The German Symphonic Metal formation XANDRIA was formed back in 1997, but that line-up didn’t survive very long, though did record one demo, “Xandria”. In 1999 XANDRIA was revived with new members. Two demos preceded the band’s debut full-length, “Kill The Sun” (2003). The follow-up, “Ravenheart”, comes out in 2004. And another year later, in a period when the band apparently had too many ideas, “India” is released. And XANDRIA’s success and fanbase keep on growing. Since then the band has played several gigs, including in Korea, England, Russia and Mexico. Anno 2007 album no. 4 sees the light of day: “Salomé – The Seventh Veil”. In terms of line-up XANDRIA is not free of the changes a band can undergo in its career. In 2010 a new singer enters by the name of Manuela Kraller, formely of HAGGARD. With the band being complete again, album number 5 is ready to be written.
Titled “Neverworld’s End”, it came out on the 24th February 2012 via Napalm Records. The album was again recorded in the Principal Studios, like before, which allowed for a better balance between Metal and melody. The production clearly shows that this studio was a wise choice. “Neverworld’s End” is my first XANDRIA release and from the start I was instantly hooked. It is also said that, while the band stayed true to their original sound, they did put more attention into the Metal aspect of the songs. Twelve tracks stand for a playtime of a good 60 minutes, the music reminiscent of old NIGHTWISH (“Oceanborn”, “Wishmaster”, “Century Child”).
“Neverworld’s End” begins with the symphonic intro, which also provides a sense of mystery and atmosphere, of “A Prophecy Of Worlds To Fall”. The choir comes in, doom is nigh so it seems. And then the band is there with keyboards leading and guitars and drums providing power. These work well together, the keyboards (and symphonics) and the guitars and drums. Clean verses contrast with a fully powered chorus, where Manuela shows her operatic vocal skills. This sounds very touching, but definitely very well done. The choir and bombast of before return halfway, followed by a screamy/weeping guitar solo. This first song is a massive one, where everything fits, everything has a great sound, but especially Manuela’s vocals stand out. First class material!
Another bombastic track and for which a video was shot, is “Valentine”. Kicking off with the chorus line, the song instantly shows its catchy character. The guitar riffs are sharp. The chorus, with its awesome power, contrasts nicely with the verses. Halfway the bombast is thrown in in a rhythmic manner (allowing for the typical headbanging) before the solo is played. “Forevermore” has something of a power ballad, so to speak. It begins with the choir, piano and Manuela’s soft singing. The symphonic input is vital, while the guitars and drums again stand in for the power, even though this isn’t as heavy as before, for obvious reasons. The band added a nice building middle section before the solo, after which the piano and soft vocals return. Once that is done, it’s chorus time once more. Excellent stuff, to say the least.
“Euphoria” also has the orchestral input playing a key role in the intro, which sounds eastern because of the flute (if that’s a flute). The symphonic arrangements again lead the way, while the contrasting role for power is logically known. This all rises to an outburst which indeed takes place. The chorus on the other hand is more melodic. Since XANDRIA’s newest album reminds of old NIGHTWISH releases, I have to say that this songs was like a mix of “Once” and for example, thanks to the male whispering, “Oceanborn” and specifically the song “The Pharaoh Sails To Orion”. It’s a simple song with a catchy chorus. And it works very well! Like before, the middle contains a heavy part with the piano adding suspense. The choir comes in, with the orchestral arrangements, similar to how EPICA did it several years ago. The short guitar solo is accompanied by brass bursts before all reverts back to the chorus. Lots of music here, lots of things to discover.
“Blood On My Hands” is not a cover (see also ARCH ENEMY and PRIMAL FEAR, for example). There’s a windy setting to be begin with. The choir is also present and massively, backed by twirling sounds. And then the bombast breaks out! Firm midtempo is the chosen pace, where clean verses (soft singing, bass and drums) stand opposed to a chorus where the full power and volume can be heard. The intro theme returns later to be taken over by the final chorus outburst. “Soulcrusher” is one of the heaviest tracks, if not thé heaviest one. Guitars and pounding drums are the key elements here with the first sounding like a saw or motorbike’s engine, if that makes any sense. There’s thus heavy riffing, firm verses and atmospheric/symphonic backing. Just like NIGHTWISH did on “Once”. The bridge is dark and powerful, while the chorus has a theatrical character where the vocal input’s importance is not to be denied! Before halfway a dark and vile guitar moment was set, with the first of a few solos coming next. And as the song carries on, things get even very operatic at some point, which I can only applaud for. After that it’s all about the music, bombast, orchestral arrangement and of course the Metal.
There’s also a ballad on this album, “The Dream Is Still Alive”, which is well done, obviously, but the melody reminded me of HAMMERFALL’s “Glory To The Brave”. Time to get going again then with “The Lost Elysion”, which kicks in directly with the operatic chorus. It’s a Power Metal song, similar to e.g. NIGHTWISH’s “Wanderlust”. After the orchestral middle part, dark times, aggressive too, set in, though these are enlighted a bit by the solos. “Call Of The Wind” is where XANDRIA takes a Folky direction, comparable to DRAGONLAND, RHAPSODY and similar. The violin is then a key instrument. The music grows in power as the chorus nears: from clean (verses) over powerful and operatic (bridge) into the hymnic chorus, in vein of HAMMERFALL and (old) RHAPSODY. The orchestral input remains a must, while the Folk influence comes out again halfway with – I can’t name it properly – bagpipes of the hurdy gurdy. Needless to say, the Germans continue to deliver nothing but pure quality!
Time for another ballad, an acoustic one: “A Thousand Letters”. Somehow I found this one a bit similar (not identical, make no mistake) to GWYLLION’s “Angelheart”. It’s got the same feel. Electric power is added in the chorus, where a Folky touch can be detected. But all in all, this is a very beautiful song. One song I found a bit hard to get into – in other words, one that requires several listens – is “Cursed”. The violin is more prominent here, mainly in the intro and the solo part. As you can imagine, there’s the typical contrast of calm verses and a bombastic chorus, while the middle of the song contains a small speed increase. The solos come from the violin and the guitar, which sounds rather wild. This song has several layers – so do the others, but still… – of solos, singing, symphonic elements and these are constructed together in a way that it’s less easy than before to “get” it. But that can of course be rewarding in the long run. The album ends with “The Nomad’s Crown”. Manuela’s singing is guided by the flute and orchestral arrangements in the verses, while the bridge is where operatic influence comes to life. The eastern touch is applied here too, thanks to the non-Metal instrumentation. Halfway it’s as if the song awakens, since the speed increases and the drums pound their way through it all. After that, it’s ebb and flow in terms of melodicness, powerful Metal and singing. However, like before, a flawless job.
Like I said in the beginning, “Neverworld’s End” is my first encounter with XANDRIA, though over the years I have heard of this band and how good it was, and how quickly its fame was rising, so to speak. But after several listens, I can honestly say that the German band certainly managed to amaze me with this new album. The fact that it reminds of old NIGHTWISH is a plus, at least for me (and perhaps many others), as I liked those albums a lot. I can say the album is magnificent, splendid, majestic, excellent, epic and anything else along those lines. The quality is outstanding! The musicianship, the vocal skills, the compositions, the harmonies, … absolutely beautiful! Truly a pearl in the world of symphonic Metal. Long story short: easily one of the best albums of this year!
- A Prophecy Of Worlds To Fall
- Blood On My Hands
- The Dream Is Still Alive
- The Lost Elysion
- Call Of The Wind
- A Thousand Letters
- The Nomad’s Crown
Manuela Kraller – vocals
Philip Restemeier – guitar
Marco Heubaum – guitar
Nils Middelhauve – bass
Gerit Lamm – drums