With Ancient Winter, her winter-themed album comprised of original tracks and modern interpretations of medieval hymns, Leah, often dubbed “the metal Enya,” is here to astound you. Imagine freshly fallen snow, the rich scent of pine, hot cinnamon apple cider, and the smoky warmth of a roaring fire, and you’ve barely glimpsed the essence of Ancient Winter.
Fans of metal will be delighted by Leah’s soaring vocals, not to mention the cast of artists joining her on the album, the likes of which include Anna Murphy from Cellar Darling, Troy Donockley from Nightwish, Shir-Ran Yinon from Eluveitie, and more. And non-metal fans will be in for a treat, as Ancient Winter has a decidedly less symphonic feel than Leah’s previous five albums, leaning instead toward Celtic and folk traditions. Leah’s powerful vocals pair equally well with fiddles and harps as they do with electric guitars and synthesizers, proving her to be one of the most versatile artists to date. She uses her voice as an instrument, at once emotional and perfectly controlled.
Ancient Winter is a departure from the norm for Leah — the almost Middle Eastern sound to the album’s first single “Light of the World” is unlike anything we have ever heard from her before — yet the Celtic roots we know and love form a solid trunk for the album, its more experimental qualities serving as musical branches. She effortlessly dodges the more clichéd, cookie-cutter aspects of Celtic and World music, adding her own, distinctly Leah flair. This feels like a debut into an as-of-yet-discovered genre, one only Leah could breathe into being.
There is an unmistakable duality that weaves its way through the tracks brought to life on Ancient Winter, simple old hymns paired with modern instrumentation, a wintery album that doesn’t feel commercial. A transformative experience, Ancient Winter manages to feel ancient and modern all at once. The tracks found on Ancient Winter would not have sounded remotely out of place in an episode of Game of Thrones or in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But Leah’s work also feels entirely fresh as the temperatures drop and our excitement for the holiday season grows.
And for those who might feel a twinge of confusion at Leah’s departure from her earlier albums, there is nothing more metal than flying in the face of convention. Leah could have stuck to the status quo, as some artists do, creating a discography where one album bleeds into the next. That can create a pleasant, if formulaic, listening experience, but Leah wants us engaged. She wants our hearts to keep time with the drums one moment and for a serene, dreamy feel to overtake us the next. Thanks to her expressive vocals and the unique atmosphere Ancient Winter creates, we can only go along for the ride.