Now apparently, this latest effort from Leaves Eyes vocalist Liv Kristine has been sold to us as ‘Ambient doom’. I can safely say that no version of doom has been anywhere near Vervain (Napalm) but within is a sound of some melancholy, despite adding only a touch of gravity to the more expected symphonic template.
Opening track ‘My Wilderness’ houses a sense of despair, lush keys creating a stirring atmosphere while Liv’s heavenly tones are accompanied by haunting backing vocals. The ensuing ‘Love Decay’ features dramatic 80s goth vocals from End of Green‘s Michelle Darkness, adding to the dark pop-rock feel which is given further piquancy by an spiky riff and crashing drums. The title track’s strange synths and gentle but driving beat underpin a gorgeous vocal which is Tori Amos-like at its height: indeed the quirky Goddess is evinced on a number of tracks here, not least in the roughed-up dub of ‘Creeper’ and closer ‘Oblivious’, both full of sparing leads and woolly key fills in the worst traditions of 80s AOR.
It’s a plaintive sound, that largely gothic instrumentation and dark, icicle-drop keys giving the style expected to the Benatar-ish ‘Stronghold of Angels’, which is given a harder edge by a wonderful contribution from Doro Pesch and some heady harmonies. Though devoid of extremity, even weaker moments such as the occasionally feeble ‘Hunters’ are given a little oomph by Kristine’s soaring, crystal-clear voice, full of emotion; the layered backing vocals; and those ‘riff and rhythm’-laden choruses. There’s a hint of Kate Bush also on the edgy ballad ‘Lotus’, evincing a bitter coffee in a lonely Parisian cafe.
There’s an unmistakable air of European rock about it all, even when that riff kicks in, yet it’s emotive despite the clinical over-production and delicious for devotees of heartfelt operatic rock. Liv’s honeyed notes are effortless, even aching on the mournful ‘Two and a Heart’, and overall it’s fairly pleasant though not the sort for rough old me. Catchy, sweet, and choc-full of darkness and melody, it’s Gothic Symphonia with an even softer heart.