Leaves' Eyes took a whole lot of crap for the fallout of the Liv Kristine split. No matter what the reasons, no matter how the laundry was aired out on social media and no matter who said what to whom and why, it was a personal matter between Liv and the band and its been nearly two years now. With "Sign of the Dragonhead," the band has its first full length post-Liv and Elina Siirala has proven more than adequate for the task. Continuing the symphonic viking metal theme, the band hasn't skipped a beat releasing yet another triumph in a subgenre where it is increasingly difficult to stand out year by year.
If you enjoyed "King of Kings" and "Symphonies of the Night," you will find much to enjoy with "Sign of the Dragonhead." Catchy anthems are abound that are just begging to be played live with audience participation. As for Elina Siirala, she fills the one weakness of the band that has been around since the inception - powerful vocals to backup powerful music. Taking nothing away from the amazing talent Liv Kristine is - she hadn't meshed with the style of the band until "Symphonies of the Night," sounding a bit too sweet for what the band was presenting. In Elina, there is power, grace, majesty and might and this shows on songs like "Across the Sea," "Jomsborg," and the brilliant "Waves of Euphoria" - where that deep smooth delivery trades off perfectly with Alex Krull's monster death vox.
Overall, the band has employed much more folk and Celtic elements, which serve to enhance the memorability of the entire album, giving songs like "Across the Sea," "Riders on the Wind" and "Voelva" a sort of Eluveitie-esque "danceability." The songwriting is masterfully crafted for live shows and it will be hard for any crowd to keep still and not get lulled into a triumphant viking live show.
In the album's best - "Like A Mountain" - Elina shines on her finest performance since joining Leaves' Eyes. Both incredibly beautiful and heavy, the song really represents the pinnacle of the talent that this band has to offer. Siirala's vocals perfectly balance the riffs and dramatic symphonic elements (which alone evoke visions of a masted drakkar cutting through the waves to approaching land).
Once again "Sign of the Dragonhead" is steeped in Norse mythology and directly ties to the "King of Kings" album, though itself not a pure conceptual release like its predecessor. The new album tells of different unrelated sagas, one of which - "Jomsborg" - is set in a land directly from the lineage of Alex Krull. Speaking of Krull, with his own in house studio at Mastersound, he once again produces another crisp and fresh sounding Leaves' Eyes record.
In 2018, you can count the relevant symphonic metal bands on one hand. With uncertainty surrounding the great Xandria of late, Leaves' Eyes makes a bold statement with "Sign of the Dragonhead" to propel itself into the running for one of the subgenre's best. With a bold, strong vocalist in Siirala to finally achieve balance with the heaviness of the band along with persistent and frequent touring, the sky appears to be the limit for Leaves' Eyes.