Leafblade was formed 10 years ago by Anathema’s Daniel Cavanagh with vocalist, guitarist and lyricist Sean Jude and bassist/vocalist Kevin Murphy, both members of fellow Liverpudlian band Valle Crucis. The 2009 debut album Beyond, Beyond was alive with folky themes, lilting nylon-string guitars, plaintive vocals and plangent harmonies.
It set up camp on prog’s Celtic soil, far from the electric rumble of its cities, and Rune Song, The Whispers Of Cavras Unas and A Celtic Brooding In Renaissance Man were offered up joyfully as if to the starlit canopy of a country night. Those elements are in abundance on this follow-up, but as Cavanagh’s career has evolved so has Leafblade’s sound, and Jude’s lyrical vision has also reasserted itself.
The opener Bethlehem tells of ‘a child of the prophet born ‘neath a wandering star’, its insistent guitar arpeggios reminiscent of Untouchable from Anathema’s Weather Systems. The Hollow Hills bears the line: ‘I ran with the wind now, I’ve danced with the stream, I’ve listened to mountains, the depths of the dream’. Its strummed verses give way to heavy guitar crescendos and pounding drums from Anathema’s Daniel Cardosa. Yet these aren’t predictable, quiet-loud-quiet dynamics. Rather, the full force of the band is used to decorate the songs and to push them forward, further and deeper.
Enlivening the album’s ethereal, cosmic feel is Oak Machine (‘Noble sun and mighty earth/Wound you in light and gave you birth’). Its choral harmonies are exquisitely arranged, potent electric guitars punctuate the lyricism. Cardosa excels himself on the more muscular Thirteen, with a gradual shift from 6⁄8 time into a thrilling, straight-ahead canter towards the horizon.
The beauty of the album often lays in relative simplicity. Sunset Hypnos rests on a catchy, repetitive two-chord figure, with a lovely, earthy dynamic; the tasteful guitar embellishments of short, sweet guitar duet Fuchsia wouldn’t sound out of place on a Steve Hackett album.
It’s important that Jude and Murphy’s contributions aren’t lost amid the rightful praise for Cavanagh (who produced here too). The vocal harmonies and overall vibe between these guys are what make Leafblade such a discrete proposition. The 11-minute closer Portrait is the proof. We laugh with them beneath the stars to stellar synths, then curious chords drag us for a waltz through the ‘twisted woods’, where we witness a three-part vocal round, and much more besides. As this slowly fades out you’re left with an ache, a longing only assuaged by another listen.
Intoxicating, spellbinding and romantic in every sense, The Kiss Of Spirit And Flesh is just that kind of album.