A tale in which your humble scribe subjects himself, in the interests of music journalism, customer service (that’s you, dear reader) to discovering the appeal of a quite extraordinary musical project and lives to tell the tale. Or something like that.
Leaves’ Eyes are a German/Norwegian outfit and “Symphonies of the Night” is their fifth album of that odd curio: symphonic metal. Symphonic metal has a bit of a strange place in the broad church of heavy metal- feted by some, loathed by others, there is no denying either its appeal or the challenge; it is most assuredly out of the jar you call Marmite.
Leaves’ Eyes inhabit that part of the musical universe that supporters of Epica and Nightwish call home. As with these bands, Leaves’ Eyes believe in making records that are BIG- huge production, string sections and massive vocals. There is no denying that lead singer Liv Kristine has a phenomenal vocal range and her talent is put to significant effect across the whole album here- whether it’s setting the scene on ‘Hell to the Heavens’ or duelling with the guttural roar provided by her husband and fellow band member Alexander Krull, there is little doubt that she is the star and every opportunity to spotlight her talent is taken. And then some.
Her oversinging is just one of the problems I have with this. In some quarters, I am supposed to take symphonic metal and revel in its absurdity, its theatre. Whilst I have some sympathy with this point of view, it’s not one that sustains over the course of an entire album. There are a number of issues at play here. Firstly, symphoic metal has so many rules and structures that the songs often feel contrived, predictable. More, they leave you cold as a listener. Second, there is no nuance, innovation or genuine creativity at play here: it’s all overblown and bombastic and what might raise a grin or a sense of drama over four minutes begins to pall, grate and irritate by the time you get twenty minutes in. I heard myself shout “Oh put a sock in it” several times.
There’s a huge musical theatre sensibility running through this record, much as it might gall you. As I am a grown up and have a brain, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest but you have been warned. This is a bit like listening to the heavy metal version of Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera. But without the bag of Maltesers and the gin and tonic.
Of course this is one of the most absurd records I have heard all year. Leaves’ Eyes are so overblown they make Black Veiled Brides look like Black Flag. I’m sure this record will sell by the bucket load, please their fan base and maybe win them new fans. In short doses of five minutes or so, I find Leaves’ Eyes fascinating and often thrilling. Over the course of an hour or so, I felt pummelled into submission, violated by the violins, assaulted by the orchestra and in need of a good lie down and my Sebadoh records.