Everyone loves a good story. When the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night telling itself stories.
Harald Sigurdsson, known as Harald of Norway, was the King Of Norway (as Harald III) from 1046 to 1066.
Defeated and killed in an attack by Harold Godwinson’s forces in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harald saw almost his entire army killed, an event which marked the end of the viking era. Harald is historically the last viking.
“We don’t mess around in mythology!”
‘The Last Viking’ is the new album from Symphonic Metal band Leaves’ Eyes and is presented as a concept piece. As Harald lays on the battlefield taking his last few breaths, his life flashes before him. These life events are told by stories of ‘The Last Viking’.
In our recent review, we noted that this collection of songs makes for a rip-roaring and enthusiastically brilliant album. MetalTalk’s Steve Ritchie reached out to Alexander Krull, Thorsten Bauer and Elina Siirala to find out more about the process of making this masterpiece.
MetalTalk: Congratulations on the album. We love it here at MetalTalk. Can you talk about when you decided to go the concept route and the process of deciding on the theme?
Alexander Krull: “Thank you very much, we are glad that you like ‘The Last Viking’.
“The lyrical concept was my idea. I always try to work out ideas which fit the musical concept and vision of the band. We always talk about the new lyrical concept and musical ideas for a new album. How the music could be composed around such an epic saga like ‘The Last Viking’ for example.
“In my mind, there is always a vision of music, lyrics and even visuals for artwork and videos going hand in hand.
“So the concept of ‘The Last Viking’ album has a fantastic background! The adventures of Norse King Hardrada are very exciting. I guess you could easily make a big tv show like Game of Thrones out of it, maybe they were even inspired by this saga.
“He traveled through far away countries, had to flee as young man from Norway, fighting for the Rus King and serving the Varangian guard in Byzantium, getting married to the Russian Princess and returning to Norway to become a King.
“And that is not even all! He was feared by his enemies as a ruthless leader and loved by his own men and got his name ‘Hardrada / hard-ruler’ from his opponents.
“The saga tells us his men died in a circle around his body, defending him until death. History tells us also, that Harald III brought wealth and progression to Norway as well, as he was standing against the catholic church.
“So history wise it is very interesting as Hardrada installed proprietary churches with his own priests and bishops for political reasons and against the will of the Pope and the Catholic Church. He is founder of Oslo, capital of Norway.
“Hardarda tried to install the North Sea Empire with one King as leader of Norway, Denmark and England, but ultimately failed and his vision was did not become reality.
“What a story, a trip through the Viking world and what an impact to history – after Harald Hardrada’s death in 1066, the Viking age was over.”
‘Waves Of Euphoria’, the last song on ‘Sign Of The Dragonhead’ introduced us to Harald. Was that a big clue we all missed?
Alex: “Yes, it was already a hint to what comes next, haha!!
“Actually the process of the whole concept for ‘The Last Viking’ had started on the last album with ‘Waves of Euphoria’ as last track on the record.
“The whole song writing process and working out the lyrics according to the sagas, was a great time and intense work, but also a lot of fun to dive into the adventures of the Norse King Hardrada!
“I guess the fans can feel this magic in the music, too! The feedback so far is fantastic for the new record, artwork and the whole concept and videos!”
With ‘The Last Viking’ being a concert piece, it is a great example of a new album which is a ‘proper’ album. Given the way many people consume music these days, ducking in and out of songs on albums, it is quite refreshing to make an good old proper album, something that should be listened to from start to finish.
Did you think that might be a bit of risk or were you happy that your fan base would go for the concept and buy into the idea of the whole story?
Thorsten ‘Tosso’ Bauer: “I think both ways are a totally legitimate approach. You can enjoy the album with all senses, hear and feel the music and put yourself into a medieval viking world with the splendid artwork, photos and videoclips.
“One of our die-hard fans from Canada always says: “The music of Leaves’ Eyes takes me to another world.”
“That is great. But you can also just enjoy your favourite songs, headbang or party to it.
“It is a bit like in a Shakespeare play, something for everybody to enjoy.”
Was the whole album was written and recorded pre-covid? Was there some overlap?
Tosso: “The production of a new Leaves’ Eyes album is always very intense. The love for all the musical details and colours and can take 1-2 years production time in total.
“We started with the songwriting in early 2019 at our headquarters Mastersound Studios. After having all songs worked out as demo versions, almost all final recording took place in 2020, also at Mastersound Studios.
“During the peak of the lockdown in March 2020, we basically retreated into our safe laboratories here. Our drummer Joris just made it in time to German from Switzerland, 90 minutes before the border between Switzerland and Germany was closed.
“Elina also spent most of the lockdown time here at Mastersound.
“It was a strange situation, knowing if someone will be infected with the COVID-19 virus, it will be very difficult to bring out the album in time. Also the shooting for the cover artwork in these times was quite a challenge, but we succeeded.
“So everybody was extra-focused and concentrated on this new work. I think this can also be heard and felt in a good way, when listening to ‘The Last Viking’.”
Is the writing process different between these last two albums? Especially now that Elina has been with the band for quite some time now.
Tosso: “This time Elina was in an early demo-stage of the album songs with us in the studio. That definitely helped to build and shape the vocals in the right way into the music.
“We also took the time to try out a few things, regarding the vocals. Many people asked, for example, about this last vocal note in ‘Chain of the Golden Horn”, even our own crew [laughs].
“So I think Elina has a lot of presence on the new album and the music and the vocals are in perfect balance.”
Listening to the album, when you run from ‘Dark Love Empress’, through ‘Two Kings One Realm’ and then ‘For Victory’ you have three distinct and differing vocal styles there, albeit on differing song styles.
Is there now more opportunity for Elina to express her vocal range on this album?
Elina: “This album was, for sure, a perfect opportunity to use my vocals in every possible way! All the songs have different character, dynamic and range which also means that my vocals vary a lot.”
‘The Last Viking’ has some great variety on it. The slow paced ‘Break Into The Sky Of Aeon’ with Krull’s excellent growling storytelling is great, then you have ‘Chain Of The Golden Horn’, with it’s pounding rhythm and chunky guitar riffing.
Obviously the first and last songs have their own special places, but how did you decide the running order for the rest? Is the order, story wise, important?
Alex: “We start the album with ‘Death Of A King’ at the moment when Hardrada dies after being hit by an arrow in his neck at Stamford Bridge in England, in the battle for the Crown of England.
“In the last breath, his whole life comes back in flashes and we are taking the listeners back into the adventures of the Norse King.
“So we had all the freedom to choose the order of songs to keep it all exciting and surprising, musically and lyrically at the same time, instead of having a chronological order of songs.
“And indeed it was important that ‘The Last Viking’ and ‘Break Into The Sky Of Aeon’ are going into each other at the end of the record. The circle of the storyline closes when Hardrada, the last Viking, is dying on the battle field and going to Valhall [Valhöll].”
Which leads on to live gigs. Remember them? Is there, or was there a plan to perform the whole piece live?
Is that something which is possible or even desirable?
Elina: “It would definitely be possible and very good idea! I can imagine a lot of visual possibilities and the album has a great rhythm, so playing all the songs in a row would work well.
“It would definitely need a special setting and some extra organising.
“I could imagine a big show, similar to how we have already played with the viking ship. I think it would suit that very well.”
It would be great to see a live show with Clementine guesting on ‘Black Butterfly’ too.
I think that vocal threesome really works well. It is a great song and the re-recording elevates the song above the EP version.
Elina: “It would be great to play that song live together and I’m sure it will happen someday. Hopefully sooner than later!
“Clementine definitely brings a completely different character to the song and yet our voices also blend nicely together.
“We achieved exactly what we wanted with her vocals and we are thrilled that people like this version so much!”
I know its a devastating time for the industry at the moment. With you unable to tour the album, how are you all coping?
Elina: “It has not been the easiest year for sure and we have to be thankful that we were able to record this album, film all the music videos and release new music!
“It has been amazing to achieve that and give people something exciting to enjoy!
“Now we have to take the next step as it comes and hopefully we will be able to play these songs live very soon!”
We hope to see you in 2021. Lets hope so, as I would love to see this album being played live in some format.
Elina: “Believe me, we all wish that too! Let’s hope the wait is not too long and meanwhile I hope everyone will enjoy the album at home and it will be amazing to finally play all the songs to a live crowd!”
Though the English King Harold may have defeated King Harald and the Vikings, his success was short lived as he died three weeks after at the hands of the Normans at Hastings.
Perhaps the moral of that story is to celebrate all your successes while you can and we should, therefore, raise a beer to The Last Viking!
The last words are with Alexander Krull.
“Thank you very much, well spoken words!!
“On the artwork of the song ‘War Of Kings’ you can see the three opponents of Harald III.
“Hardrada, Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror, who were fighting for the English throne!
“Indeed time is running too fast. History has sometimes twists and turns you would not expect and every day we all face new challenges, especially in these turbulent COVID-19 times.
“We hope the Metal family can enjoy the new album in this crazy times!
“I would also recommend the documentary ‘Viking Spirit’ to everyone! The documentary shows the world of Viking reenactment. I have worked for five years on the film, to present a colourful background of the Viking scene.
“I am a sword fighter myself and Viking reenactor in the largest modern Viking army, ‘Jomsborg’. This means I train every week, go to battles, tournaments, camps and medieval events all over Europe. I also hold Viking workshops and show fights.
“So I want to invite everyone to join me and meet my Viking friends in this documentary which shows the Viking Lifestyle, Living history, Norse Mythology and the music of Leaves’ Eyes.
“I’m also particpating in the biggest Viking battle nowadays in Wolin (Jomsborg), Poland. There are also Slavic, Byzantic and other re-enactors from around the world on the battle field. 800 warriors in full contact Eastern Style fighting!
“By the way the ‘Viking Spirit’ Soundtrack, with ten more songs we did together with composer Jonah Weingarten, is also included on the limited 60 page Hardcover Artbook edition (30x30cm) of ‘The Last Viking’.
“So get yourselves ready and join the trip into the Viking world with the new album and documentary!”
Leaves’ Eyes – The Last Viking (AFM Records)
Alexander Krull – keyboards, backing vocals
Thorsten Bauer – guitars, bass
Joris Nijenhuis – drums
Micki Richter – guitars
Elina Siirala – lead vocals