I’m always impressed when an artist releases a successful special project that may be a little off their trodden path. LEAH has done just that with her new album “Ancient Winter”, a holiday/seasonal album that feels warm and inviting. The record released on November 15th on Ex Cathedra Records.
LEAH is the project name for solo artist Leah McHenry, who hails from British Columbia. She is immersed in the metal community, and so her albums generally have many guests. You will also notice quite a few more novel instruments. The lineup on “Ancient Winter” includes: Leah McHenry on composition, orchestration, arrangements, vocals, lyrics, keys, and virtual instruments; Oliver Philipps on production, arrangements, orchestration, guitar, and male vocals; Anna Murphy on Hurdy Gurdy; Shir-Ran Yinon on the fiddle, violin, and viola; Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes, and low and high whistles; and Rupert Gillett on cello and salaw.
LEAH is known for her Celtic metal, definitely dabbling in the progressive side of things, and definitely immersed in fantasy. As I mentioned, though, this is a special project. This is essentially a holiday album. I could narrow that down even further by calling it a Christmas album, as it clearly is. The music does not have the metal side of her sound, as a result, though “metal” is certainly portrayed in the tone and darkness of the music. I think many metalheads would call this album “metal” as an adjective, not a genre. So, this album relies more on the folk and Celtic elements, as well as the fantasy atmosphere, to get its message and melody to our ears.
“Ancient Winter” is composed of five original tracks and then three covers of very old carols/hymns. From a certain perspective, this could have been an EP if only the original songs were included, as the total run time of the album is only around 34 minutes, even with the additional covers. That is par for the course with holiday albums, though, and I don’t think many people would want much more than that. I know I would not.
Let’s discuss the original songs. “The Whole World Summons” is a stunning opener for this album. Choirs fade in, as if announcing the arrival of something momentous. The song overall is reserved and packed with anticipation and hope, and the glorious instrumental ending is pure beauty. “Light of the World” is a song about hope being visualized, and the Celtic elements are really on display here. I am particularly impressed with Leah’s vocals on the chorus, as she hits some pretty tough notes.
“Upon Your Destiny” is what I would call a more abstract song. The vocals are of a really high pitch, being almost experimental in form. The melody is solid, though, and the feelings of warmth are undeniable. “Redemption” is absolutely addictive. The song is full of thankfulness and passion; and, man, that chorus is something that stays with you. It may also have the strongest Celtic vibe of the album. “The Messenger” is an atmospheric, harmonic track that ends the original portion of the album. It is quite impressive, and does give me an urge to watch the Lord of the Rings movies.
The three covers are “Gaudete” (16th century Latin carol), “Puer Natus” (13th century Latin hymn that originally includes “in Bethlehem” in the title), and “Noël Nouvelet” (French hymn from the 15th century). I really appreciate these being performed in their original languages and with the typical gusto and pomp that I would expect from LEAH. Many modern versions are, shall we say, quite boring, but these versions are full of the same radiance as LEAH’s original songs on the album.
“Ancient Winter” is a success, and I would love to hear more bands in the metal/progressive community try their hands at something like this. There is no denying that this album brings a certain majesty, warmth, and glory with it, and that LEAH is especially equipped for this type of vivid music. If you love the holidays and have been looking for music that might suit your tastes, I think this album will both satisfy that craving, as well as reach your family and friends in a more accessible fashion. In fact, I’ve already been recommending the album to friends who are complete aliens to our musical community, and they have loved it. I may even buy my parents-in-law a copy, as I know they will love it, too. Get the word out about LEAH!
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