By Carl Begai
Ten years ago, soprano vocalist Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull quite unexpectedly found herself out of a job. THEATRE OF TRAGEDY, the band that made her famous (and vice versa) gave her the boot citing musical differences, cutting Liv loose and leaving her to her own devices. It was a blessing in disguise once the initial shock wore off, leading to the launch of a grand experiment in collaboration with the members of ATROCITY dubbed LEAVES' EYES. The goth-flavoured debut album, Lovelorn, was viewed as Liv's comeback following two albums' worth of head-scratching electronica with Theatre Of Tragedy. It set the stage for an ongoing project that would ultimately surpass her accomplishments with the Theatre, as Leaves' Eyes evolved into something well beyond Liv's doom goth roots. Their new album, Symphonies Of The Night, is the bold next step in what has been a constant evolution.
"We've been around for 10 years, so when Thorsten (Bauer/guitars) started composing the music for this album a year-and-a-half ago we decided to keep an open mind about everything," Liv begins. "We had enough time to let the songs develop and see where they went. We didn't want to plan anything, we wanted to be taken places by the things that influenced the music. There were some musical ideas around that we didn't use for the last album (Meredead), like 'Saint Cecilia', because there was no space for it. Thorsten spent hours and hours working in the studio, so it was always interesting to go in on Monday morning and check out what he'd done (laughs). I continued from there, Alex (Krull/Atrocity) supervised everything and added some spice to it. It was a very creative period for us because we just let everything in. It's great working with Alex and Tosso. The three of us are the perfect team. We compliment each other in such a great way, I couldn't imagine a better working relationship. It's amazing."
And even though they have a decade under their collective belt, Leaves' Eyes show no signs of getting bored with their own art. If there's any sort of re-invention going on with regards to their musical direction it's not on a level where the fans are left wondering what the hell happened on the way to the studio since the last album.
"We don't have to re-invent ourselves just because we've been around for 10 years. We have so much experience that we can rely on, and we're three different musicians that also happen to be perfectionists. If I said we needed to have dulcimer on a song, we'd go out and try to find somebody that plays dulcimer. That's how we work."
Judging by the overall fan reaction, Symphonies Of The Night ranks as one of the strongest Leaves' Eyes albums to date of the five on offer. Strictly from a long time fan's point of view, the best moments on the record go so far as to give the last two NIGHTWISH albums (Dark Passion Play, Imaginaerum) a serious stomping. 'Fading Earth', for example, dominates through its simplicity, 'Galswintha' offers up folk music with balls instead of genre-typical featherlight fluff, and 'Hymn To The Lone Sands' rages as the heaviest Leaves' Eyes song ever recorded. Never thought we'd hear the word 'annihilated' cross Liv's lips...
"(Laughs) I'm going to sleep well tonight; thanks for the compliment. And you actually mentioned the key to that, 'Fading Earth'. That song came into existence quite early in the composing period, and it was actually Alex' idea. It was very raw and it stayed raw until the end of the production, and that was the first song Alex picked for the new album. We thought it sounded great and that it was good as it was, so that was the initial step in the mix and a very important part in the composing."
Call it a case of getting the ball rolling and letting it pull the band along instead of pushing it.
"Yeah, I guess there was a question of whether we felt comfortable with the directions, and the answer was yes. On the other hand you have songs like 'Saint Cecilia' and one that I wrote, 'Nightshade', where we added a lot of spices to both pieces of music."
Symphonies Of The Night will appeal in particular to anyone who saw the band on their European tour with FIREWIND in 2012. Leaves' Eyes played off a strong setlist that was geared in a much heavier direction than what fans were expecting, and the new album reflects that mindset.
"We had a lot of fun with Firewind, and we actually played two of the new songs on that tour," says Liv. "I really love playing these new songs live, and I think it was Alex who pointed out that 'Melusine' (from the EP of the same name) is a very rough and heavy piece of music. When we started playing that one live on the last tour Alex told me he felt really comfortable with it, that it suits us, and he's right. This heavy, rough atmosphere also brings out the light side of Leaves' Eyes - the opposite me, I suppose - which is a contrast that has existed since my days with Theatre Of Tragedy."
Leaves' Eyes is still bound to Atrocity not only through marriage, but through the Mastersound Studios family business. The facility is also ground zero for Liv's solo records, three at last count. With so much music being composed at any given time in and around the Krull household, Symphonies Of The Night's sound and vibe should probably be viewed as a result of and response to these other productions.
"Absolutely. You already mentioned me singing the word 'annihilated', and I picked that up somewhere in Alex' lyrics on the new Atrocity album (Occult). I like going through his lyrics with him, check his pronunciation, and we help each other. That inspired me to check out some horror fiction, which is generally not my cup of tea. There's a link through the vampire stuff, so it was interesting to pick up new influences that way for my lyrics."
"I've always loved literature, and extreme literature as well," Liv continues. "My solo career, Atrocity and Leaves' Eyes are three completely different things in my life, and all of them are constantly developing, but at their own pace. There's always an intense creative period behind every album. I like concentrating on one album at a time, but I always pick up things in between that inspire me for the next album I do. I love writing lyrics, I love languages, I read real books where I have to actually turn the pages (laughs), and I buy a lot of music, so I'm very old school in that sense."
Looking back on Lovelorn and the uncertainty that went with what was essentially a make-or-break opportunity, Liv is both grateful for their success and determined to keep things on the upswing Symphonies Of The Night has delivered.
"I'm very happy about how we've developed and that we continue to do so," she says. "It's very refreshing to know that there are so many things I want to do and experience and get involved in. It's always interesting to see where my singing is going to take me from album to album. I'm very happy about the progress we've made."