Leah – “Ancient Winter”


Leah forgoes the symphonic metal in her latest album that takes the listener on an atmospheric journey through winter.

Leah McHenry certainly has a thing for recording and producing her own material.  The Canadian started back in 2012 with her debut, Of Earth and Angels, the success of which led to two ep’s in 2013 and finally another full length, Kings & Queens in 2015.  From recognized musicians including Troy Donockley (Nightwish), Eric Peterson(Testament), Barend Courbois (Blind Guardian), Timo Somers (Delain), Chen Balbus (Orphaned Land), and Sander Zoer (ex-Delain) to producers like Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Amaranthe, Evergrey), Leah’s projects have attracted great talent that complement her amazing voice.

For her fifth album, Ancient Winter, Leah recruited musicians who could bring more of the older instruments into the mix that includes the hurdy-gurdy, Uilleann pipes, and a host of stringed instruments.  Guest appearances this time include: Troy Donockley (Nightwish) on Uilleann pipes, Anna Murphy (Cellar Darling, ex-Eluveitie) on hurdy-gurdy), Shir-Ran Yinon on fiddle/strings (Eluveitie), Oliver Philipps (Everon) on guitar and male vocals on “Puer Natus”, and Rupert Gillett (renowned string musician) on cello and salaw.  Once again Leah financed the album herself on her own website for this new approach to what some consider ‘holiday music’ but is really more of a celebration of winter.

From the very opening strings of “The Whole World Summons” this album has a different feel than previous efforts by Leah.  To answer the obvious, yes, this album does have many elements in it that would easily allow it to fit into the category of holiday/Christmas albums and that is without pointing out the obvious in the sacred songs at the end of the album.  On “The Whole World Summons” there are hints of the metal that Leah is best known for, but the song does remain firmly in the orchestral/symphonic realm.  Traditional instruments abound but the track does have a drum backing that reminds the listener of Leah’s other material.  From the chiming bells to the smooth vocals to the solemn strings, this song serves as a great opening.

“Light of the World” expands the overall variety  of sound on the album with an almost Middle-Eastern rhythm and feel in the beginning, a style that winds its way through the song.  The song also showcases Leah’s vocal range but in a way that fits perfectly within the song.  I often write about how some great guitar solos just fit within a song and the same goes here.  Her forays into the upper ranges are expertly woven into the song.  The arrangements on this album are lush and complex and incorporate a lot of different instruments and rhythms, all of which play an equal role in the overall sound, perfectly matched with the vocals.  Quieter moments like in “Upon Your Destiny”  that feature a single instrument and Leah’s near breathless whispery vocals set up the louder sections of the song and with the production and mixing the way it is, a multitude of instruments can be clearly heard.

While not metal per se, the songs on Ancient Winter do convey some of the themes common to metal albums, especially the icy coldness of a Northern European winter and the solitude that often accompanies winter.  “Redemption” seems to take a bit of a different route than the rest of the songs and I can’t help but be reminded of Madonna’s “Live to Tell” in the phrasing and tone of Leah’s voice in several parts of the song.  Almost as if to separate the album into sections, the atmospheric, ethereal “The Messenger” serves to separate off the more more ancient, traditional hymns that close out the album.

True to her roots, “Gaudete” carries with it a definite Celtic feel  as the Latin verses tell the story of Christ’s birth. The medieval era “Puer Natus”  and it’s bouncier rhythm continues with the songs in Latin and lines such as “Tamquam sponsus de thalamo, Processit Matris utero” do not seem out of place at all and Leah’s enunciation makes the message clear.  Closing out the album is the 15th century French carol Novel Nouvelet again performed by Leah in its original language which preserves the beauty of the ancient song.

Noël nouvelet, Noël chantons ici
devotes gens, crions a Dieu merci
Chantons Noël pour le Roi nouvelet
Noël nouvelet Noël chantons ici.

At this point it should be no surprise that Leah will release and expertly produced and compositionally complex album that features a number of guest artists whose performances complement her rich, strong, and nuanced vocals, but to do so on an album like Ancient Winter is all the more impressive.  The ancient, traditional carols that close out the album, performed in Latin and French as they were originally written are performed in such a way that one would think the songs were written for the album.  Perfect example of how great music is timeless…and thoroughly enjoyable.

Written by John Jackson

Rating: 10/10

1. The Whole World Summons
2. Light of the World
3. Upon Your Destiny
4. Redemption
5. The Messenger
6. Gaudete
7. Puer Natus
8. Noel Nouvelet

Band Members
Leah McHenry – Composition, orchestration, arrangements, vocals, lyrics, keys & virtual instruments
Oliver Philipps – Production, arrangements, orchestration, guitar and male vocals on “Puer Natus”
Anna Murphy – Hurdy Gurdy
Shir-Ran Yinon – Fiddle/violin/viola performance
Troy Donockley – Uilleann pipes, low and high whistles
Rupert Gillett – Cello & salaw

Release Date: 15th Nov. 2019

Record Label: Ex Cathedra Records

Weblinks: Website Facebook Bandcamp / Twitter / Instagram 

Buy the album here:
Holland: First Paradox
Norway: Nordic Mission

Lyric video for ‘Redemption’

Lyric video for ‘Light of the World’


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