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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