Leaves’ Eyes – Sign of the Dragonhead (AFM Records)

Sunday, 7th January 2018
Rating: 9.5/10

Veteran bands are often in a tough spot when they lose an established vocalist, particularly one with the presence and power of Liv Kristine. But despite some tumultuous times in early 2016, Leaves’ Eyes soldiered on. Recruiting new vocalist Elina Siirala (Angel Nation), the band rallied themselves and journeyed through numerous tours in the last two years – leading us up to Sign of the Dragonhead, Leaves’ Eyes first full-length with Siirala, and one that captures their long-standing evolution and steers it into even more exciting territory.

Ever since the act seemed to define itself with the excellent Njord, it’s been all about upping the ante and providing a feel that’s both grounded and epic. Of course, diversity along the way has helped, and Sign of the Dragonhead has it in spades. The already fan-tested and approved “Fires in the North” as well as the title track showcase the band’s particular brand of symphonic Viking metal, with their combo of heavy riffing and soaring choruses. But despite their ability to really condense things down to their essence on this album, they pull out all the stops on the grand and epic finale of “Waves of Euphoria,” where choirs, orchestration, and shifting dynamics merge into a song that’s a cinematic journey all of its own. There’s also the anthemic “Jomsborg,” one of the heavier cuts and one that is a testament to Siirala’s soaring and powerful vocals and their counterpart in Alexander Krull’s energetic growls.

Outside of these more ‘serious’ cuts, there’s also an element of fun that’s a perfect carryover from their live performances with “Across the Sea” and “Riders on the Wind” sure to put a wide grin on fans’ faces even on the first listen. In the same way, “Shadows in the Night” will capture many fans’ interest with its bouncy and upbeat vibe and downright glorious chorus. On the folkier side are the more melodic and ballad-esque “Fairer Than the Sun” and rousing instrumental “Rulers of Wind and Waves,” and look no further than “Völva” if you need some evidence of what Siirala brings to the band in terms of her sheer vocal performance and charisma.

From concise to epic, and from symphonic to folky, there’s a bit of everything sprinkled about in Sign of the Dragonhead. Each track stands out in its own regard – a tough one to really nail in terms of favorites, but one that is consistently stunning from beginning to end. Leaves’ Eyes have not only crafted what’s likely their strongest release to date, but successfully reinvented themselves into what should surely be an even more successful era to come. But for now, consider Sign of the Dragonhead as 2018’s first must-have metal release.

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