Symphonic metal fans have called her “the metal Enya” and Leah is back with her second full-length album, this time brining in a band that lists Delain, Blind Guardian, and Vengeance on their resumes. With that, one can expect a certain level of heaviness overlaid with the soaring and beautifully haunting vocals.
Hailing from the coast of British Columbia in Canada, Leah has managed to gain attention and a world-wide following through social media and online presence, having never toured. Leah McHenry started singing in her teenage years and found her voice in Celtic music and symphonic metal, which is at least partially explained by her Irish and Scottish heritage. Keeping with the spirit of the Irish and Scottish, Leah recorded and produced her first album Of Earth and Angels (2012) on her own as a young mother, taking two years from start to finish. Word quickly spread through the internet about the album and it ended up on several “best of” lists for 2012. Following Of Earth and Angels, Leah released two ep’s, Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence in December of 2012 and Otherworld toward the end of 2013, which featured guest vocalist Eric Peterson (Testament, Dragonlord) on one track and production by Christian Moos at Spacelab Studios . Following a successful Indiegogo campaign, Leah again worked with Spacelab studios to complete Kings & Queens.
The opening of Kings & Queens is pretty much what one would expect with a symphonic metal project… “Arcadia” features some atmospheric music with some Gregorian-like choir singing, and then the heavy guitars come in to quickly stop when the beautiful female vocals come in. Is this a bad thing – of course not. Throughout the song, the one thing that strikes me is the heaviness of the guitars and drums and the contrast between that and the vocals. Leah has a beautiful, haunting voice and all accolades one reads about her voice likely don’t do it proper justice. So, expect that in every song, even if I forget to mention it, it applies throughout the album.
Overall production on the album is lush and full as one would expect with symphonic metal. Arrangements are complex and incorporate many different sounds and styles. Throughout the various songs, one can hear hints of bands from Within Temptation to Lacuna Coil to Evanescence to even traditional Celtic folk groups like Solas, both in the vocals and in the music. Given my Irish heritage and growing up around traditional Irish music and folk music, hearing these elements in metal when done well always resonates with me and this album is no exception. In keeping with the genre, there is a lot of music here as well, with the 14 songs clocking in at 78 minutes. While Leah’s voice is often a focal point on the album, the guitar work of Timo Somers (Delain) and the rhythm section of Barend Courbois (Blind Guardian, Vengeance) on bass and Sander Zoer (ex-Delain) on drums really do also stand out as being able to both come to forefront when needed and settling into the background to keep the songs driving alone when the vocals shine.
Songs like “Enter the Highlands” contain some really complex arrangements with parts of it featuring some galloping guitars and drums that pick up in speed and intensity and then slow into atmospheric sections when the vocals move to the forefront. The slower, atmospheric section is features some nice bass guitar work as the guitars are silent for much of that but then the guitars come back with a vengeance as the vocals build to a crescendo and the songs shifts back into hyperdrive for a bit. As a testament to the songwriting, this back and forth between fast and loud and quiet and slow really works well and adds a storytelling like feel to the song, taking the listener on a journey.
Shifting away from the Celtic influence is “Alpha et Omega”, which almost has an Oriental feel to some of the music in the beginning and later contains some nice guitar and vocal harmony sections that also show some of the Leah’s vocal range as its lower than much of the rest of the album. Despite the music with its Eastern and Oriental influence in this song, I still detect the Celtic influence running through which makes for an interesting listen.
“This Present Darkness” will likely be the most familiar sounding song to many listeners and I immediately am reminded of an older Madonna song of all things. Which one, I’m not exactly sure, but I am definitely picking up that sound in the verses. Maybe it’s the vocal tone, phrasing, or inflections but needless to say the music is not Madonna and with the darker overall tone and feel this wouldn’t be one of the happy-go-lucky Top40 hits I’m hearing. This is yet another interesting aspect to the songs on this album.
Given Leah’s Irish and Scottish genetics, one can imagine that the acoustic “Siúil a Rún” at the end of the album would be one of the stronger tracks. Even in this setting, the arrangement has taken this song in a slightly different direction than one could go with strictly traditional instruments. The songs starts out with primitive percussion and traditional instruments to be joined by piano and some strings before shifting to a more modern sounding bass and drum rhythm section. In keeping with the shift in the instruments, the vocals also shift subtly away from the traditional Celtic stylings from time to time, adding a welcome, if unexpected, twist to the song.
As is the case with all good symphonic metal albums, there is too much material to cover and keep a review to a reasonable length. I’ve tried to cover some of what I found to be the more unique elements on the album. The Celtic undertone running through the album is one aspect that, being unfamiliar with Leah, I wasn’t expecting but really resonated with me. This is one of those albums that will appeal to fans of the genre and has a strong chance of winning new fans. To be honest, this is not one of my favorite genres, but the strength and uniqueness of the vocals combined with heavy guitars, bass, and drums and great arrangements have won me over.
Written by John Jackson
“Kings & Queens” track listing
02. Save the World
03. Angel Fell
04. Enter the Highlands
05. In the Palm of Your Hands
06. Alpha et Omega
07. Heart of Poison
09. Palace of Dreams
10. This Present Darkness
11. The Crown
13. There Is No Farewell
14. Siúil a Rún (Acoustic Version)
Record Label: Inner Wound Recordings, Jan. 2015
Lyric video ‘This Present Darkness’
Video below “Kings & Queens” (album teaser)