German/Norwegian symphonic folk metal band Leaves’ Eyes returns with their fourth and most expansive full length album to date, Meredead.
After the release of 2009’s Njord the band was halved in 2010 with the loss of their rhythm section and second guitarist.
On Meredead, founder and keyboardist Alexander Krull (Atrocity) returns with his wife and vocalist Liv Kristine (ex-Theatre of Tragedy), and guitarist Thorsten Bauer (Atrocity). Guitarist Sander van der Meer, and another Atrocity member, drummer Roland Navratil, arrived in time for the band to take the next step in elevating themselves beyond their contemporaries. Bauer also handles bass duties.
Meredead is epic and sweeping, making use of traditional and non-traditional instrumentation, as well as multiple languages on the vocals. Kristine promised the new album would have some songs sung in Old English and traditional Norwegian as well as modern English, and she was true to her word. There is a strong Celtic feel present through many of the album’s stirring pieces. Scattered throughout the album you can hear folk elements created by the use of Uilleann (bag) pipes, Swedish nyckelharpa, cello, fiddle, and much more. Once again the band brought in the Lingua Mortis Orchestra to add a full and dynamic sound to an extraordinarily well produced album.
The record kicks off in epic fashion with “Spirit’s Masquerade”, the second longest track represented on Meredead. Beginning with military style drumming and a wall of choral voices, the band sets us up for Liv’s graceful and operatic voice. The track is driving and atmospheric, and a gifted start to the album.
“Étaín” starts off slow then builds into a pounding maelstrom of renaissance metal. Once again the vocals and melodic arrangement are the stars.
While it’s difficult to call anything on this record traditional in any way, “Velvet Heart” has moments of pop accessibility, but this is as close as it gets.
Kristine takes to her hard Norwegian tongue to sing “Kråkevisa” and “Nystev”, while the band gives their own updated spin to Mike Oldfield‘s 1984 classic “To France”.
The title track opens with a soaring choir that leads to a folky acoustic interlude, soon accented by crisp electric guitar work.
“Sigrlinn” is one of the records true delights, and the album’s longest track, coming in at just over eight minutes. The Nordic folk feel is in full bloom here, and Liv’s sister, Carmen Elise Espenæs of Midnattsol comes in to duet. Alexander even throws in his own harsh growling.
The vocals on are simply majestic on “Mine Tåror er ei Grimme”.
One of the secret ingredient’s to the success of Meredead is the presence of Elfenthal‘s Maite Itoiz and John Kelly. Maite’s voice shines throughout the album on numerous tracks including the the title cut and “Étaín”. John provides an elegant vocal male counterpoint to Liv’s voice on “Tell-Tale Eyes” with Maite providing the baroque guitar work on the song.
In all ways Meredead is superior to the band’s previous outputs and is now the cornetstone by which they will meaure all future works. The album is lyrically stunning, and the music speaks for itself from first note to last.
Said Kristine of the album:
“Being an Old-English fan, I decided to write some of the lyrics in Old-English, which, of course, included further studies of grammatical and phonetic knowledge, which I really enjoyed doing.
“Next to modern English and Old English, some songs are sung in traditional Norwegian, to keep their strong individuality and focus on certain themes from special genres in Norwegian traditional singing.
“The album is given the title ‘Meredead’, as one of the songs on the album. It is my own word creation (at least I haven’t found it in a dictionary yet), and it may mean both ‘dead by/in the sea,’ or ‘the mortal or killing sea.’
“In my lyrics, you will find traditional themes from Viking literature and Norwegian song tradition, moreover, tales from the Irish isles, some from already existing sources, some made up myself. Sometimes you will hear about men going on adventures, some ending up drowning in the sea, their wives, evil witches, three-headed trolls, or spell-bound princesses, as well as marble halls and blood-thirsty creatures.
“I allowed myself more freedom for the concept of ‘Meredead’, telling a number of different stories, real, mystical or sometimes maybe even both.”
If you are already a fan of Leaves’ Eyes then you’ll be delighted with Meredead. If you are new to the band, then this is the perfect introduction. A superbly unique offering.