Even through its album title, Liv Kristine‘s fifth solo album implies a new darkness and mysterious nature not seen in her previous solo releases. Vervain is defined as a “widely distributed herbaceous plant with small blue, white, or purple flowers and a long history of use as a magical and medicinal herb.” Additionally, a fast Google search will explain that vervain is known to be a vampire’s weakness — something that will immediately burn them. Somehow, these two definitions both seem appropriate. There is a magic in Vervain that is challenging to explain. This album contains some of the loveliest moments of Liv’s solo career, yet many fans will be happy to see that it has a darker, more eclectic edge than what may be expected.
One of the most refreshing things about this immensely talented Norwegian singer is that each project she partakes in is distinctive. Many artists become comfortable with a certain sound their listeners are adapted to, so they decide to continue to “play it safe” for years, even decades. That is never the case with Liv’s band Leaves’ Eyes, nor is it the case with her solo albums. So it is always a unique adventure, and fans can continue to expect the unexpected each time.
Vervain is intense right from the start, with the infectious guitars of opening track “My Wilderness”. What a perfect way to start the album — this song has an impactful chorus and an easy, melodic flow. The songwriting team of Liv, Thorsten Bauer (guitarist of Leaves’ Eyes and Atrocity) and Liv’s husband Alexander Krull (Atrocity and Leaves’ Eyes vocals/producer) is fantastic, as usual.
“Love Decay” features guest vocals from Michelle Darkness of the band End of Green. His deep, vampiric voice contrasts brilliantly with Liv, yet nothing is overwhelming. The term ‘gothic’ has certainly been overused over the past years, but perhaps the word truly fits here. This is a great, anthemic tune, featuring some of Liv’s most fantastic singing in many years. This duet has a slightly eerie, autumnal atmosphere, and it is one of the true highlights of Vervain. After my very first listen to this song, the chorus resonated in my head for hours.
Vervain picks up the pace with the title track, another example of Liv’s range and versatility. “It’s a creeping desire / you’re my purple fire…” “Stronghold of Angels” is a powerful ballad featuring the instantly recognizable voice of Doro Pesch. What an excellent and unpredictable combination here. Sometimes, the collaboration of two female vocalists is not as effective if the two voices are simply average, or too similar-sounding to one another. But Liv and Doro simply work beautifully together, as they sound so different, each with their own vocal tones and strengths — and this duet is sure to make many metal music fans very happy.
“Hunters” is instantly addictive, with its fast tempo and panicked chorus of “I can’t bre-e-e-athe…” Similarly, the dusky “Elucidation” is trancelike and whimsical, and one of Vervain‘s best and most experimental offerings. One moment, listeners will want to dance, while the next moment will introduce the urge to headbang — that is just part of the appeal of this Liv Kristine album. The ballad “Two and a Heart” is simply chilling, and it has the cascading, striking guitar sound which made the Leaves’ Eyes debut Lovelorn so wonderful. “Oblivious” also contains a tremendous amount of emotion and beauty, again demonstrating Liv’s seemingly effortless, awe-inspiring talent as a singer and a lyricist. “I’m blinded by hatred / I’m sickened with love…” The music in this song is suspenseful and dramatic, but never feels cheesy or overdone.
Sometimes, listening to these songs individually, it is a bit surprising that they all come from the same album — and that is actually a good thing, and a rare thing for musicians to accomplish. Everything pieces together quite well, actually, but Vervain contains a little something for all types of Liv fans. I would rank this as the second best Liv Kristine album yet; only 2010’s Skintight tops it, due to the perfection of “Twofold” and “Love in Grey.” Having said that, Vervain is the most diverse of Liv’s solo releases — and it is among the top releases of 2014. Highly recommended for anyone who has been a fan of Liv’s music over the years, whether through Theatre of Tragedy, Leaves’ Eyes, collaborations with other artists, or her prior solo albums. Vervain is superb!