Personal bias is a bitch, and it can be difficult to be objective when a band changes membership. For anyone new to this blog or its associated podcast, I absolutely love Liv Kristine’s voice and am completely unapologetic about it. When she and Alexander Krull divorced, she left (or was ousted, depending on who you ask) Leaves’ Eyes. Couple that with some less-than-stellar recent releases, and I wasn’t sure if I would even check this album out or not. After seeing the band live on their recent U.S. tour with Sabaton and Battle Beast, I figured it was in my best interest to try and give Sign of the Dragonhead an objective listen.
Starting with a high-level view, Sign of the Dragonhead fits right into the Leaves’ Eyes discography. The song structures follow patterns established on Meredead, Symphonies of the Night, and King of Kings, so there’s no major shake-up here. Unfortunately, I was pretty cold on those albums, and from a pure songwriting standpoint, Sign of the Dragonhead is nothing you didn’t hear on the prior three albums. The songs have their catchy earworm moments, but they tend to flow together and turn into a singular soundscape rather than big moments you want to share with friends.
Obviously, the biggest change is the replacement of Liv with Elina Siirala (Angel Nation). As I said when I reviewed the Fires in the North single, Elina has a deeper voice and more operatic delivery. Some other reviewers seem to prefer Elina over Liv, but there’s no accounting for taste, I guess. Personal preference aside, she fits in well with the material. However, there are a few instances where it feels like she’s either holding back or being directed to do so. It’s not quite to the degree of Floor Jansen’s suppression on Endless Forms Most Disappointing, but it’s there.
It probably sounds like I’m coming down pretty hard on Sign of the Dragonhead, but there are a few stand-outs. The opening title track sets the tone pretty well, while Across the Sea and Jomsborg are bouncy folk anthems sure to go over well live. Riders on the Wind is a solid ocean shanty, although it does get a bit repetitive toward the end. Fires in the North hasn’t changed since the single, but it’s good enough to bear repeating.
As for the rest of the band (basically Atrocity), they do a competent job overall. The music is well-performed, and Krull’s vocals are… “there” as they always have been. While the beauty-and-the-beast approach worked on earlier albums, it’s become more distracting as Leaves’ Eyes drifted more into the symphonic spectrum.
Ultimately, the final verdict is a recommendation only for die-hard Leaves’ Eyes fans. Elina has a great voice, and the band has adjusted their sound to suit her delivery, which was my biggest gripe with the overdubs on the Fires in the North single. However, the formulaic songwriting is still present, and if you didn’t love the last few albums, Sign of the Dragonhead isn’t going to change your mind.