Kings & Queens
"Leah’s 2012 debut, Of Earth and Angels, came out of nowhere and blew me away with its catchy, epic music and beautiful, ethereal vocals. Naturally, I bought her follow-up EP, Otherworld, but didn’t like it as much, since it was much mellower (except for “Dreamland” with guest Eric Peterson).
Thus, I was very excited to learn that Leah’s next release would feature Delain guitarist Timo Somers. I figured Timo was exactly what Leah needed to find her heavier sound again, since he has contributed some of Delain’s best guitar work. As an added bonus, Timo produced and arranged the album and also recruited ex-Delain drummer Sander Zoer.
Does Leah’s new team deliver? Yes. Kings & Queens is epic, heavy, and beautiful. Timo contributes excellent riffs and solos; Sander provides driving rhythms along with bassist Barend Courbois (from Blind Guardian); and Leah sounds as delicate and ethereal as ever. Her voice is high, clear and perfect, much like Liv Kristine’s.
The music, voice, and lyrics evoke far-away lands and heroic stories. Leah has explained: “One theme in particular is the historical and metaphorical grip around our throats we feel from top-down agendas that threaten our freedoms. It seems to be a never-ending game of chess between those who demand power and those who would preserve freedom. It’s the theme of every good fantasy book and film, and the message rings true for even our modern world. In addition, the line-up and stellar musicianship of the guys who came on board this project heightened the sheer epicness and caliber of the music itself.”
The album’s first single is “Enter the Highlands.” It starts heavy with aggressive guitars and drums before Leah’s otherworldly vocals kick in, and then builds with even more intense rhythms, a galloping riff, and choral vocals. Leah says she loves how heavy Timo made the song, and that the lyrics are about lost civilizations, with implications for our own.
Two other songs that really showcase Timo’s guitar skills are “Save the World” and “Angel Fell,” both of which feature blistering solos. These songs also show off the variety of Leah’s sound. “Save the World” starts as folk metal before becoming an anthem, then finishes with delicate voices and a harp after Timo’s solo. “Angel Fell” begins with a harpsichord and is quiet and powerful at first but has a driving finish.
What these songs lack is the catchiness I liked on songs like “Remember” and “Say Yes” from Of Earth and Angels, but that begins to reappear in later songs from Kings & Queens, notably “Heart of Poison” and “Hourglass.”
Perhaps the heart of the album is the epic “Palace of Dreams.” The song is long (at 7:46) and cinematic, with strong guitar and piano and a lyrical tie-in to the album title. Other notable songs include “The Present Darkness” (in which Leah uses a deeper voice) and “Remnant” (which at first sounds especially like Loreena McKennitt, to whom Leah is often compared, before building into heavy guitars). The album concludes with a pretty acoustic cover of a traditional Irish folk song, “Siúil a Rún,” about a lover lost to soldiering.
Overall, I would recommend Kings & Queens to all fans of epic music and ethereal vocals. While not as catchy as Of Earth and Angels, the new album certainly cements Leah’s reputation as the metal Loreena McKennitt (or Enya), with her strong Celtic and new age influences (not to mention her high fantasy look). The album is also a showcase for Timo Somers’ guitar work, and an example of successful crowd-funding, so fans of Delain and fans of independent music alike will want to check it out.
On the flipside, I would say the album and songs are too long. At 78 minutes, Kings & Queens is nearly twice as long as Of Earth and Angels or Delain’s The Human Contradiction. I think the music would have a greater impact if it were more condensed (just as I wish Peter Jackson would release a condensed version of The Hobbit). Delain fans should also know that the vocal variety is much narrower than what we get from Charlotte Wessels, who does fragile and beautiful but also raw and aggressive. Again, Leah is more like Liv Kristine. The lyrics are also subtle and metaphorical (and sometimes require careful listening to understand), so the themes discussed above about freedom and fallen civilizations don’t hit you in the face the way Delain’s (or Judas Priest’s) would." - Sonic Cathedral