Symphonic metallers Leaves’ Eyes have had a bit of a rough go of the last couple of years. Given the dismissal of original and founding vocalist Liv Kristine and the all-too-public spat that followed, there was a great deal of consternation amongst fans as to whether the band could bounce back from it better than before or whether it was finally time for them to hang it up.
As ever, the truth lies someplace between the extremes; whilst all members are incredibly competent at what they do, the music simply doesn’t back up this talent and appears as utterly pedestrian symphonic metal. Special mention must go to new vocalist Elina Siirala, a well-trained soprano whose vocal talents elevate the otherwise unremarkable music with aplomb. Her voice, while not as distinctive as Liv Kristine’s, is still captivating and haunting in equal measure. The same can, sadly, not be said of Alexander Krull’s (keys) vocals, sounding forced and uninspired throughout.
Despite this, the band are technically proficient, possessed of incredibly tight musicianship and some serious songwriting chops. ‘Like A Mountain’ opens with a serene vocal/piano duet before launching into a chugging riff complemented by a choir, with Siirala soaring over all. Subsequent track ‘Jomsborg’ is a real treat; Krull’s vocals sound forceful as opposed to forced and there’s a gleefully Celtic feel to the folky underpinnings reminiscent of folk metal heavyweights Eluveitie, a welcome addition to the tapestry of sounds. Elina’s soprano is again excellent especially around the 2:45 mark where we have a key change and she soars into a sublime upper register. This folksy interlude is continued in ‘Völva’ and portions ‘Riders on the Wind’ with the keys carrying the melody that draws again on Celtic folk influences. Sadly, all good things come to an end and Leaves’ Eyes soon abandon this promising development and return to more standard fare.
While their peers in Nightwish, who are celebrating near two decades as a band, as well as some of the newcomers to the scene such as Delain having evolved their sounds and showcased some real ability to grow and expand recently, there simply isn’t really an excuse for releasing such an underwhelming release. For all its catchiness, latent musical talent and despite Siirala’s undeniable vocal excellence, Sign of the Dragonhead fails utterly to stand out from the crowd and is instead an outing from a band that could have come back sounding invigorated and with renewed purpose that is sadly utterly unremarkable.