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Xandria have always been the kind of band that put out a record which is significantly better than any previous releases. The emotion and the intensity they imbued Sacrificium with is not only proof of their formidable evolution but are also the elements that helped them leave other symphonic metal acts such as Nightwish, Within Temptation, Delain and Tristania far behind. While it is certain that all those bands have developed remarkable skills over the years, this release is unquestionable evidence that experience is not always enough to record a good album. Unlike those so-called "rivals" that failed to keep up with their fans' highest expectations, Xandria undoubtedly exceeded them.
Built on the same symphonic style that was embraced by bands like Epica and early Nightwish and quite reminiscent of Tristania's World of Glass, Sacrificium was enhanced with a plus of vitality, intensity, fairy-like vocals and ardent atmosphere. Tempestuous guitars that sound similar to Tarja-era Nightwish produce more energetic and memorable riffs than that band ever managed to and the softer parts of the album manage to blend with the heavier ones in perfect harmony. Professionally blending fast riffs whose speed can only be reached by roaring whirlwinds like Anthrax's "Gung-Ho," heavy mid-tempo riffs in the vein of early Nightwish, and passionate solos, the performance of the two guitarists left me breathless and astounded. Moreover - Sacrificium is one of the most complete symphonic metal albums I've ever heard in terms of riffs, riffs which vary from very heavy and aggressive (which beautifully contrast with the vocals in a way similar to the "beauty and the beast" aesthetics) to soft and melodic, an antithesis which surprisingly reminded me of Arch Enemy.
The drums function only as supporting instrument but the lively beating releases waves of energy which can only be tempered by softer tracks like "Dreamkeeper" and "Our Neverworld." The swiftness with witch Gerit Lamm strikes the drums and the cymbals at certain points would make him a perfect candidate for blast beating but even though his drumming is pretty fast even on softer songs he uses the right amount of velocity so that his beats don't sound off-rhythm, this being a perfect evidence of his technicality. On the other hand, if the drums and the guitars contribute strongly to the vitality of the music, the violin, bagpipes, whistles and even the few narrated words adorn the record with a tuneful flavor and an aura of mystery with a glim of ancient folklore, which develop the softer side of the release.
Dianne van Giersbergen provides some kind of intense and powerful soprano vocals that are undoubtedly superior to the ones done by other notable female singers such as Tarja and Liv Kristine, who sing unquestionably beautiful but simply fail to transmit such a strong emotion. Dianne's performance reaches its climax on the second track, "Nightfall," due to the intense high notes that she seems to reach without any difficulties but, unfortunately, all the other songs lack this powerful symphonic tempest. Yet, the emotion and the intensity that flow through her voice burn as hot as that fiery phoenix from the cover art and are capable of making one daydream with no chance of waking up until the very last song ends. Warm, intense and beautifully done, Dianne's vocals stream with a passion that is as hypnotizing as the chaotic masterworks of Darkspace.
Professionally produced, the album has an electrifying and refreshing feel, and a perfect equilibrium between the instruments and the vocals assures an enjoyable listening experience. Though Dianne's performance seems to rule over the instruments (which is not a bad thing at all), their sound has been flawlessly preserved. This peculiarity, along with the lyrics ("We are rising higher, closer to the fire," "So see me now, as I am going to spread my wings!"), the intensity and the energy of the music and even the cover art (should someone look at it during the listening), contribute to the ardent atmosphere of the music.
Doubtlessly, Sacrificium is beauty at its highest peak and its warmth could even melt the heart of a glacier. This record may assure Xandria's reign amongst the other symphonic metal acts for decades as they have succeeded in reaching a level of experience, creativity, and skill that any other band that may happen to share a sound reminiscent to theirs can only dream of. Such an ascension can rarely be seen and a symphonic metal record that would eclipse this one is certainly beyond my imagination. Should Wishmaster, World of Glass and The Quantum Enigma look up in the sky they'd see Sacrificium miles above.
A couple years ago a littler known symphonic metal outfit hailing from Germany decided to put Tuomas Holopainen on notice about a sound that he'd long forgotten how to create. Then, about as quickly as they had broken their own mold with the powerful Neverworld's End, Xandria seemed to be destined to an early fall with the loss of their gifted dramatic soprano front woman Manuela Kraller, reminiscent of the similar fate that befell their inspiration Nightwish back in the mid 2000s with the exit of Tarja Turunen. However, history can prove to be an invaluable teacher, and it appears that Marco Heubaum was doing his homework as he didn't fall into the trap of trying to revamp a working formula and found another winning dramatic voice in Dianne van Giersbergen, who is also quite similar in vocal timbre and range to that of the much emulated Tarja.
For all the fairly different imagery depicted on Sacrificium, this is an album that exemplifies that age-old truism of not messing with a winning formula. Naturally there has been some tinkering around the edges in terms of the album's flow and pacing, but the same stylistic devices of simple driving guitar riffs, massive orchestral sounds, and a well-balanced mixture of haunting dissonance and somber beauty has remained constant almost to a fault. Some of this tinkering presents itself in a slightly greater concentration of guitar elements that point towards more of an Epica influence, though Marco's riff approach still remains closer to the support-role character of Emppu's work with Nightwish rather than morphing into a galloping semi-thrashing character befitting of Mark Jansen. It's all a matter of degrees and this still sticks pretty close to home.
At first listen, there is a temptation to view this album as being a bit more intense than its predecessor, and there is some truth to this. On the more extreme end of things on this album is "Betrayer", which takes far further strides towards thrashing it up in the riff department, and even takes an occasion to throw in a nice chaotic blast section, clearly eclipsing the otherwise aggressive character of "Soulcrusher", the equivalent song from the previous album. Likewise, this album opens things up on a particularly auspicious note with a massive 10 minute plus epic of a title song, incorporating the same sort of nuanced interplay between piano driven balladry and rapid paced symphonic power metal majesty that would go with a classic Nightwish epic such as "Beauty Of The Beast" and "FantasMic", but presented in a manner more along the lines of a darker, heavier anthem off of Once.
If there is a way of truly differentiating this album from its predecessor, it would be by taking note of the heavier degree of power metal elements at play than before, to the point of mirroring what was heard on Wishmaster and Decipher. Particularly when noting the heavier degree of more driving, up tempo numbers like "Until The End", "Stardust", and "Little Red Relish", all of which almost want to cross over into Rhapsody Of Fire territory and definitely point to that wondrous marriage of Danny Elfman styled lullaby symphonic devices with up tempo metallic cruising. Be this as it may, there are still plenty of nods to the same sort of mid 2000s character that was all over Neverworld's End, with the most obvious example being the down-tempo homage to Nightwish's "Nemo" that is "Dreamkeeper", which actually manages to be a bit more formulaic and catchy than the former, yet also better given the superior production job and balance of instruments into a more harmonious whole.
In spite of losing a very charismatic and competent lead vocalist, Xandria have actually managed to maintain their hold on musical greatness here and also proved that provided a similar sound is maintained, that it's the compositional element that truly makes or breaks a band. This is the sort of album that will find an all too welcoming home amongst fans of female fronted symphonic metal, and is actually a cut above most of what's been coming out of the older guard in the past few years. The jury is still out on what kind of sound Nightwish will come up with having Floor Jansen at the helm, but if they want to get some good ideas about where to aim, they would be advised to look where Xandria has been for the past 2 years.
Every so often there comes along a band where you are fortunate enough to hear in their early stages and hope that somehow their career begins to take. In the early 2000s I used to scour the internet listening to music from several bands who haven't even released full albums yet. Although most of it doesn't stick with you, one band that always did for me was Xandria from Germany. From the first time I heard the Kill the Sun demo I immediately fell in love with this band's songwriting. Throughout their career they managed to write album after album full of enjoyable songs with extremely crisp production value, bombastic elements of symphonic power metal and many aspects of gothic metal. Each album has also had its fair share of beautiful and angelic female lead vocals. After the fourth full length album things began to hit a few snags with in their lineup in terms of the vocalist changes, but the band's mastermind guitarist/keyboardist Marco Heubaum has always managed to keep the spirit of the band alive with whoever has been chosen to front the band. He even has producer credits on their two newest albums.
With their 2014 release Sacrificium, now fronted by vocal powerhouse of Ex Libris Dianne van Giersbergen, are completely at the top of their game in the world of symphonic metal. All of the elements that made everyone fall in love with the band to begin with are still there, the songwriting is still superb, the vocals are still beautiful, there is a plethora of keyboards, and the guitar riffs are very tasteful.
They choose to begin the album in the most ambitious manner possible, with a ten minute title track. Beginning with some quire vocals and kicking into a distorted yet memorable guitar riffs with overly intricate keyboard work it instantly grabs you. Any questions about Dianne's vocal ability are completely thrown out the window immediately. She kind of reminds me of Tarja Turunen in her prime. A few minutes in comes a clean melodic guitar lead which shortly kicks into a lot more speed and complexity. I usually struggle to sit through a lot of ten minute songs, but there is plenty of variety here, not much repetition, and before I knew it the track was already over and I almost wanted to go back and play it again.
The second track, Nightfall, is what they recorded their music video for. Once again I am heavily reminded of classic Nightwish. One of the catchiest choruses on the album makes this one of the major highlights. Just like several songs on the album there are quite a bit of operatic background vocals that only adds a lot of layers and depth to the compositions. I love every Xandria album, but the guitar solos on this are some of the best I've heard out of the band, especially on Nightfall.
For fans of the band's past albums, Dreamkeeper is probably the best representation of what they are known for. The pace is slowed down just a little bit, and the focus is more shifted to the lyrics and Dianne's vocals. Heubaum has continued writing some of the most touching songs I've heard out of any band. He has also taken a role in the album's production just has he has done with their previous one, which could explain why they have been coming out sounding even more crisp and clean than usual.
Songs such as Betrayer could easily be a good introduction to people just now getting into more melodic metal. There is definitely quite a bit of aggressiveness and distortion to the guitar riffs and the drums have that quick yet catchy pop to them that a lot more mainstream bands are known for doing. The song has very dark breakdown parts that would probably appeal to a much wider audience than just a power metal fanbase. Stylistically there really isn't much like this on this album, but it could easily trap someone into enjoying the entire body of work and enjoying several other bands of the genre as well.
Until the End is probably my favorite song on the album personally. Sounding like something that wouldn't be out of place on Wishmaster or Oceanborn I completely fell in love with it from first listen. Extremely memorable vocals, palm muted guitar riffs, and epic keyboard arrangements make this an incredible track that many bands seem to have forgot how to achieve. It even has my favorite guitar leads and solos on the entire album. I would definitely recommend listening to this track first. It completely embodies what Xandria and Sacrificium are all about to me.
Another aspect of the album that hasn't really been touched on is the folk aspect in songs such as Little Red Relish. The beginning keyboards are extremely upbeat and actually kind of make you want to dance to them. The distorted guitars come back pretty quickly and chorus is probably one of the most memorable on the album. If I had to pick this would probably be my second favorite track, its just very upbeat and offers yet another twist in the story that the Sacrificium tells. I have similar feelings about the track Temple of Hate. It is pretty much the perfect companion to Little Red Relish in terms of having extremely memorable folkish keyboard intros.
Honestly I didn't know what to expect out of this album since Xandria are working with their third singer in three albums. I love the original vocalist, but Dianne does an amazing job with this band, Marco does an incredible job on the keyboard arrangements, and the guitar songwriting and guitar solos are some of the best that I've ever heard out of this band. I really don't have many complaints out of Sacrificium and it seems to grow on me more with each listen. It could very well be my favorite female fronted album of 2014, but only time will tell.
Originally written for The Metal Pit.
Xandria is a symphonic metal band from Bielefeld, situated in my home province North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. The band has managed to survive and stand out among so many similar genre bands that have popped up at the end of the nineties when genre leaders as Nightwish had their breakthrough. Xandria is mostly known for catchy songs such as “Ravenheart”, “The Lioness” and “Sisters Of The Night” but they lately went into a darker and more epic direction. The band has survived many important line-up changes and some of them occurred very recently. Bassist Nils Middelhauve left the band after eight years and was replaced by Fabio D’Amore for a few live shows before Steven Wussow was hired as permanent replacement. The band also has a new singer, the Dutch Dianne van Giersbergen of Ex Libris fame. She is already the fifth female singer for the band. The only original member remaining in the band is guitarist, keyboarder and occasional back vocalist Marco Heubaum. I had seen this band live in early 2008 when they supported “Salomé – The Seventh Veil” and during a festival in the summer of 2012 with a quite different line-up after the release of the critically acclaimed comeback release “Neverworld’s End”. I preferred the older line-up and when I heard that the band went through several line-up changes again, I was curious to hear what the band’s sixth studio album “Sacrificium” would sound like.
In my opinion, this is by far the band’s greatest record. It's even one of the best genre albums ever done. This is a difficult thing to say a few days after the record's initial release but I swear that this album left a very deep impression and blew me away like no other genre record in the past years. Xandria sounds more ambitious, epic and symphonic than ever. The sound is also a lot fresher and heavier than expected. The opening title track “Sacrificium” already breaks the ten-minute mark and comes around with a dark spoken word introduction, bombastic choirs, dramatic string passages, powerful riffs and tons of promising ideas. It’s courageous to open an album with such a song and even though this track indeed needs a few spins to open up, I would say that it was worth the risk to put this song right at the start as it brilliantly represents everything Xandria is about in 2014. Gone are the childish melodies with simplistic lyrics, the short and catchy potential hit singles and the gothic pop ballads for anime nerds or emo teenies. Say hello to ambitious and versatile song writing in the key of Nightwish, complex symphonic arrangements on one level with the brilliant Edenbridge and an overall heavier sound than ever that could be compared to the latest Epica. This is how symphonic metal should sound like, Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation who were this year’s disappointments should immediately take notes.
Let me point out a few more highlights apart of the brilliant title track on the record. This is not an easy task because there is no bad track on this album as they all vary between very good and excellent. “The Undiscovered Land” starts like a world music inspired ballad but becomes an epic soundtrack-like masterpiece with an elegant and powerful vocal performance, tear-jerking folk melodies and gripping guitar riffs. If you liked the last two Nightwish records a little bit, you are going to adore this song. The last time a symphonic metal song impressed me that much at first sight was seven years ago when I heard Nightwish’s “The Poet And The Pendulum”.
What could a band put up next after such a sophisticated mid-tempo soundtrack? Xandria give you the right answer with “Betrayer”. The song sounds a little bit faster and it is almost thrash metal orientated. On one side, it features emotionally gripping riffs and beautiful guitar solos, but on the other it also includes bombastic symphonic arrangements that develop an almost apocalyptic atmosphere. After the light and enchanting “The Undiscovered Land”, the almost destructive “Betrayer” sounds like its dark and wicked counterpart. There is nothing left to criticize, both songs perfectly complement each other and are equally amazing.
Xandria go on to prove that one can mix the gracious melodies of “The Undiscovered Land” with the dark energy of “Betrayer” and a few catchy hooks. This track is called “Until The End” and completes the trio of epic majesty.
“Little Red Relish” is maybe the catchiest track on the album thanks to a truly powerful chorus. In comparison to the past, this doesn’t keep the band from adding brutal and speedy guitar riffs and orgasmic orchestral arrangements to this more accessible song. This is another track that works perfectly and represents the new sound of Xandria very well.
“Temple Of Hate” impresses with its excellent guitar work. The twin guitar parts and emotional solos in the middle part sound like the legendary Iron Maiden. The use of the violin makes me think of Irish folklore and bands like Elvenking might go green with envy when they listen to these perfect arrangements. The vocals in this song are even greater than usual as they reach out for nearly angelic heights without losing their grounding power.
Just when I thought that I heard the best vocal performance on the entire album, I am proven wrong with the very last song. Even though I’m not a big fan of piano ballads, the closing lullaby “Sweet Atonement” is performed with vocals full of soul and passion that might break the fiercest metal hearts. I’m having massive goose bumps while I’m listening to this closer.
And no, it’s not over yet! The special edition of this record includes instrumental versions of all regular twelve songs plus a bonus track entitled “The Watcher”. Guess what, this bonus track features once again atmospheric and epic orchestral arrangements, powerful vocals and one of the catchiest choruses among all new songs. Other symphonic metal bands fail to write one song like this in their entire careers and it’s only the bonus track of Xandria’s new record. This song alone is worth the extra money for the special edition even though I don’t care for the instrumental versions. “The Watcher” would have been a perfect choice for a single along with “Little Red Relish”. If the band reads these lines, they know which songs to pick if they want to release a new single or EP anytime soon.
In conclusion, this is one of the very best female fronted symphonic metal albums ever done. In my opinion Xandria’s “Sacrificium” is also a solid candidate for the top spots of this year’s best album rankings. I’m deeply impressed and surprised by this ferocious rebirth of the band. The overused image of a phoenix rising from its ashes on the album cover never fit better than here. Anybody who cares the slightest for the symphonic metal genre should purchase this album.
2014 has already been a fantastic year for symphonic metal. It’s only April, but we’ve already had such established bands such as Delain, Within Temptation and Stream of Passion release their best albums to date, and several other fantastic albums coming from the likes of Diabulus in Musica, Anette Olzon and Seventh Sin. And just when you start to think that there’s no way the year can possibly keep up the degree of excellence we’ve already been offered, the German band Xandria’s new album Sacrificium is their best album to date by a LONG way. Their first three albums were middle of the road pop tinged gothic metal, definitely not up there with the best of the genre, and for their previous album Neverworld’s End, featuring the now departed singer Manuela Kraller on her first and only album with the group, they moved towards a more symphonic sound, and released a half-decent album, but really nothing special. In short, I’ve never been a Xandria fan, so when I got sent Sacrificium I had NO idea just how brilliant it would be, and that it would be on one of the most exciting symphonic metal releases I’d ever have the pleasure to hear, and I don’t say that lightly.
With the departure of Manuela Kraller, the band have found a replacement in Ex Libris vocalist Dianne Van Giersbergen, who simply one of the best voices I’ve ever heard, I was absolutely blown away by how amazing she sounds. Classically trained, her voice throughout the album is incredibly powerful, as much as any woman I’ve ever heard, yet very rich sounding and stunningly beautiful. Her voice is a joy to listen to throughout the album, and never having heard her sing before, it immediately struck a chord. It would be unfair to compare her to other singers in the genre, as her voice doesn’t sound exactly like a lot of them, she’s in a league of her own. And it’s not just the vocals that are stunning, but the rest of the music is too. The theme of the album seems to be a sense of supreme power, as it sounds exciting and powerful from start to finish. The symphonic sections on the album are out of this world, the arrangement is brilliant, but it’s the way it combines with the metal elements that makes it really stand out, they blend perfectly. Symphonic music can have an emphasis on the powerful, and when intertwined so well with another powerful style in heavy metal it just becomes this epic, exciting sound that gives the listener a real rush. The composition on Sacrificium is incredible from the outset, opening with the ten minute title track, beginning with dramatic sounding symphonics before kicking in with some of the best used choirs I’ve heard in symphonic metal, really heavy pounding guitars, and the symphonics becoming melodic, sweeping and triumphant sounding. With the introduction of Dianne Van Giersbergen’s beautiful yet strong voice, the track becomes an absolute epic, with all these incredible elements tying together to create one sweeping flurry of pure drama, beauty and power, and with none of the cheesy bombast that can plague the genre. The guitar playing is fantastic, with the song filled with fast, epic sounding riffs with a really thick heavy tone and great melodic leads, the guitar solos in the middle of the track are really well placed and brimming with energy. Opening the album with such a great ten minute symphonic metal masterpiece shows just how far the band have come, this is certainly not the pop oriented sound of the earlier albums, but the sound of a band that have finally found their niche in fantastic style. Ending with the beautifully sung line “when I take my last…breath” it certainly leaves the listener breathless themselves.
The epic, powerful sound of the title track continues through the rest of the album, with next track Nightfall having a glorious sound, with an epic uplifting chorus and fantastic guitar playing making it seem like it will be a permanent fixture on future setlists, while the first single Dreamkeeper is a slower affair, with another catchy chorus and great headbangable rhythm to it, making it a really fun track, though definitely sounding like the single of the album. Dianne Van Giersbergen uses her clean vocal style much more than her more classical oriented style on this song, and it’s sublime. Stardust continues that in the same vein, and with pounding drums, deep rumbling bass and a mixture of equally catchy chugging and melodic riffs combined with sweeping keyboards, its another supreme effort, and that heavy breakdown in the middle is bound to leave some listeners with a sore neck.
Betrayer is the heaviest track on the album, brimming with energy, with some of the album’s most heavy riffs and drumming, accentuated by one of Dianne’s best performances on the album and the dramatic sounding symphonies. Crunching and fast bass playing combined with the powerful drumming and riffs give the track the best rhythm section of the album, pounding away with a ferocious energy. Every section sounds beyond epic, and it all combines into a sweeping dramatic piece, a lesson to everyone out there on how to write a symphonic metal song. Little Red Relish and Come With Me are two more uplifting, madly catchy songs, and ones which would be really good live, especially with the headbang inducing riffage at the end of the former. The strings and piano at the beginning of Our Neverworld create a great atmosphere, and it’s a slower song with more great singing and guitar playing, but it gives the album a bit of variation, going for the uplifting and stirring, rather than the dramatic and triumphant. Temple of Hate is another incredibly catchy one, with an infectious fiddle melody in the intro and great string sections through out, one of the more straightforward tracks, this is a really fun power metal track. Closer Our Atonement is a more melancholic track, with the only instruments consisting of fantastic violin and piano melodies, giving a gorgeous backdrop to Dianne’s voice, and it’s a great way to close a great album.
Sacrificium is one of the finest examples of symphonic metal around, and one with the real emphasis on the symphonic elements, the album has some of the best composition I’ve ever heard in the genre, and the way it intertwines with the powerful guitar oriented metal sound of the album is simply unparalleled. While some bands in the style sound like metal with orchestral parts tacked on, this is a perfect mixture of the two and it flows so well. And with their brilliant new singer in Dianne Van Giersbergen being a perfect fit for their style, Sacrificium is a real triumph, really refreshing and full of life. At over an hour in length it rarely lets up, and if you like your metal full of symphony, and enjoy bands such as Epica then you’re bound to be blown away by this.
Originally written for swirlsofnoise.com