Canadian chanteuse Leah has carved a formidable cottage industry – so formidable it’s now a comfortable semi-detached home – out of what she calls ‘Celtic Fantasy Metal’; Her new album, Ancient Winter, is being marketed as a ‘holiday’ album – what we used to call ‘A Christmas Record’ before sensitivities began getting a mind of their own. It’s a bit light-on on the metal – non-existent, in fact – but in many other respects Ancient Winter is going to be right up the respective alleys of many Sentinel Daily readers.
Essentially, then, Leah is trampling all over Candice Knight’s territory here; The excellent Redemption could easily have issued from the renaissance-minded Mrs Blackmore’s back catalogue, which is obviously high praise indeed in this arena. Nightwish fans will be interested to know that the band’s English piper, Troy Donockley, contributes throughout the record and does much to set the ethereal tone throughout.
One of Leah’s other sidelines is in her guise as ‘the metal Enya’. And this is especially evident on the dreamlike instrumental The Messenger, where she weaves her pure, crystalline vocal into the synth background until it becomes merely another instrument serving the song. It’s beautiful, stirring stuff, as is her excellent version of Gaudete; Medieval Baebes fans might indeed feel they’ve been here before when listening to this, and indeed they’d be right. But the slight middle eastern effect of the drums and strings gives this a heroic, almost Crusaderly feel that this song has never been imbued with before. Certainly not if the only version you’ve ever heard is the Steeleye Span one. Puer Natus is similarly redolent of fourteenth century court life, and none the worse for the repetition of the theme.
The album ends with Noel Nouvelet, which, alongside the retelling of the Nativity on Light Of The World, is the most ‘Christmassy’ tune on offer, but it would really be a shame to let notions of ‘Christmas’ or ‘holiday’ prevent you from enjoying what is actually a celebration of the timeless nature of our shared musical heritage. You can’t listen to Impaled Nazarene all the time, after all, and this is an ideal soundtrack to the down times that even the most ardent headbangers sometimes enjoy…
Ancient Winter is out on November 15th.