Leah returns with The Quest, the long awaited follow up to Kings & Queens bringing back essentially the same band as before but shifting the sound a bit more toward the symphonic in a collection of songs that highlight her incredible voice against a lush orchestral backdrop.
The Scottish and Irish heritage of Canadian Leah McHenry has shown through in here previous releases going all the way back to her debut Of Earth and Angels in 2012, a project she recorded and produced herself. Following that release and the critical acclaim it received, Lead release two ep’s in 2013 and then went on to record the full length Kings & Queens in 2015. For The Quest, Leah brought back her core band from Kings & Queens of Timo Somers (guitars, arrangements), Barend Courbois (bass), and Sander Zoer (drums) as well as special guests Chen Balbus (Orphaned Land) and Troy Donockley (Nightwish). Adding in some more industry heavyweights, the album was mixed and mastered by Jacob Hansen [Volbeat, Amaranthe, Evergrey].
According to Leah, the concept for The Quest is very simple:
We’re all on a journey, and sometimes we lose our way. There are adventures, wildernesses, treasures, monsters, looters, people out to send us down the wrong path. Through it all, we must grow in wisdom and experience, find our compass once again and find our way back to the true path in order to reach our full potential: our destiny.
With that in mind, the title track clocking in at over 10 minutes long seems appropriate. Those unfamiliar with Leah’s vocal talent will quickly experience it in the song as she sings along to provide the opening parts of the song. Nearly mousy quiet in the beginning verse section, her voice quickly builds showing the inherent strength and her confidence as a singer. The song itself meanders along through different sections anchored by repeats of the opening vocals which oddly enough remind me of live version of “Fear of the Dark” by Iron Maiden. What did immediately strike me though was how this album is sonically much closer to the symphonic than the metal. I really liked the heaviness of the guitars and drums on Kings & Queens and those have been subtly muted by keyboards on The Quest. Of course, keep in mind, this is through the ears of an older hardcore kid who when listening to metal veers toward the extreme, death, and black, so I do have a bit of bias in what I like.
The softening of Leah’s sound becomes more apparent in “Edge of Your Sword”, which has a great bass and drum rhythm throughout which inevitably takes a minor role to the vocals and keyboards. Even a scorching guitar solo can’t seem to really break through the wall of sound created by the vocals and keyboards, which is a bit of a shame. Thankfully the vocals are incredible and the chorus is catchy enough to keep interest levels high. I had high hopes for “Lion Arises” given the more metal opening guitars but again they quickly faded.
“Heir” brings in some new elements with the addition of traditional instruments and hints of Eluveitie and folk metal and “Ruins of Illusion” continues in that vein in what is probably one of my favorite tracks on the album. The solitary drum beat sounding like it is in the distance joined by some of the quieter vocals by Leah on the album. I can hear vocal elements often in traditional celtic songs, which is something I have always enjoyed. The overpowering keyboards now replaced by a quieter piano and traditional pipes add elements to the song that set it apart. “Obliviion” revisits this combination of sounds in what could be described as possibly a combination of Evanescence and folk metal, which seems like it wouldn’t work, but it really does. The album closes with “The Water is Wide” which is nearly an acapella track and really showcases Leah’s impressive voice and range and is a fitting end.
While Kings & Queens impressed me with its blend of the symphonic and metal supporting Leah’s voice, The Quest turns that scenario around with Leah’s voice supporting the symphonic metal. To my ears, the songs lack some of the raw power of those on Kings & Queens instead showcasing more complex arrangements in its place making this an impressive release.
Written by John Jackson
“The Quest” track listing
01. The Quest
02. Edge of Your Sword
03. Lion Arises
05. Ruins of Illusion
08. Oblivion (Between Two Worlds)
09. Ghost Upon a Throne
10. The Water Is Wide
Leah McHenry – Vocals
Timo Somers – Arrangements, production, guitars
Sander Zoer- Drums, percussion
Barend Courbois- Bass guitar
Troy Donockley – Uilleann pipes, low whistles, bodhran, bouzouki
Chen Balbus – Guitars
Record Label: Inner Wound Recordings
Release Date: October 5th 2018
Video documentary for The Quest: