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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.