Finding a replacement for an iconic vocalist and continuing to hit everything on all cylinders is no easy task, but so was the position Leaves' Eyes found itself in 2016. Having found a budding superstar in Elina Siirala (Angel Nation), the band found the perfect compliment to balance the heavy aspect of its viking symphonic sound.
With the songwriting and production team intact, Leaves' Eyes steamrolled along, introducing Elina through "Fires in the North" EP (2016) with a new song and interpretations of a few Leaves' Eyes classics just before setting sail on an extensive touring schedule.
"Sign of the Dragonhead" is the first full length with the Siirala fronted lineup and it represents the band in its finest form on the eve of setting sail on a much bigger viking ship - 70,000 Tons of Metal. CROM sat down with Alex Krull, Thorsten ("Tosso") Bauer and Elina Sirrala to discuss the new album.
CROM: First off, congratulations on the upcoming new record. As a fan, I’ve really enjoyed the last few and now with the addition of Elina I feel like you now have the right voice for the band’s sound. With Elina, you have a lot more power to back up the beauty and grace. I know it has been some time and you have had multiple tours – so how has the reaction been to Elina?
Alex: Thank you, Carl! Indeed, Elina is the perfect match for Leaves' Eyes and we were touring a lot together already!
Elina: We played in Indonesia, all over Europe and North America. We also played and headlined some festivals in Europe and went on the Full Metal Cruise, which was great. In North America we did two big tours together with Sonata Arctica (2016) and Sabaton (2017)! A few days ago we just played three release shows for the new album here in Germany. The reactions of the fans and press have been fantastic everywhere!
Alex: Yeah, in a few days we will enter the boat for the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise. In addition the new album just entered #21 in the Official German Album Charts as best new metal entry in between all these major mainstream acts! Great times for Leaves' Eyes!
Tosso: Yes, thanks Carl! Elina's awesome stage presence and powerful voice fits very well to the symphonic and heavy music of Leaves' Eyes. When we met for the first time at our headquarters Mastersound Studios here in Germany, there was immediately a great connection and vibe and Elina was brave enough to take the role as our new front lady. A few days later we played together in Indonesia in front of 21.000 people and Elina did a great show. Like Elina says, the feedback of the fans world wide was just awesome!
CROM: With no disrespect for Liv, her voice in the early days through “Meredead” was too sweet and didn’t quite fit the metal style, but on “Symphonies of the Night” and “King of Kings” she started to come into her own before the split. Is the writing process different or is it easier to write songs for Elina’s voice from a pure metal perspective.
Tosso: The powerful and bombastic music on the new album and Elinas voice fit perfectly together and it was a real pleasure to record with her. I would say since the 'Njord' album we developed and shaped our music into a more symphonic oriented direction, but also incorporating more and more folk instruments. 'Symphonies of the Night' and also 'King of Kings' are great results of this process. Alex (Krull) and me are metal maniacs, that is what we bring in and also echoes in our music. What really helped for the writing process of the new album were the many shows and tours we played together with Elina. We took the energy and excitement of all these shows into the studio and the recordings. Sometimes bands can get lost in an “ivory tower of studio production”, haha. We always had in mind how the songs would sound live, which added extra power to all. It was great being able to write songs in keys that would suit Elinas voice and make it shine.
CROM: Is it increasingly difficult to balance the writing styles between Leaves’ Eyes and Atrocity, because I hear so much of the Atrocity guitar in Leaves’ Eyes?
Alex: Haha ok, we actually know from the start of writing a song where it belongs to, Atrocity or Leaves' Eyes. For me these are two different worlds. Tosso: Obviously its the same people that write the music, so we can't become different people for each album, haha. But there is a difference in the vision, idea and concept of both bands. In Leaves' Eyes we need a guitar style and sound that goes hand in hand with a lot of other instruments, orchestra and choirs. In Leaves' Eyes my view is often more the compositional side and not only the side of a guitarist. Sometimes Alex has to force me to play guitar solos like in 'Sign of the Dragonhead' where he was singing a solo guitar and I played it afterwards. In Atrocity there is more space just for the guitar and my band mates expects me to write dark, powerful, evil riffs and do a lot of tremolo bar leads, haha.
Alex: Of corpse!
Tosso: I enjoy playing and writing for both bands very much.
Alex: SURE, man!
CROM: One of the best parts of Leaves’ Eyes has been the lyrical content steeped in real history. So with “Sign of the Dragonhead,” are the lyrical topic just basic Viking themes, or are there particular figures of history you touch upon?
Alex: The Norse mythology was always a great part of the concept of Leaves' Eyes. 'Sign of the Dragonhead”'starts with the title track which is directly connected to the album 'King of Kings'. The vikings reached out to new horzions, like we do with the band ourselves! The sagas tell us about King Harald Fairhair, his longship called 'Draken' (dragon) and his legendary crew, the kings guard of wolf coated Berserkers. But 'Sign of the Dragonhead' is not a full concept album about just this one character. We have a lot more of very interesting and different stories to tell on the new album. For example the song 'Völva' is about the magic women in the Viking age. The Vikings believed a Völva could foresee the future in their Pagan rituals, connect to the other world and give important advices to the Jarls, the leader of Vikings, too. The song 'Jomsborg' is very personal to me. The track is about the legendary Viking stronghold and the Jomsvikings! My father and his family are rooted from this area so it's very special for me to write a song about it. Nowadays there is the biggest Viking reenactment group called 'Jomsborg”'and I'm a member of honor in this Viking group, too. The song is also a hommage to the whole Viking reenactment scene world wide. When I have time and we are not on tour I also do trainings for the battles and go to the Viking and medieval events to join my brothers and sisters out there!
CROM: Musically, the album has even more anthems than previous albums – ones that translate well for fan participation – “Riders of the Wind,” “Jomsborg” and “Across the Sea” are just made for the live stage. Is this the goal in writing music, how it will translate on the stages?
Tosso: For me personally the star of our new album are the songs! With the experience of the huge production we already had on the 'King of Kings' album, we also gained a clear vision how such a monster production would have to serve each song. So we have quite some anthems and hits on the album that sound very symphonic but also the metal band is well presented. 'Sign of the Dragonhead' is the biggest production we ever did and we are very sure that the songs will also sound amazing in our upcoming live shows.
Elina: We are looking forward to play these songs live on tour soon! On the release shows we played 5-6 new songs already and for the tour we will include maybe even more songs from the new album into the pool of songs for the setlists we gonna play on tours and festivals.
CROM: You used the London Voices Choirs on the new album. How did this come about and was the idea for the real choir to add to the huge bombastic sound the band has been building over the years?
Alex: It's the second time we worked together with the world class choir London Voices, and of course we want to add epic choirs to the bombastic parts in our music. We are the first metal band they worked with, alongside major acts like Pink Floyd, Queen or Paul McCartney and Blockbuster Movies. to name a few, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Elina: The recordings took place in London where I live, and I joined Alex at the session at the Angel Studios which was really great. The London Voices did an amazing job!
CROM: One of my favorites on the album is “Like A Mountain” – which really is one of the most beautiful songs to come from Leaves’ Eyes and Elina’s voice is stunning. Take me into the process of this one – how did it start – the chorus, the incredible intro?
Alex: I totally agree with that, Carl! Great song, tragic love story – amazing vocals. Tosso: Yeah, thanx a lot for the compliment. In 'Like A Mountain,' Elina's voice can really shine. I like the contrast between the heavy guitar riffs and the classical and emotional verses and chorusses. During the vocal recordings we came up with the idea of that little but very emotional intro. Elina did a fantastic job on that song and also played the piano chords at the beginning.
Elina: Thank you, it was a pleasure to record this song and all the others at the Mastersound Studio. We had a very good Preproduction as well, so we could work out the songs to the best before the final recordings, nevertheless sometimes even the last minute some things can change haha!
CROM: Has it been difficult to stay relevant to the fans with such a huge saturation of symphonic metal these days? Do you take the advice and opinions of fans and writers to heart and use it to refine the band’s sound?
Tosso: We have our own recording studio at the country site, only surrounded by nature. So we can really work in a very independent way. I think the great thing about Leaves' Eyes is that it has so many different facets in its' sound, combining metal with symphonic and folk elements which makes our band quite stand out. I think that is very important, having a distinct unique sound.
CROM: You’ve had a couple of new videos for the album – the title track and now the most recent “Across the Sea.” Tell me a bit about where this was filmed and the Viking reenactment crew you assembled.
Alex: Our latest video was 'Jomsborg' and 'Sign of the Dragonhead' were filmed at Oldenburg Wallmuseum in North Germany, which is an incredible beautiful historic place. They spent millions of Euros to reconstruct the historic village and the stronghold. It was a fantastic shooting there together with our Viking friends who came from several places across Europe to be part in this epic short movie!
Elina: It felt like being on a movie set! It was great fun to even play a role in the film itself.
Alex: Yes, and we made a deal with Elina!
Elina: Oh yes haha I told Alex, that I would like to ride on a horse in the next Leaves' Eyes video clip.
Alex: We told Elina, ok let's do it! And on top we turn you into a shield maiden and you have to swing the axe in battle hahaha!!
Tosso: Great job, Elina!
CROM: Are there any additional videos planned for the album?
Alex: We are planning to do another one for “Riders on the Wind”, too!
CROM: Recently the band has had much success touring in North America – are there plans to return soon?
Tosso: The tours in North America and all the fans there were just amazing! We love touring in North America and hope to be back soon!
Elina: We are definitely working on the possibilities to return to North America, especially now with the new album!
CROM: It has been since 2009’s “We Came with the Northern Winds” since a live release has come from the band. Have you considered releasing a new live album or DVD for the upcoming tours for “Sign of the Dragonhead?
Alex: We plan to release a tourbook edition of the album and also include a DVD with special footage and material!
CROM: Best of luck with the album! Looking forward to seeing you again on stage.
Alex: Thank you for the interview and your support, Carl! See you at 70K!!! VIKING PARTY!!