, but she now exhibits a superb control over her melodies allowing the emphasis on even the slightest of vibratos, changes in pitch, and fluctuations in volume to stand out. Check out her harmonies on the beautifully wrought "Irish Rain" ballad, it'll send chills down your spine. Speaking of vocals, Alexander Krull's growls, when appearing, are somewhat annoying this time out. This is odd, as his work in Atrocity always contained decent vocalization of the growling nature, but here, they don't quite work. The placement is right, as they roar out when you'd expect in this style of metal, but the form of delivery is misplaced here.
Other highlights include "Ragnarok"; bombasity and heaviosity roaring forth, exemplifying the genre perfectly, and "Take the Devil in Me", another easily accessible tune wrapped up nicely with a bow. Also check out the Simon and Garfunkel penned "Scarborough Fair", which at first is a seemingly odd choice, but their rendition adds all the flourishing instrumentation the original duo would've never comprehended of way back when. In conclusion, the eight-minute "Froya's Theme" ends the album in epic fashion, and leaves the listener immediately hitting replay.
All in all, only the track "Morgenland" feels a bit pointless and out of place, but nary another gripe can be levied against this effort (save for maybe the aforementioned death growls). Extremely well-executed on almost all fronts, Njord is sure to turn the heads of those who enjoy the likes of Delain, Within Temptation, Midnattsol, et al; and despite the viking theme having now been done to death, if it works, it works; and for Leaves' Eyes, this time it certainly does.