Leaves’ Eyes – Vikings for LifeSunday, 25th October 2020
Always an act to deliver heavy metal on an epic scale, Leaves’ Eyes have been working to up their game of symphonic heavy metal with each new release. The Last Viking is their latest release, which comes two years after Sign of the Dragonhead – the first album featuring vocalist Elina Siirala. A grandiose album in itself, Sign flourished with diversity, and its something that The Last Viking does equally well. After all, telling the tale of the last Viking King, Hardrada, is one story that needs a rousing soundtrack. We spoke to both vocalists Elina Siirala and Alexander Krull on separate Skype sessions to get their thoughts on the new album and its rich history, as well as plenty of personalized questions for each member. The interview with Alex appears after the picture below.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel defines The Last Viking?
Elina Siirala: It’s an epic concept album. Alex will tell you more about it I’m sure, but it’s based on the life of Hardrada, the last Viking [King]. It has a lot of different elements because we wanted to bring in all of these stories and each one has a different vibe. They make the album pretty varied, and even though it’s a concept album the songs are straight-forward.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that you have grown, vocally, since starting the band?
Siirala: For me, it’s an interesting thing because my instrument is my voice. It’s always developing and changing. I worked on a lot of things in the last year in a half and I feel like I have developed in certain areas. On this album, I feel like I was able to use my voice in different ways – pretty much all of the spectrums of my voice. There’s a development from the previous album for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: If I remember correctly, you are still the newest member of Leaves’ Eyes. What do you think of when you think about the band?
Siirala: Technically, Micki [Richter] is the newest one [laughs] but that’s fine. For me, from the start, it was an opportunity to join the band and I have been looking forward to everything. We’ve done so much already – it’s been 4 and a half years now. We’ve toured a lot, we’ve recorded a lot. I feel like we are a close unit and we work well together. It’s kind of a different role for me, if you compare it to Angel Nation, but I like both sides. It’s great for me.
Dead Rhetoric: As you were saying, it’s been over 4 years now. Do you feel that you’ve been more accepted into Leaves’ Eyes fanbase at this point?
Siirala: Yeah, for me, it was about the same. There was always going to be a divide and different opinions but that always happens. But I never really felt unaccepted. When we have played live, people are always excited about the performance and my voice. I’m a different person, singer, and performer – so it’s fine…not everyone has to like everything. But I have never felt, in any way, unaccepted by the fans.
Dead Rhetoric: How was singing with Clementine Delauney [Visions of Atlantis] on “Black Butterfly?”
Siirala: That was a great thing that we managed to organize in the middle of all of this craziness with the coronavirus. She was able to travel to the Mastersound Studio and we had a great time recording and getting to meet each other. We also did some filming too. I think her voice is very different from mine, so it was cool to have that contrast on the song. We blended quite well together. It was great having her.
Dead Rhetoric: Anyone who would be a dream collaboration to work with, either with Leaves’ Eyes or Angel Nation?
Siirala: Yeah, I have a lot. From more of the classical side, my childhood idol the tenor Plácido Domingo. It would be quite a dream to sing with him. On the metal/rock world, there’s a lot of people I’d love to sing with. My first choice would have always been Freddie Mercury but that doesn’t work. I love ‘80s rock and anyone who would be doing that – maybe the singer [Michael Starr] of Steel Panther for example. I think he’s a great singer. It could be quite fun to sing with him. I really like Kissing Dynamite’s singer too. There’s also loads and loads of female singers I would like to duet with. Such as Sharon from Within Temptation, and Noora from Battle Beast…although I actually kind of did that already [laughs] on stage. That was great!
Dead Rhetoric: What have you discovered about yourself while traveling the world with Leaves’ Eyes or Angel Nation?
Siirala: I need to pace myself in terms of touring. It’s quite demanding for the voice. I need to take care of myself physically. People get so ill on tour, and that’s difficult. But on the other hand, it’s been an amazing opportunity to see all of the faces and going everywhere and meeting fans. It’s been a privilege to do that. I’ve learned that your dreams can actually come true – you can achieve the things that you love to do, and that’s a great feeling.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there anything going on with Angel Nation at the moment?
Siirala: There was. I have already written a lot of demos and song ideas. I have a lot of ideas for the third album and we worked on them. But a lot of stuff has happened and it’s kind of made the planning and everything very difficult. I hope that we can find a way forward and continue at some point. I also have some other plans in the meantime. I love to write music and it would be great to keep that side alive as well. There’s always some plans going on in my head [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: You try to stay active – how has COVID impacted you on that standpoint?
Siirala: Physically, now the gyms are open again so that’s awesome. I was trying to find ways to keep active at home before. With the band, we are doing interviews and promo stuff. Luckily with Skype and all of that, it’s still possible. But when it comes to live shows and all of that, it’s a bit tricky. We can’t plan anything. As you know, tours have to be planned really far ahead. It’s very, very tricky and no one really knows.
Dead Rhetoric: Leaves’ Eyes has a lot of really big productions, especially for videos. What have you enjoyed about being a part of some of those types of videos?
Siirala: It’s always fun. Especially because Leaves’ Eyes has these great stories so there’s a lot of elements in there. I got to play another character in the last video [“Chain of the Golden Horn”] and it was really fun. It’s crazy with the whole performance, I really like it. Getting the glimpse of the world too, having someone do your hair and make-up, it’s kind of like a luxury when you can have the professionals do their job so you can just focus on your part. It’s really nice.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there something that you are involved with that might surprise someone who just follows the band?
Siirala: I don’t think so. I don’t do any weird stuff in that sense [laughs]! I think people already know a lot about me in that sense as well. It’s also because I don’t know what people might find surprising. I mean, I used to do a lot of horseback riding and I did some competitions. Maybe that is surprising to someone? I also won this composing competition once for children’s choir [laughs]. That was cool – it was a Finnish song, and I even have the physical sheet music printed with me. It was really cool to do that.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any plans for 2021?
Siirala: There was a tour that was to be happening now and in the spring. Now I believe it’s October or November next year. There was also some talks about maybe doing some weekend shows, but we don’t know about the restrictions. They change all the time. But let’s hope so!
Dead Rhetoric: Does the epic bar need to be raised with each new effort? To me, it seems like you’ve really got something quite epic with The Last Viking.
Alexander Krull: Well, it’s a fucking epic concept [laughs]! To be honest, I think it’s a very tight, song-oriented record with a lot of depth. The epicness or feeling that you get – the whole concept in the story, it’s probably the most epic Viking saga. It was very decisive for history too. When our hero of the story, Hardrada III was dying in battle at Stamford Bridge in 1066, the Viking age as we knew it from history, was over. That is important, but then coming to the point of being epic and the diversity of the music, it is also because the saga itself demands it. It’s a fantastic story. You could really do a blockbuster movie or TV show like Game of Thrones or something because there’s everything in there.
It’s a long travel for him from a young age, from fleeing out of Norway and going all the way to Kiev and down into the Byzantine Empire. He made a huge career there in the Varangian Guard. Then he returns to become king of Norway after he had a lot of adventures in Serkland, the land of the Saracens, even a mission to Jerusalem, glorious victory against Bulgarians, and conquering castles in the Mediterranean Sea and eventually fighting for the throne of England. That was a fatal mission for him, but that is where we start for the record. It’s the death of Hardrada and there are all of these flashbacks of adventures coming back, so of course we have to write epic music for that! We also had been touring and we had a lot of great shows and we got a lot of energy and impact from the live feel. I think those two things go hand in hand. When we were writing new material, we knew the background of it. On The Sign of the Dragonhead album, the last song “Waves of Euphoria” actually hinted at The Last Viking. It was already discussing that topic.
Dead Rhetoric: Given the historical setting for The Last Viking, are you done with Vikings after this or just going to hit something else within Viking history?
Krull: I know the label and the guy who did our biography might have got it that way, but Leaves’ Eyes has always been connected to Norse mythology, nature, sagas, and legends. So this will not change. But in a way, that whole story could lead you to the point of, “Maybe we will do something completely different.” But the thing is, first of all, we also wrote about other topics in Norse mythology, not just about war and warlord stories. So there’s a lot of other things in there. That’s actually what we have on this album too. There’s this mysterious and dark side that fits well with the music of Leaves’ Eyes. On top of that, I’m a swordfighter in the Viking scene. I go to battles, camps, events, and tournaments, and I train every week. I am very connecting to that setting. I’m also a member of the biggest Viking army out there, the Jomsborg Army, which is spread through the whole globe. We have like 2,000 members from over 20 countries. So personally, I will always be very connected to the Viking topic. For the story, that was also something that was popping up. Is this the end of everything? How can you continue with that? I remember there was a discussion, but it’s not like we were doing a trilogy or anything. It was just that this Viking saga was decisive for the end of the Viking age. That’s basically it.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think is important to capture with any Leaves’ Eyes record?
Krull: I think the music and all of the contrasts – the many diverse instrumentations within the sound of the band. It’s hard to explain. It’s like a feeling you have inside. If you start from scratch, it’s already in yourself. There’s a clear vision. There’s a clear vision of what Leaves’ Eyes should sound like, and what songs we like to play. It demands this raw and deep metal sound in contrast to the very beautiful female vocal lines. So there’s big drums, epic instrumentation, and on the other side, we have things like fiddles, nyckelharpa, and other melodic instruments to add contrast. There is always a very good foundation to write the songs. You have a huge range you can choose from, like when you cook a nice meal. There’s a lot of great ingredients to choose from with this band.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is cohesion when it comes to the music, lyrics, and videos?
Krull: That’s part of the whole band feel. Iron Maiden had Eddie having these adventures with the band and put him into all these scenarios. With us, its kind of the same. For example, The Last Viking has all of these different places. If you have seen the new video, “Chain of the Golden Horn,” it’s not very Nordic or anything because the story is going on in the Byzantine Empire. We were looking for a different surrounding, and it was difficult to find something that suited the image we had in mind. All of the authentic uniforms, helmets, and armor – the Byzantine enemy of Hardrada. They were actually serving the Byzantine Emperor and empress, but they got betrayed and trapped, then put into prison. That was part of the story.
So it’s really cool musically too. If you listen to “Serkland,” the intro and melodies there are also different because it has a background from where the story takes place. It’s really great to write and compose stuff and people can immediately come up with a visual in their mind. We put that into the artwork and visual aspects too. With authenticity too, it’s not like what you usually see with metal artwork and things – there’s a lot of details. We had a crown in the video that we had to craft. We found a craftsman who was making a replica of the original crown of the Byzantine Empress Zoe. We spend a lot of time and effort to make things look authentic and having the real deal. Not like what you might see in movies and things like that normally.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you discuss the documentary Viking Spirit?
Krull: It’s a 90-minute documentary that goes with the album. It was filmed over a period of 5 years. It’s about me being a metal singer and swordfighter at one point, but it’s also about Norse mythology, Viking lifestyle, and the music of Leaves’ Eyes. There’s a lot of people from the Viking scene – reenactors and the living history – a lot of great people in there. You can see the battles and events, where they take place and the background and everything.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you like to see Leaves’ Eyes achieve in the future?
Krull: Always writing great music, that’s number one. That was the goal from the start of the band, and I think that in a way, we have fulfilled a bit of our dreams already. The creativity, or spirit, and the passion for the music will always be there. It’s a very important part of my life, and we always want to do the best we can in the moment. These times are really weird. We are also affected by the pandemic. It was kind of lucky in the end – we were just coming back from the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. Besides the great shows we did, I did a Viking workshop and hosted the All Star Jam with Simone Simons of Epica. That was awesome! We were ready to go back into the studio, and a few weeks later, talk about COVID started and then it was all over the world. No one lives near each other in the band, so we had to face the situation of if we could even finish the record. We were on the last step of the production.
Everyone came here – Joris had just came here as he was visiting his girlfriend in Switzerland, and Elina as well, so we had like a studio lockdown for six weeks. So we were together here the whole time while the world went crazy around us. If you ask me about what we want to achieve, you normally would get things like being on top of the world as a band and stadiums and whatever, but it’s really stripped down to the basics now. It’s stripped down to what it is. We made the best of it and made music. Being able to make something together that gives us hope for the future. We were not stranded like other friends of ours, like on the road touring or at airports. So that was something that made you think about what’s most important in your life. The most important thing in my life is my son, my family, and the band.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel your strengths are on the production side of things with Mastersound Entertainment?
Krull: In general, I love to work with bands. With other acts and bands, as well as record labels – I still do. I’m always looking for new talents and help labels to find good artists. For me, if I have a band, I want to take out the best of them and put it into the production. I am also doing some video clips for other bands too – the art, being a heavy metal musician, for me just doesn’t mean one path. I like the diversity. I like to be creative with other people. It’s really great to work with all kinds of bands – to help them the best way I can.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the plan for Leaves’ Eyes and Atrocity in the future?
Krull: For Atrocity, we are working on the third part of the Okkult trilogy. When the phase for Leaves’ Eyes is over, production-wise, we will start more into Atrocity again. With the new Leaves’ Eyes album coming out, we hope that we can play live shows again and tour. But it’s not easy, and to be realistic, there has to be a way to make it happen. Every state and country and region has their own rules and laws. Until COVID is fixed, it will be very difficult to have proper tours. That’s something we will have to see how it goes, how the world itself will be after the pandemic is over. How people and the world will go through it and how things might change. I wouldn’t say everything was better before, so I hope it will be better afterwards. I think there’s a lot of things that people can think about now – what’s important in life and what we need to care for.