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Whilst there is nothing original about either the style of symphonic / gothic metal Xandria play or the composition of their songs, there is still music of worth on this album. The band certainly cannot be considered ground breakers in this genre but are capable of serving up melodic and haunting music firmly in the pop style but with a sprinkle of added metal and gothic meloncholy and grace.
I shall start with the two gripes I have about this album before moving on to the elements I found to be positive. Firstly, speaking as a lover of the electrical stringed devices that make metal fantastic, I find the uncomplicated and often sidelined guitars slightly frustrating. The mix seems to hide them in the background whilst bringing the voice, which is very beautiful by the way, and the keyboard to the front. I feel the whole album could have been improved without detracting from its haunting beauty had the guitars been used on an equal footing with the keyboards. Some intricate and light guitar riffs could have been woven amongst the keyboards to provide a more well-rounded depth to this album.
Right, rant over. There are certainly very enjoyable aspects of this album. The vocals are powerful without being bombastic and delicate enough to handle the flowing ballads and melodic choruses that are rife throughout this work. As far as the composition of the songs is concerned there are some excellent melodies and some insanely catchy hooks provided by the vocals and the keyboards. There are certainly some very strong tracks on this album and nothing that I would consider to be filler. Alongside the sequal album 'India' this ranks as the very best that Xandria have produced. Whilst this album and indeed this band will never be considered leaders in their field they are very capable at writing catchy pop metal songs that have a lot of replay value.
There was some fellow reviewer, criticizing the new Gamma Ray’s album who said: ‘’if you have nothing important or intelligent to say, then don’t say anything’’. I am not quoting him but you get the idea. He is totally right and I apply this to myself whenever I am attempting to write a thoughtful review.
In the case of Xandria, which I like very much I find trouble trying to think what to say. There are some aspects of the music that I find interesting and keep me wanting more, but on the other hand the other guy is right that, in an endless sea of gothic metal acts this just falls behind giants Epica or some others who actually, play metal.
The problem with this band (among countless others) is that they do not stand out in any aspect. Sure they have some elements which will appeal to masses, which I will detail later on, but as far as playing metal with balls and taking symphonic metal to new shores that is another story. They try so hard to stand in the middle ground where they can appeal to serious metal heads and be, actually, considered a metal band, but on the other hand they tend to sound so poppy to be heard on radio stations. I am not saying I have something against that, on the contrary, I analyze and listen to the band’s proposal and fortunately this one appeals to me in many ways.
Certainly they have the red hair beautiful female soprano singer in front which is almost a requirement these days. Otherwise, you would pass by unnoticed or if you have a punk dirty girl (BIF NAKED anyone?) who, by acting like an idiotic punk will create a mosh pit on the stage.
The vocals, which are the main target, are, for a lack of a better word: flawless! They are not Liv Kristine’s whispering ethereal chanting, neither is Tarja’s majestic classical performance, or even Sarah Brightman’s superb and perfect-beyond-this-universe vocal skills but Lisa does a wonderful job, because somehow she combines the best of styles. She can sing much whispered or sound ghostly and she can as well reach very high notes without over performing.
The first problem arises when you try to listen to the guitars (please note I said ‘try’) because basically, they are totally back staged to the power of the keyboards, and again, not that this is bad but after a while these kind of albums tend to bore you because of its mellow vibe. Please also note that they do not use a full orchestra which might save the day because of the acoustics it could provide but as far as a powerful album this could’ve become it did fail on that aspect. They keyboards are so overwhelming that sometimes I just want to vomit. I have nothing against keyboard players; it is against the overuse of keyboards.
Next on the list is the rather simplistic structure of the songs, much like pop. Thus they tend to be annoying after a while. If you study them you will notice that most of them have around 4 or 5 verses (counting choruses and/or bridges). I am not saying either that they should write ultra complex lyrics or very philosophical (ala Epica nowadays) but the simple song writing is purposely to appeal to numb teenage minds.
I will not detail song by song basis because if you are a fan of symphonic? Metal you might love this album. If you like your metal with soprano red hair singers you will love this album, if you like light guitars and lots of keyboards you will love this album, and if you like simple yet effective song writing to be radio friendly this is for you. However, and I must warn you, if you like kick ass symphonic metal then perhaps you should go to old Nightwish, Leave’s Eyes, current Epica or old After Forever since they really knew how to kick ass with this branch of metal.
As far as I am concerned I like this style but depending on the band and Xandria for sure takes me new levels of enjoyment. Ravenheart, The Liones, Eversleeping, Black Flame, and Too close to breathe are the songs I like the most because of outstanding vocal delivery, nice flow, heavy passages and romantic atmosphere, which is, I believe, what they managed to perform very well. As far as trying to outdo the rest of the gothic (though this opens a totally wide topic to discuss) metal scene I don’t think they, yet, are capable of.
"Ravenheart" from Xandria may very well end up a victim of the numbers game, drowned in the endless seas of Gothic Metal acts rising up all over Europe. Despite the fact that there is something on offer here for fans of the genre, this isn't going to inspire any new loyalty. It’s towards the bottom of the pile in the dark Gothic field, but it will do its job well for enthusiasts.
It's towards the more experimental and untamed corner of the genre, where any and all disparate ideas are fused together in the songs. As a consequence, this is pretty damn light on the metal elements at times. The guitars are most often used for undercurrents of basic and effective rhythms, backing some power into the walls of the album at least. They do get some exercise as a few spicy solos are fitted into the songs when the band feels they're required. The keyboard arrangements swashing to and fro across the structures help eliminate the dry feel of the guitars and at least helps them shine and make them enjoyable. Without them this album would be dull as all hell, the keyboards and guitars just can’t work without one another here. I guess that’s how myself, and many other instrumentalists feel with respect to this band. We’re all used to hearing a good degree of skill and complexity from our respective instruments and to a certain extent expect it from our metal as standard. When a band comes along who are pretty average and plain all across the board, we really aren’t too keen on it (at least at first) no matter how catchy the end results of the songs are.
Metal bands sometimes have a hard time coping with ballads. Some pull them off brilliantly though most should really just stick to doing what they do best (i.e. metal). The female fronted Gothic bands in particular tend to be able to create ballads that are overflowing with creativity and feeling, and this is certainly the case here. “Eversleeping” is a nice drifting piano based number, which softens the mood dramatically and pulls me away from aggravatingly wishing the guitars would just do something. “Keep My Secret Well” gets my vote as track of the album on its curious structure and mysterious nature. The deliciously devilish “Snow White” and the thundering title track are also stand out cuts.
Lisa Schaphaus is the band’s centrepiece as you’d expect and keeps the songs knitted up tightly with a lush, coy yet frequently dramatic voice. Very suitable for the would-be grandiose music surrounding it, although it is very much chewed up into bite size pieces compared with the unabashed epics of Epica and Tristania.