German symphonic Metal band Xandria have been on the go for a long time and are well known in female fronted Metal circles. They have had some success in the past but have never quite broken through to the top level perhaps because they have been unable to retain a settled line up, especially in regard to singers.
This album features Dutch vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen, their fourth new singer in the last six years by my count. In a genre which focuses so much on the front woman it's difficult to retain an identity with so much change.
The release of 'Neverworld's End' in 2012 raised their profile again and despite the line up changes(they also lost long time bass player Nils Middlehauve) the band have big hopes for this, their sixth full length release.
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I do like a band that go for broke and right from the start on this album Xandria say we're back and bigger than ever. The title track which opens the album is a ten minute epic which graduates from the inevitable slow atmospheric intro and spoken parts into a huge Metal adventure with a massive choir and frantic guitars.
It slows a little to allow their new singer to make her mark which she does in a sub operatic soprano way. This is all actually really good and I really enjoyed it. My only problem is I kept thinking how it sounded like a lighter version of what's on the latest Epica album.
I don't think there is a deliberate link and I'm sure this was written and recorded without any direct influence, it's just a pity that they are hitting the same musical vein at the same time as one of the best and biggest bands in the genre. Still despite that a fine start.
'Nightfall' continues in the same vein while allowing Ms van Giersbergen to show her softer side in the verses. With the big chorus being quite catchy this comes over as a slightly commercial take on symphonic Metal and 'Dream keeper' continues that theme with a nice mid paced groove and another catchy chorus. However I was reminded again of another band, this time Nightwish in the Tarja era. More good songs but coming across as lacking originality slightly.
The swirling riffs and Metal rhythms of 'Stardust' are an enjoyable trip through the world of melodic symphonic Metal and 'The Undiscovered Land' has a celtic feel to the intro and some nice sweet vocals before becoming the symphonic Metal equivalent of the power ballad. Inevitably after that next track 'Betrayer' is more of a power Metal beast of a song, fast and heavy but still full of melody.
'Until The End' brings back the focus to the choirs and is a more ambitious kind of song with time changes and different sections with a different feel but holds together well and is an excellent melodic symphonic Metal song which doesn't sound exactly like anyone else and has a great guitar solo.
'Come With Me' has nice chuggy riffs and an understated feel, one for you to nod and sing along to while 'Little Red Relish' is faster but still melodic and fun and another song where the the ex Ex Libris singer gets to show her voice off while 'Our Neverworld' as more of an atmospheric song, trying to introduce some subtlety and feel while having a big singalong chorus.
'Temple Of Hate' has a catchy keyboard hookline and takes the band back into that folk/celtic feel while mixing in their usual symphonic Metal sound and then the album closes with 'Sweet Atonement' a ballad full of piano and violin and heartfelt vocals which maybe tries to add too much drama in the end to a song which I think would work better with a more understated vibe overall.
I'm a bit torn by this album. If you enjoy melodic female fronted symphonic Metal then there is a huge amount to enjoy here. There are some really good songs, some great playing, a lot of terrific guitar work and the all important new singer doesn't put a foot wrong.
However despite the obvious ambition of this album there are too many points where they sound like other bands in the genre and sometimes they seem to lack any real emotion, I didn't really get caught up in the lyrics or the vibe of most the songs. I hope this album does succeed in raising the band's profile and establishing them again on the scene but personally I'd like the next one to be a real attempt to break out and be something more different from the pack than 'Sacrificium' manages to be.
Marco Heubaum – vocals, guitar, keyboards
Gerit Lamm – drums
Philip Restemeier – guitar
Steven Wussow – bass
Dianne van Giersbergen – vocals