LEAH - Ancient Winter
I confess that, other than the Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums, I’ve never been much into purely “Christmas” albums. I suppose there is so much Christmas music everywhere during the season that I’ve never been one to pull out a Christmas album, sit down for the duration, and just listen. Shame on me. But Canadian artist Leah caught my attention with this 34-minute collection (not too long) of captivating Celtic-infused songs which transcend the “traditional” Christmas commercial themes and connect in a beautiful way with the soul. Isn’t that what the Christmas/Winter Solstice time is all about – a time of frozen renewal and remembrance, a time to slow down and rejoice in the blessings we often miss in our day-to-day bustle? Really Doc? Come on, we cover rock/metal here at Heaven’s Metal…
Ancient Winter is somewhat of a departure from Leah’s normal symphonic/Celtic/folk infused rock/metal output in that these songs stay atmospheric and softer rock at most, but in a way these melodies form the basis of all her music. These songs, therefore, do not represent so much of a departure – they merely represent another portion of her artistic palette. These songs also feel more deeply personal as well, partly because she relies more on her own instrumental abilities here and not as much on guest musicians. In that regard, though, she does employ some noteworthy help in the form of violins/fiddle/cello from Shir-Ran Yinon and Rupert Gillett. Nightwish’s Troy Donockley once again contributes his talents with all kinds of pipes and whistles.
The songs on this 8 song EP are both entrancing – the instrumentation is beautiful – and uplifting. In the darkness and negativity of the world in which we live, there is still a light. Leah’s music speaks to this light in great detail, and her smooth, serene vocal qualities and her melodies are a light indeed in the darkness which surrounds us in our daily struggles. There is a nice mix of more contemporary styles on the first part of the album with a shift to older (medieval) folk carols on the second half.
Light is very much the central theme (if intentional) of this music. The album opens with somber strings, a choral echo with bells and chimes – a herald of sorts. Leah then describes the magical transition from fall into winter which transitions into the chorus –
“Light is breaking through the dark/The whole world summons their heart”
This song, in particular, and the album in general, feels cinematic. The light theme continues with “Light Of The World” which opens with a very appropriately Middle Eastern melody and instrumentation. The middle section of the song features the violin as it leads the other instruments in a very “light-hearted” and upbeat gallop.
“I am the one, the one foretold/I am the light of the world … Providence here on this night/From the east come sages to adore/A new king, a new age/of peace and redeeming evermore” – “Light of the World”
Track 3 is a somber number featuring deep cello tones carrying the melody and Leah’s ethereal falsetto/angelic urgings in the verses. In the choruses she returns to her normal singing voice as she exhorts with the following words reflective of the Savior -
“I will never leave you or forsake you in the darkness/I will shine the light upon your destiny” – “Upon Your Destiny”
The interplay of the strings and the keys here is particularly breathtaking. Harpsichord and pipes intermingle on the opening of “Redemption,” which is to me the most powerful song in the collection. I don’t think most of us think of the birth of Jesus and automatically feel “redemption.” But that is the anticipation all Jews had in the hope that Christ would redeem them from Roman tyranny. Leah’s words paint an insightful image in time – a reflection of how the birth of our Savior impacted those who bore witness, but also how we look back now on the impact His birth had on all of humanity, and on our own personal salvation. Stunning.
“We’ve waited for this night/When the stars have fallen/We’ve waited for this light/Where the ground has been shaken” – “Redemption”
The second half of the EP starts with a brief instrumental "interlude" called "The Messenger" which serves as a nice transition into the 3 ancient carols which follow. These 3 songs keep in theme with this Christmas album in that they are not part of any of the traditional holiday music we as North Americans have become accustomed to playing/singing. Leah comments in the liner notes that this was purposeful, wanting to avoid "anything remotely cliche' or predictable." I think it is fair to say she succeeded as I have never previously heard any of these carols, which is sad because they are stunning. "Gaudete" and "Puer Natus" are medieval Latin carols, which Leah sings in Latin, and "Noel Nouvelet" - perhaps one of the most beautiful songs in this collection - is a traditional French carol which Leah sings in French.
Oliver Philipps once again assists Leah with production, orchestrations and lends his vocal talents on one song as well. The sound quality is, not surprisingly, fantastic - expansive, immersive and transcending. The CD is housed in a picturesque triple gatefold digipak featuring the artwork of Jan Yrlund. (My copy signed). A jewel case version is available as well. The 18-page lyric booklet is attached to the middle inner section of the digipak, and this contains extensive liner notes as well as the lyrics, pictures, credits and thanks. As an independent artist, Leah puts fantastic detail into the printed/physical product (pictured above and below).
For those interested, there are still copies of the signed digipak HERE, so its not too late to pick up this ethereal and inspiring collection of winter/Christmas holiday songs before the holidays.
1. The Whole World Summons (4:56)
2. Light Of The World (4:20)
3. Upon Your Destiny (6:03)
4. Redemption (5:22)
5. The Messenger (2:11)
6. Gaudete (3:30)
7. Puer Natus (3:21)
8. Noel Nouvelet (5:16)