For seven records the members of Nordic symphonic historians Leaves’ Eyes have captured the Viking war cry and spirit in lyric, song, video, and on stage recreation. They’ve consulted the ancient saga’s, perfecting their production for pin point presentation, playing hypnotic symphonic folk metal with history to study and riffs to head bang to. What started in 2003 has continued to 2018 with a new record, chapter and alluring, storming voice marching forward.
After founding vocalist Liv Kristine’s departure, the band found the classically trained Angel Nation soprano mouth piece Elina Siirala. Now with a new, continuing 11 song saga and the next chapter to King of Kings, Sign of the Dragonhead storms the global waters and stages.
The “Sign of the Dragonhead” video was filmed at the Wall-Museum in Oldenburg, North Germany, with great expense and detail taken to make everything look authentic. “The houses and walls, of course, is why it’s called the Wall-Museum, and the gate,” growling vocalist Alexander Krull says. “The reconstruction was done in the way it was, in that time. They even have a garden there with plants and stuff to eat that they were planting for many, many years.”
The Viking’s were reenactment groups from different countries joining to support the band alongside Krull. “I also do Viking reenactment. It’s great because we have wonderful events and festivals over here. People can go camp, have battles and live the Viking lifestyle. There’s no modern stuff allowed. The food, weapons, clothes, shoes, everything is reconstructed. The people want to try out how it was in those days, to live there. Everything is connected to the lifestyle of that time.”
Though different seasons have different activities, Viking’s are always busy. Summer brings the people as training is in the winter along with battle season. “Every season, events are going on,” Krull says. “When it’s happening, we’re on the road. It’s hard to get a schedule done with those guys, they come to our shows, supporting us on stage.”
The title track is directly connected to King of Kings, “The saga tells us King Harald Fairhair was uniting the Northlands and they had a huge battle,” Krull explains. “Where the last album ends with “Blazing Waters,” there was a time when his followers and his enemies were spreading out. Expansion by force before they were hunted down. So, they went to the Shetlands, Oklace, and Iceland.” After being forced to leave their homeland the Vikings spread out to discover new territory.”
Their long boat was called the dreki, Norse for Dragon, “The saga tells us the King’s guards the Berserkers were only allowed to stay with him. He had a lot of enemies, he didn’t trust anyone.”
The song “Völva” speaks of a medieval woman of magic, “It’s something like a witch, she was a magic woman with a connection to the gods. At least the Vikings believed so,” Krull says. “They were also advisers to many kings because it was said that “Völva” could see the future and see the decisions of the gods, for your life, whether fortune or bad luck. They had this pagan ritual where she danced with this wand. The name comes from a magic stick.”
The song also uses folk instruments, flutes, percussion, whistles and a choir adding mystical elements and layers to the sagas and the band’s sound.
“Völva” were considered strong women figures, advising the Viking leaders and ‘good witches’ for the people, “When Christianity came in, they didn’t want to have other magic besides their own beliefs. That’s why those kinds of magicians were becoming bad guys, like King Arthur, the same with Merlin.” Christianity was moving in against pagan beliefs at the time.
The Vikings still believed Valhalla to be their battle earned heaven, “For the warriors for sure, we show that in the video as well. If you die with sword in hand, you go to Valhalla but there is not only Valhalla in their belief. It wasn’t black and white in the way we think about those people. It’s a very interesting culture.”
The large swords in the “Edge of Steel” video are stage props, “That’s actually something we use in our bigger shows. We have replicas of the swords and stones from Norway. We have six instead of three. They’re symbols and like five or six meters (16-19 feet) high.” The Vikings play an old ball game called Knattleikr, the early inspiration for soccer/football.
Krull likes that Viking history appeals to metal fans globally, “The thing especially with the Viking stuff, there’s a huge connection with the metal heads and Viking reenactment itself. There’s a lot of interest in general and people seem to like going deep into the topic. The metal family’s a global family. You can see the people enjoying the music. They go for the band, if they rock on stage, they like it.”
Known for expansive, glorious stage designs, they’ll have an updated show coming this year, “We have new banners, the huge swords and the huge Viking ship. We still use that on big shows.” They sometimes have trouble in other countries transporting armor, Viking swords and helmets abroad. They once played a show in New York’s Time Square and the police stopped Krull from carrying a sword into the venue. After explaining to security he was in the band and used the prop on stage they held it until he needed it.
After Liv Kristine’s exit, fan feedback for Siirala has been very positive, “With the internet stuff, we didn’t see anything like that live and the concerts were going great. There was no one complaining, we let the music talk and speak.”
Their first show with Siirala was in Indonesia at the Hammersonic Festival, “That was the biggest show of all we’ve done so far,” Siirala says. “It was quite a trip, one day there and one day back.”
Siirala’s been busy doing Leaves’ Eyes and her band Angel Nation, “Yes, just had another album out so it’s been a year of making albums, pretty much, it’s great.” Angel Nation’s record Aeon was released in October.
The video for “Burn the Witch” takes aim at people’s growing need for social media, “It’s bringing the subject up of people, getting more and more infused into social media, laptops, and cell phones,” Siirala says. “They don’t communicate well anymore, just reality, actually. I think it’s important to keep a balance between enjoying the live show and watching it through your phone.”
Would Siirala ever do death metal growls or vocals, “I would have to get some teaching in that,” she laughs “I don’t think I would have any voice after that, so no, for the moment.”
Television and movie depictions of Norse lifestyle are often hit or miss, depending on the mix of accuracy and fantasy. “If you talk about successful TV shows like the Vikings, I think they try their best to combine sagas.” Krull says. “It’s not totally accurate, adding some fantasy but I enjoy watching it. Of course it would be nice to have everything [totally] authentic but we don’t know one hundred percent how things looked at that time. It’s just what we find or dig out of the ground, we can rely on.”
Krull says, while certain things from Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are Viking inspired, some movies are pure fantasy. “The sagas were transcribed a long time after it all happened. They never wrote their own stuff down back then. People were telling the sagas mouth to mouth. The Norse mythology suits our music so well. We have the freedom as a metal band to write great songs and give our interpretations.”
“We have a song “Jomsborg” which is a great saga and a personal connection with my father’s family coming from the area. The biggest Viking army in the world is called Jomsborg. They support us on tour. There’s that passion of connecting with the sagas, the modern Vikings, and the whole music scene.” A lyric video was just released.
They’ve started 2018 with record release shows in Germany with an upcoming European run in April and May. Festivals and a second European leg follow with other plans on the table. They hope for a U.S. tour this year or next.
In the past Krull has done double duty with Atrocity and Leaves’ Eyes on several tours in America, Russia, Asia, and Europe. “It was mostly when people wanted to book both bands. We did it in one run. I don’t know if Elina would be up for an Angel Nation, Leaves’ Eyes double show.”
“It’s a bit different I guess. I don’t know being the lead singer. I think it would be quite tough.”
Angel Nation showed a lighter side with the “Do It Anyway” video. “That’s the real life. It was just doing something that would suit the song and be different showing a light-hearted side of us. It suits the song really well and was fun to do.”
As real life happens, creative inspiration can come at any time whether on tour, the studio, or the grocery store, “For me it goes in waves but I always have ideas that come at the most awkward times,” Siirala says. “When we’re out shopping, and I have to sing into the phone amongst people, so you don’t forget the ideas. It’s something you can’t really switch off completely. You also can’t force it. It’s a constant thing.”
As for touring, the land of the rising sun has yet to be played and pillaged, “That’s missing on our agenda,” Krull says. “I think we toured five continents and 50 countries, and somehow didn’t play in Japan. There were plans but for whatever reason it didn’t happen. In the rock and metal world Japan is quite important for metal bands.”
They’ve also had their share of concert mishaps as well, “There’s always stuff that can happen, mostly technical issues,” Siirala says. “There was a place where we only played 10 minutes due to so many issues. The electricity wasn’t working.”
They’ve met many great people on the road including Siirala meeting Doro.
“I’ve worked with Doro and she’s long time in the business,” Krull says. “We also met bands on the U.S. tour. We sat down after a gig and talk. It’s always great. That’s the good thing about the metal family, you connect fast, with the same views and ideas.”
Krull hints to what fans can expect hearing live, “We’re gonna play “Sign of the Dragonhead,” “Jomsborg,” “Across the Sea,” “Riders on the Wind,” “Fires in the North.” I’m sure we’ll play more on the European tour, “Shadows in the Night. Maybe “Waves of Euphoria,” “Like a Mountain.” It’s a tough decision. The songs on the new album you could play them all. It’s great material.”
“We’re very thankful for the great support we’re getting and I hope everyone enjoys the new record,” Krull says.
“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone, at the gigs,” Siirala says.
Sign of the Dragonhead is now available.