Are we living to die?
Am I here just to be your sacrifice?
Symphony…of the night
It is amazing to think that it has almost been ten years since the Germany-based band Leaves’ Eyes unleashed their debut album, Lovelorn. It was not very long after that release that I became familiar with their incomparable, brilliant music, and it has been awe-inspiring to see how they have evolved since that point.
This is one of the very few bands in its category to genuinely progress into something better and more interesting with each release. While the songs on Lovelorn and Vinland Saga, are actually quite excellent, tying closely to nature, love, and history, their sound was simpler back then. Leaves’ Eyes has transformed into something even more special over the course of the past few years. Symphonies of the Night is their fifth full-length album release, and it is perhaps their darkest, heaviest, most ambitious, enticing material to date.
Whereas their third album Njord was a more aggressive expansion of their earlier sound and the fourth record, Meredead, was an eclectic, colossal batch of songs with a lovely folk influence, Symphonies of the Night contains a bit more of a sinister sound, which appears to suit the band wonderfully. The uilleann pipes and whistles used in Meredead are also present here, despite this album being notably heavier. The songwriting is chiefly done by the band’s immensely talented guitarist Thorsten Bauer together with vocalists Liv Kristine Espenæs Krull and Alexander Krull, while guitarist Sander van der Meer also co-wrote the songs “Angel and the Ghost” and “Éléonore de Provence”.
Interestingly enough, despite Leaves’ Eyes not bearing anything too evident in common with Cradle of Filth, listening to this new album gives me a similar feeling to what I experienced when I listened to Cruelty and the Beast for the first time. This is just because of the genuine, goosebump-evoking sense of darkness the albums both possess, particularly within certain lyrical and spoken-word passages. It is truly something special and perhaps difficult to fully describe.
Rarely can a band pull off straightforward, symphonic, catchy anthems in addition to songs of the aforementioned more complex nature, but Leaves’ Eyes does it exceptionally well. “Hell to the Heavens” opens Symphonies of the Night with a perfect, bombastic blast. Norwegian siren Liv Kristine is one of a kind — an incredibly rare talent, and she possesses the ability to sing so beautifully in both a quiet, melancholic tone, as well as performing masterfully with a captivating, commanding, intense soprano voice. Alexander Krull adds an ominous, gritty aspect to the song with his great, distinctive harsh vocals, and “Hell to the Heavens” certainly has a lively, memorable chorus, likely to be chanted enthusiastically by crowds everywhere during Leaves’ Eyes performances for many years to come. “Fading Earth” is an uptempo tune ideal for maintaining an elegant, easygoing flow to the album; it is highly melodic, yet charged with unmatchable energy. “Maid of Lorraine” ventures into more dramatic territory. It is one of the album’s most intensely heavy offerings with with suspenseful keyboards and fantastic lyrical imagery: “Seventy articles of accusation / La Pucelle d’Orléans / divine devotion!”
Another major highlight comes in the form of the exotic “Galswintha”, one of the most extraordinary Leaves’ Eyes songs thus far. This song takes the folk influence of Meredead to a new level, with a build-up and escalation unlike what any listener could conjure up in their wildest dreams. This is one of Liv’s most amazing vocal performances, and the melody is simply undeniable. There is something to be said about a song one can simultaneously dance and headbang to. The lyrics are also captivating: “Mercy, there is no mercy within anger / darkness, there’s only darkness in your blindness / burning, you will be burning for your cruelty / envious eye, mistress of cruelty!”
“Symphonies of the Night” wears the hat of the title track admirably, with a superbly powerful chorus where Liv explores her more operatic vocal range. The song’s subject matter is inspired by a vampire tale by Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu, an Irish writer of dark, gothic novels. “Saint Cecilia” takes down the pace elegantly, a classically influenced ballad with rich, gorgeous vocals and a somber feeling. “Hymn to the Lone Sands” is remarkable beyond compare. One could label this as the most crushing Leaves’ Eyes song to date, and perhaps the one where Liv’s vocal versatility is also most apparent; it is quite impressive to hear her venturing into totally new territories at multiple points during the song. The frenzied, frenetic guitar work blends spectacularly with the maniacal dance of the chanting choir, as Liv and Alex’s vocals complement one another wondrously. “Bless the man with silver / bless them with the rays of sun / goddess of the desert / sway your veils for pagan men.” Fans of “Ragnarok” from Njord are likely to really love “Hymn to the Lone Sands” because they are both so magnificent and grandiose, even though on the other hand, this song cannot be placed next to any other from the Leaves’ Eyes discography, as it, in many ways, treads new ground. It is certainly one of the greatest songs of 2013.
The album’s momentum never dies down, as every song has unique strengths and there are no weak or unmemorable numbers. Also of note is the dynamic nature of Symphonies of the Night. There are plenty of twists, turns, unexpected surprises, and changes in pace to keep the listener’s full attention. Many bands decide to go with either a nonstop attack of aggression or a ceaseless train of sleepy ballads, so it is something to appreciate when Leaves’ Eyes keeps things interesting throughout the record. “Angel and the Ghost” has a gorgeous chorus and an unforgettable, eerie spoken passage from Liv, while “Éléonore de Provence” initially appears to be a ballad, yet dives into a galloping pace with speedy drumming courtesy of Felix Born. This song also contains my favorite vocal performance of Alex from this particular album.
Those who admire Shakespeare’s work Hamlet may take an immediate liking to “Ophelia”, as it draws inspiration from that tragic tale and character. The song is breathtaking, romantic, and has such depth of feeling. Liv’s intense delivery of the line “I fade away into black waters” instantly becomes one of the most magical moments of Symphonies of the Night. Bonus tracks “Eileen’s Ardency” and “One Caress” are also lovely. “Eileen’s Ardency” features guest vocals from Liv’s sister, the very gifted Carmen Elise Espenæs (Midnattsol). Carmen’s warm, distinctive voice complements Liv’s beautifully. Lastly, “One Caress”, as any Depeche Mode fan might have guessed, is a cover — a well-done one, at that, with phenomenal vocals.
Symphonies of the Night is another pinnacle of Leaves’ Eyes career so far. This release is likely to enchant longtime listeners, while drawing the attention of newcomers as well. It can be a challenge for a band to maintain its strong fanbase while continuing to experiment and grow, but Leaves’ Eyes has passed all of those tests with ease, simultaneously keeping close the trademarks of old and successfully experimenting as well. Symphonies of the Night is a huge accomplishment, demonstrating their tremendous progression as a band while also serving as their most diverse opus to date. Fans of multiple genres of rock and metal should be sure to listen to this masterpiece immediately.