Billing her music as ‘Celtic & fantasy-infused metal’, this is precisely what Leah has been delivering for the past seven years, across four albums. And now we have album number five, ‘Ancient Winter’, from this talented Canadian lady. With the crisp and cold air of the early morning frosty weather now that we’re deep into autumn, it’s a timely seasonal release and will undoubtedly provide a perfect soundtrack for the cold winter months, as songs feel like big, warm hugs. A sonic seamstress of fairy-tale folk, Celtic caresses and mediaeval murmurs, she's forged a blend that's magical, enchanting and heartfelt.
Eschewing symphonic metal underpinnings this time around, the music on ‘Ancient Winter’ posits her Celtic/fantasy idioms within much more traditional, mellow sounds. And some of the songwriting here, and its execution, is enchantingly blissful. The melodies weaved through the different layers of ‘Upon Your Destiny’, for example, are as captivatingly sublime as any song ever written, with a vocal performance from Leah that’s so utterly beautiful. Her vocals hit all kinds of profoundly affecting highs through some perfect phrasing and an enrapturing vocal line. That’s true of most songs on the album, but there’s something extra special about this one.
Some guest musicians have helped Leah realise her latest musical vision. Everyone’s go-to uilleann pipes guy, the seemingly ubiquitous Troy Donockley (a man who must have pages upon pages of session work and guest spots on his CV, additional to his now day-job band, Nightwish), lends his distinctive musicianship. Ephemeral Eluveitie violinist Shir-Ran Yinon is also present; as are Cellar Darling frontwoman and former Eluveitie hurdy-gurdyist Anna Murphy; Everon’s Oliver Philipps; and Rupert Gillett (apparently, a renowned string musician). Cue an emotionally potent combination of keys; guitar; hurdy gurdy; fiddle; violin; viola; uilleann pipes; low and high whistles; cello; salaw; “virtual instruments”… and, of course, some amazing vocals. The resulting songs are an amalgam of breathtaking talent.
For the final three tracks on the album, it all gets a tad Christmassy à la Blackmore’s Night’s ‘Winter Carols’, with Leah’s take on three traditional festive tunes. First we have 'Gaudete' which, through no fault of Leah herself, I've always found it difficult to take any version of this track seriously after the first series of 'I'm Alan Partridge' ("listen to this, it'll blow your socks off"). Latin mediaeval Christmas hymn ‘Puer Natus’ is next, which is far more palatable to my ears as it remains free, to date, from Partridge-isation , and then her version of ‘Noël Nouvelet’, a fifteenth century French song with a distinct mediaeval slant provides a great end to a fantastic album.
It’s a very well-produced album, too, I hasten to add, and with a great mixing job. You want a different kind of soundtrack for the festive break that doesn’t involve lapsing into groundhog Christmas mode by subjecting your ears to Slade, Shaky, Wham, Sir Cliff, et al for the umpteenth time? Look no further than ‘Ancient Winter’. It’s not a Christmas album per se, but that’s its very essence.
Ex Cathedra Records
Review by Mark Holmes
15th Nov 2019
1) The Whole World Summons
2) Light of the World
3) Upon Your Destiny
5) The Messenger
7) Puer Natus
8) Noel Nouvelet
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"A sonic seamstress of fairy-tale folk, Celtic caresses and mediaeval murmurs, she's forged a blend that's magical, enchanting and heartfelt."