Leah – Otherworld
Leah – Otherworld (2013)
Reviewed by Allyson Kenning
In the summer of 2012, Vancouver homeschooling mother of four burst onto the female fronted symphonic metal scene with quite a lovely debut album entitled Of Earth And Angels. Fans of this subgenre went ga-ga and Leah became an almost overnight success, garnering rave reviews in all kinds of metal publications. Of Earth And Angels was a beautiful album, no doubt about it. Before we knew it, Leah had an crowd-funding campaign on the go in order to produce a follow-up, and this album, an EP entitled Otherworld, came out this month. Does it live up to the hype? Is it metal? The answer to both those questions, in my humble opinion, is no.
Musically, the five songs on Otherworld are gorgeously lush, thoroughly enjoyable, and very pretty to listen to. Things get off to a nice start with “Shores Of Your Lies”, a simple tune where Leah’s ethereal vocals are accompanied by a sweeping piano melody and a few stormy sound effects. It’s a purely acoustic song, and I like it a lot. The second track, “The Northern Edge”, apparently inspired by the TV show Vikings, is also a very competent track, this time a little heavier, with drumming, some electric guitars doing a simple riff in the background, all accompanied by a lilting piano melody. Track three, “Surrounded”, follows in a similar vein, with the drums beating out a folksy rhythm. A slower song, the guitars and bass come in on the chorus, in a kind of power ballad-y way. The highlight of the album for me is track four, “Do Not Stand On My Grave And Weep”. This is a fantastic, atmospheric song based on an old American poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye. Again, it’s a simple song with a gentle melody, accompanied by keys, some sound effects of birds singing, mellow strings, and a simple drum rhythm. It’s easily the most powerful and emotional song on the EP. Finally, the last track on the release is “Dreamland”, which features Eric Peterson of Testament and Dragonlord doing a growling vocal thing in duet with Leah.
Otherworld is definitely rich in atmosphere and beauty. Leah is an amazing vocalist for sure, and she has strong song-writing chops. However where this album falls short for me is in the metal category. Are there metal elements in it? Sure, a few, sometimes. There is guitar distortion and the odd riff here and there, though the riffs are simple and stock. “Dreamland” has growls and some double bass drumming. But what Otherworld seems to be more to my ear is an album with some pretty acoustic songs and a couple of power ballads – and not even good metal power ballads.
Part of the problem here is the hype machine behind Leah. Of Earth And Angels was a fine release of dreamy symphonic rock music with occasional metal elements. On the whole, it was a faster, heavier album than Otherworld. But then the comparisons started and things began to get out of hand. I think Leah herself said on her Facebook page something about being a Nightwish-Loreena McKennitt mix (if it wasn’t Facebook and it wasn’t Leah herself who said this, it was somewhere on a Leah-related site and I am open to correction here). Her Facebook page quotes a writer who claims Leah is “the Enya of heavy metal”, and another descriptor there says she’s “Loreena McKennitt with distortion.” Other comparisons include Delain meets Loreena McKennitt, and Irish band Clannad, which is comprised of Enya’s siblings. [Editor’s note: How about Within Temptation meets Enya, only less metal than the former (and that takes some doing) and less dreamy and atmospheric than the latter, and with a bit of McKennit’s sense of melody mixed in?]
Those are some big name comparisons! Unfortunately, Leah cannot hold a candle to any of them. Looking at Otherworld alone, there is ne’er a Celtic element to be found in the music apart from some lilting vocal lines and some sound effects. In fact, it’s barely folk music, if you ask me. There are folksy elements for sure, but folksy elements here and there do not folk music make. Comparisons to Loreena McKennitt are ludicrous and almost insulting to Loreena! Loreena’s music employs far more folk elements, including lyrical content and a ton of traditional folk instruments – many of them played by the artist herself.
Just like folksy elements do not folk music make, neither does the odd metal element here and there a metal artist make. Otherworld is not a metal album, and it certainly isn’t a folk metal album. If this is what you’re expecting from what you read, then I believe you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re thinking you’re going to hear something along the lines of Leaves’ Eyes or Eluveitie, you’re going to have a problem. As another reviewer aptly put it, “It’s Enya with power chords.” It’s not in your face, it’s not bad-ass, it’s not epic and sweeping. It’s not even that energetic. So this description that’s been thrown around of Leah being “Celtic metal” is a bit of a misnomer to say the least.
But it is beautiful, entirely listenable, worthy music, no doubt about it. I just tend to get frustrated with bad labeling and grandiose comparisons. If you like Enya and Clannad – which I do, and which I have been listening to since I was a young teenager – and a bit of rock, then Leah’s style is going to be right up your alley. But if you look at Otherworld‘s album cover, which has Leah posing with a hefty sword across her lap, and think epic metal bad-assery is contained therein, sorry, this isn’t going to deliver.
[Editor’s note: After sampling both the debut and this EP, I would classify Leah’s music as *vaguely* neo-folky alt/pop rock with some new age influences. This is not Celtic in any more than passing, and even less metal, but by no means bad.]
2.75 // 5