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Taken by surprise and conquering the genre crown - 97%

kluseba, May 11th, 2014

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.