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Not by originality alone. - 91%

hells_unicorn, September 10th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2012, CD, Napalm Records

If there is one truly annoying thing that gets brought up in a discussion about metal, nay music in general, it's the whole "it's not original" cliche. Granted, this is a valid criticism of bands that slavishly take ideas from other bands without really expanding upon them and making any effort to carve out an identity of their own, but it is an often misused and abused criticism that leads many to dismiss younger bands. It is possible, even a frequent occurrence that a group of musicians will become inspired by an existing sound and expand upon it for the betterment of it, lest there would not have been any worthwhile metal music since the beginning of the 1990s. Case and point being a lesser known act out of Germany dubbed Xandria that has largely gone under the radar compared to similar acts like After Forever and Epica, until the release of their 5th studio LP Neverworld's End, an album that could easily trade blows with the best the symphonic metal scene has to offer.

This album makes no secrets of where it gets it's sound template from, as the cover art is about as explicit of a composite of early 2000s Nightwish up until the present day as could be imagined. An instant familiarity with the overall approach taken on the fairly polarizing 5th LP of the band in question in Once has been noted by many, though this only gives a partial picture of what is at work here. A better illustration would consist of labeling this the album that Once could have been if a few issues with the production and songwriting had been addressed, or even what could have followed that album had Tarja Turunen not been ejected from the band and the sound had been maintained with a production closer to that of Century Child. In other words, this is an album that picks up where Nightwish left off about 7 years prior and makes it easy for all of us to forget the steep decline that followed.

One thing that instantaneously jumps out at the listener as this album unfolds is that the orchestration is much better organized, both in terms of the ancillary symphonic elements and the traditional band mixing arrangements. This is particularly noteworthy in terms of how the guitars sound, where a similarly powerful distorted crunch is accomplished to that of Nightwish's mid-2000s sound without coming off as overbearing and ultra-modern in character. Guitar solos tend to be a more frequent occurrence here as well, though they stop short of rivaling the Timo Tolkki emulations that Emppu was dabbling with during the days of Wishmaster. However, the orchestral painting that takes place around the band rivals the bombastic and triumphant character of Rhapsody Of Fire at their zenith, though the character of the music is a bit more subdued and less technical. Pounding, faster paced monsters like "Soulcrusher" and the somewhat more grooving but still vicious "Euphoria" underscore a masterful employment of the orchestra for dramatic effect without sacrificing the needed aggression of the guitars and rhythm section.

The total emulative character of this album will naturally lead most experts of Nightwish's glory days to draw some obvious comparisons, but curiously enough, the more interesting moments on this album are where the parallels to specific Nightwish songs are at their most blatant. The long paced epic ode to desert romance "The Nomad's Crown" is pretty close to a knockoff of Once epic "Ghost Love Score", though with a much more dynamic orchestral element and incorporating more of a period piece tendency to another longer song from said album "Creek Mary's Blood". Similarly, the album's tear-jerking half-ballad "Forevermore" could be likened to a number of moderate paced Nightwish offerings from Century Child and showcases Manuela Kraller's utterly flawless mastery of the same dramatic soprano vocal sound that catapulted Tarja into stardom. But above all the rest stands something reaching back a bit further to the glory days of said band's magnum opus Oceanborn, something that sounds more power metal than not, a song by the name of "The Lost Elysion", one of the more guitar oriented songs on here and an instant winner for anyone who fell in love with the power metal revival of the late 90s.

While this band does have a respectable back catalog, this is where they truly found themselves, and is also where a band that has had a fairly long run managed to put out one of the better albums of 2012. There's a bit of triumph, a fair amount of tragedy, and all the best trimmings that go along with an unforgettable listening experience. What it lacks in absolute originality it goes well beyond compensating for with brilliant songwriting, expert craftsmanship, and all the passion that should go along with it. If metal is to have a sensitive side, then by all means let it sound like this.

Xandria have come out with all guns blazing - 90%

TrooperOfSteel, July 16th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2012, CD, Napalm Records

Wow. If the metal community had an award for comeback band of the year, then German based group Xandria would take the trophy hands down. After sitting in the second tier of symphonic gothic/power metal bands since their debut album back in 2003, Xandria’s latest massive achievement, ‘Neverworld’s End’, has finally skyrocketed them into the top tier; showcasing an album with vast improvement over their previous releases, with a pounding slab of power, aggression, melody and emotion.

About a year after the release of ‘Salomé- The Seventh Veil’, Xandria vocalist Lisa Schaphaus-Middelhauve decided to leave the band after a nine year stint. Xandria also wrapped things up with their record label, Drakkar Entertainment, who had been their label since their debut CD and were looking for a suitable replacement for Lisa. They chose Kerstin Bischoff, however she left in 2010 citing personal reasons for moving on. Xandria invited Lisa Schaphaus-Middelhauve back in the fold, but only for live performances during their tour at the time. Then in 2011, Xandria found their woman, enter ex-Haggard vocalist Manuela Kraller.

All the while, the band were in the process of creating their latest album and once Manuela was onboard, it was full steam ahead. Signing with Austrian label, Napalm Records, it was a giant step forward as Xandria needed the backing of a big label to help deliver what they had in store for this new album. ‘Neverworld’s End’ was released in February of 2012 and immediately got metalheads talking in forums and other forms of media around the world. This wasn’t the Xandria we were expecting. All of a sudden, the German band had toughened up with a giant set of brass balls appearing in front of them. Moving from standard gothic metal with symphonic elements to aggressive symphonic gothic/power metal, very similar to Nightwish, the change of sound was immense to say the least. I wonder how much of an influence Lisa Schaphaus-Middelhauve had with the direction of the band and the sound they wanted to produce, possibly unintentionally holding them back from their full capabilities.

New vocalist Manuela Kraller is a very talented singer, whose delivery reminds me greatly of ex-Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen, around the time of their ‘Century Child’ and ‘Once’ releases. She has adequate power in her voice, as well as an overflow of passion and emotion. Her range is quite broad and can break out the angelic tones without strain. Her performance on ‘Neverworld’s End’ is arguably the best so far in her achievements, and I would place her in the same spotlight as the other well-known “diva” female metal vocalists around at the moment. With the other members of the band, it appears as though they have broken off the shackles and come out all guns blazing. Guitarists Philip Restermeier and Marco Heubaum have exploded on the new disc, carving out heavy and aggressive riffs that we have not heard on a Xandria album before. The overall creativity, song-writing and production too has risen to new heights and despite Nightwish being the obvious mould, as they have set the bar the highest in recent years, Xandria still maintain their “personality” and Celtic roots throughout the disc and are not a total Nightwish clone/copycat.

Xandria make their newfound aggressive symphonic intensions known right off the top of the bat with a wonderfully well-written and well-crafted opening epic track called “A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall”. Featuring orchestras, choirs and a dark undertone, the gritty and powerful guitar riffs coinciding with double bass thundering slice through the opening passage before Kraller introduces herself for the first time. A bombastic, crushing and energizing track overflowing with aggression and emotion does not let up in intensity for the entire 7:24 of the song’s length. The perfect opening song if you want to make a bold statement. “Soulcrusher” is another immense and beefy track, containing frightening fast guitar riffs and pounding double bass, surrounded by powerful orchestras, multiple tempo changes and layers upon layers of oozing passion; starting with the strong vocal performance of Kraller.

The nine minute final track, “The Nomad’s Crown”, contains Middle Eastern influences and dark orchestras that would easily fit into the Greek Mythology video game “God of War” trilogy soundtrack. A slower paced song that pounds along for the first four minutes, contains wonderful melodies and harmonies and soaring angelic vocals from Manuela, before picking the pace after the four minute mark. We are then treated to a thrilling tantalisation of the ears with a forging of the Middle Eastern elements with flighty upbeat orchestras, choirs and aggressive guitar-work and drum-fills.

Xandria’s melodic and Celtic infused songs are also highlights on the disc, none better than the powerful and riff-filled “Cursed”. Sounding much like Xandria of the past in terms of melody and the use of Celtic elements, however this time the crunchy and almost groove styled guitar riffs and hypnotic orchestral elements pushes this track through the roof. Another impressive melodic but heavy Celtic track is “Call of the Wind”, which has a feel good vibe through it, nice Celtic passages, more soaring choirs and a powerful and epic feel. Capping the song off is a wonderful and soulful guitar solo. Aside from the two beautiful ballads in which Manuela showcases her full angelic vocal capabilities, ‘Neverworld’s End’ is rounded off nicely with more standout stands in the catchy and mid-paced “Blood on my Hands”, the thundering “Valentine” and the swift and sizzling “Euphoria”.

Once the experience comes to a close, you know you have one hell of an album on your hands here with ‘Neverworld’s End’, easily Xandria’s best CD to date; taking nothing away their “commercial” sounding gothic metal discs they released previously as I enjoyed those albums too. But one thing is for sure, Xandria has now gone from ho hum to holy shit in one swift and brutal blow. Fans of symphonic power metal need to pounce on this as quickly as you can as you will not be disappointed in the slightest. For Nightwish fans who are being frustrated with their last two albums that feature Anette Olzon will find relief with ‘Neverworld’s End’, while fans of bands like Epica, Edenbridge, Leaves’ Eyes and Sirenia, just to name a few, will also enjoy the big changes Xandria have done with their sound; as well as being drawn to Manuela Kraller’s wonderful vocals.

(Originally written for www.themetalforge.com)

Great album that's mistaken to be like old Xandria - 90%

Kritus Irilkemar, November 1st, 2012

The first thing of note is that this album is very much NOT like Xandria's previous offerings. Many a reviewer will tell you that it is, but it is not. Older Xandria stuff was, indeed, created for a rather specific audience: gothic metal fans. This album is not like Xandria's older albums because this album lacks those gothic overtones that filled their previous offerings.

It could instead be argued that this album is more along the lines of symphonic metal. Gothic metal is known for being less ambitious in its use of symphony, and is often cheesy in its usage of such instruments. This album instead goes full-blast with the symphony, to the point that it sounds like Equilibrium with a female singer at the lead. Getting compared to Equilibrium is a good thing, mind you. In this album, Xandria focuses less on the guitar, bass, and drums in favor of the symphony. This was not true of their previous offerings. Although focusing less on the fundamental instruments of metal is an aspect one would naturally use to detract from an album's score, it works here because the symphonic work is borderline cinematic. A few songs stick to the old Xandria formula, namely "The Dream Is Still Alive" and "A Thousand Letters", but that's only 2 songs out of 12 (14 if you have the bonus tracks), and I doubt Xandria would fancy alienating their old fanbase.

As someone who does not care about lyrics and instead listens to music for music itself, I can still cringe at some terrible lyrics. But these lyrics, although still skewed toward themes Xandria has stuck with since its inception, do not make me cringe. This is not to say that the lyrics comprise deep, complex narratives that are a must-hear--again, they are still about love or deep inner feelings--but they aren't going to make you wish you never heard the album.

Now let's talk about the vocals. For those of you out of the loop, this album's vocals are not supplied by Lisa Middelhauve, the vocalist on all of Xandria's previous albums. In 2010, that vocalist left, and Xandria got another to tour with them. Then, even later, that vocalist left as well, and Xandria then picked up their current one, Manuela Kraller, who provided the vocals on this album.

Middelhauve's singing voice could be described as "angsty, breathy, and modern", a type of singing voice that is seemingly made for gothic metal, if the subgenre's MVPs are any indication. In contrast, I can only describe Kraller's singing voice as powerful, operatic, and downright beautiful. She has a wide range, being able to sing more mellow while also being capable of sounding as though she belongs to the opera as a lead character. In many songs, the band uses this to their advantage by layering together various tracks of Kraller's singing to produce the effect of a powerful operatic chorus. This is most notable in "Nomad's Crown", in which for much of the song, Kraller sings mellow... but then, towards the end of the song, we hear no less than five different operatic (I apologize for using that word so much) vocal tracks running simultaneously on top of the aforementioned symphony and the electric guitar plus the double-kick drums, and it absolutely blew me away. The vocals are unarguably the absolute strongest point of the album.

Another aspect I should mention is that the album doesn't quite remain purely symphonic for the entirety (the two aforementioned old-style Xandria songs notwithstanding); once you get past "Soulcrusher", many of the songs take on a more folksy vibe. "Call of the Wind", "Cursed", and parts of "Nomad's Crown", although remaining symphonic, incorporate several folk elements, mostly in the form of sound and riffs. The primary riff of "Cursed", for example, brings Vikings or Britons to mind, and if that doesn't indicate folk influence, I do not know what does. This is not a bad thing in the slightest; I actually quite appreciate it. It should just be noted in case any readers are particularly averse to folk metal or folk music.

All in all, this album is excellent, with wonderful symphony and breathtaking vocals. If you enjoy symphonic metal at all, or even just symphonic music, you should seriously consider picking this album up. Don't allow your past experience with Xandria to skew your decision.

To Nightwish and beyond - 90%

Empyreal, October 3rd, 2012

Wow. I seriously have never heard a band nail the old Nightwish formula as hard as Xandria have here. I had never heard of this band before, but Neverworld’s End, their newest release, is a really good, energetic take on a style that mostly relegates itself to pop-friendly streamlined sounds (that’s not necessarily a bad thing either), and if you liked Nightwish back in the day, this is really about as good as that band ever was. I mean, they even have the required Nightwish-esque bout of filler in the middle of the album. That’s some admirable dedication!

OK, but really - this is an excellent album. Xandria’s formula is heavy guitars, airy symphonic sounding keys and the breathy, luscious vocals of frontwoman Manuella Kraller, who is as close to a legitimate clone of Tarja Turunen that you can get. The sound isn’t really original at all, but that’s not what Xandria is about. Some bands are good because they branch out from the established order and create exciting new sounds, and some are good because they take what already existed and refine it to a polished sheen, which is what Xandria is good at. Hell, the first time I heard lead single “Valentine,” I said “damn, did someone just take a time machine and drag 2003-era Nightwish out of the past and make them record a new album?” I mean it’s seriously that close. The chorus is unabashed Once worship, the production has the same sort of downtuned, gothy sort of timbre to it and the structure, while a little busier than Nightwish got, is propulsive and smooth just like their idols' best hit singles. The resemblance is uncanny. But it’s a great song, with a monster hook and some tight riffing in between the keyboard parts, and can stand up with the best Nightwish songs with ease.

The whole sound of this album is just incredibly professional. One thing I like about this is how heavy it is, and how the guitars are playing real riffs rather than just strumming big chords in the background. On songs like “Soulcrusher,” Xandria show they can rock with the best of them. The best songs on here are just impeccably good, with real drive and momentum and the entire band working together to create hooky, majestic songs that flow with a big, unified sound and atmosphere. The whole first half is just great, with the daring “Prophecy of Worlds to Fall” setting the stage with its mature songwriting and celeritous melodies, and then leading into great songs like “Valentine,” the breathtakingly gorgeous “Forevermore,” the catchy “Euphoria” and maybe the album’s best song in “Blood on My Hands,” which is a tune that Nightwish couldn't match if they tried, with an instantly memorable chorus and towering melodies that you will never forget. “Soulcrusher” is a bit of an anomaly, heavier and meaner, but it’s probably the second best on here, and “The Lost Elysion” is a clinic in power metal glory with its soaring vocals and speedy riffs – awesome.

After that the album takes a bit of a dip with some weak ballads and “Call of the Winds,” which is a Middle Eastern-sounding jingle that just doesn’t stick, but the album regains momentum with “Cursed,” which gets some heaviness going, and 9-minute closer “The Nomad’s Crown,” which is the most mature and musically advanced song here, with riffs that build on one another like a game of Jenga and melodies that unfold like a blooming lotus. It surprisingly never gets dull and ends the album with class and a more cerebral, introspective note than one would expect from a band like this.

If the whole album was on the same level of quality as “Forevermore” or “Blood on My Hands,” which are two of the best symphonic metal songs I’ve ever heard, we’d be talking modern classic, but as it is, Xandria has still put out a great album in a style that doesn’t seem to be quite as popular these days. Neverworld’s End has some serious chops and despite the fact that its whole sound is basically old Nightwish albums cobbled up in a blender, shows a band with potential exploding in spades. The next release from these guys will be the test – can they live up to the potential? I don’t know. But I’ll be rooting for them.

High hopes destroyed - 20%

Naudiz, April 27th, 2012

With the release of the last studio album, "Salome - The Seventh Veil", I believed Xandria was dead. So I didn't much care for the release of "Neverworld's End" when it was announced. I never even listened to the previous work of Manuela Kraller. It didn't interest me. Why wasting time on a band that got worse and worser over the years and wasn't even able to hold their singers? Not that that couldn't be said about a whole lot of other bands in metal, but that's another story.

It was more or less pure chance that I stumbled over the song "Soulcrusher". I accidently clicked on the false video in the related links of Youtube - and my jaw dropped open so wide it almost dislocated. What a voice! What a bombast! What a heaviness! My only thought at this moment was "For God's sake, is that really Xandria???" Then I picked up my jaw and gave the whole album a close listen, cause now I had hope that Xandria might rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

With "Neverworld's End", Xandria surely have musically skipped three or four grades. The production is as crystal-clear as Manuela's voice, which covers a great vocal range without breaking or ending up screaming (although I'm not sure if she can hold that level live; there are entirely other conditions live, with all the band around her, while in the studio her voice stands alone, and there's no audition which sings along and against which Manuela will have to sing).

About the composition, my euphoria receded fast. Surely it is bombastic and shows a certain musical sense, but most of the songs sound pretty much the same, at least for me. In many ways, the new Xandria reminds me of the genre colleagues of Coronatus. The same great orchestration, a high and strong opera voice, heavy guitars - and all-the-same song structures and vocal arrangements. I would even dare to say they sound pretty much like musical twins, what's somehow very sad because I had so high hopes Xandria finally found there own way in metal music and especially in Symphonic / Gothic Metal (I'm not completely sure what genre it exactly is; could be both, so I simply name it a mix of both). Seems like I was wrong about that one thing.

What I was not wrong about is the fact that Xandria have developed - only that I'm not even close to like it as much as I thought I would when I first heard "Soulcrusher". While listening to the full album, I even came to hate Manuela's voice. As good as it may be, it caused me headache after a while. It could have been put to way better use if the songwriters of the album (not sure if the whole band was involved in the songwriting process) would have been more experimental and used different vocal arrangements. Like it is, Manuela sounds like a cheap soundalike of Tarja Turunen, like the whole album sounds like Xandria had been scrabbeling in the closets of other Sympho Metal bands and putting them together to a chaotic potpourri. I think that a real shame, since Manuela has so much potential she wasn't able to use on "Neverworld's End".

All in all, "Neverworld's End" is a very disappointing album for me. My high hopes about it were destroyed nearly immediataly after I pressed the play-button, and the only thing left is the stale taste of the ashes Xandria sadly wasn't able to rise from.

Well worth the 5 year wait - 94%

TommyA, March 8th, 2012

"Neverworld's End" is the latest album from Xandria, a band I feared was turning into the new Lacuna Coil. Their previous offering made me lose interest in the band, but I figured I would give their new album a listen. This sounds nothing at all like older Xandria and is probably their heaviest offering to date.

As we all know, Lisa is only a live vocalist now *insert sadness here*. I dare say this new vocalist is about ten times better than her. Kraller's vocals are exceptionally clear, especially when compared to other female metal vocalists, and her vocal range is quite impressive. She can switch between ranges and still be 100% clear. I feel this is what most metal bands lack at the moment. Ten points to Xandria for this.

The album, in a nutshell, is heavy, dramatic, and a whole lot of fun. I would say it's like Kamelot's "Ghost Opera" meets Nightwish's "Century Child", while still not straying away from their Celtic roots ("The Dream Is Alive", "Call of the Wind"). Tracks like the opener are exceptionally powerful and highlight the band's talent and Kraller's vocal ability.

I would recommend this to Nightwish, Kamelot, and Epica fans and the like. This album is definitely the one to beat this year for symphonic metal bands. Highlights: "A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall", "Euphoria", and "Blood on my Hands". However, the entire album is more or less grand and no track is weaker than the other. It is a very solid release from Xandria, and I am officially a fan.