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The best genre vocalist rises and shines - 72%

kluseba, February 22nd, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Napalm Records (Digipak)

After the incredibly strong comeback album ''Sacrificium'', Xandria released this interesting EP to shorten the waiting time for the band's next full length output. This release is recommendable for all those who really adored the last record even though we only have an entertaining good average output here at the end of the line.

''Fire & Ashes'' can be subdivided into three categories. First of all, we have three new songs on this output. ''Voyage of the Fallen'' is an epic symphonic power metal track that reminds me positively of early Nightwish material. The versatile and skilled vocals as well as the powerful and melodic guitar work stand out on this great track that similar genre bands would probably put on their regular outputs. ''Unembraced'' is a little bit darker and focuses much more on electronic and symphonic keyboard sounds, a pumping bass guitar line and powerful drum passages. The track complements the opener perfectly. What both tracks have in common is a truly inspired vocal performance. ''In Remembrance'' is also a solid track thanks to the emotional vocals but the rest of this piano ballad is a little bit too long and predictable. It's definitely the weakest among the three overall good new songs.

The second category of this release is the cover songs. First of all, the band covered the sophisticated Meat Loaf milestone ''I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)''. Most bands would fail to reproduce the intellectual quality of the original but Xandria really offers an extremely good rendition of this song that though needs a few spins to open up to the listener in all its complexity. The musicianship of the band is very professional here. Especially the keyboard parts are very complex, diversified and yet emotionally appealing. Dianne van Giersbergen offers the very best vocal performance of her career so far on this track and that really means something for such a great singer. She is supported by a very gifted and soulful male singer called Valerio Recenti from Dutch alternative rock band My Propane. This excellent rendition of the Meat Loaf classic definitely grows with each time I listen to this tune. The cover of Sonata Arctica's ''Don't Say a Word'' isn't nearly as good and only of an average quality. I'm missing a few edges in this cover song. Especially the guitar sound and the overall production could have been a little bit more powerful.

The third and last category is the two re-recordings of the Xandria classics ''Ravenheart'' and ''Now & Forever''. Usually, I prefer original tracks to re-recorded versions but in this case, things are a little bit different. The reason is once again a superb Dianne van Giersbergen. I liked Xandria's previous vocalists but she is such an incredible talent from both an emotional and technical point of view that she doesn't only beat her predecessors but also most of her genre colleagues. In my book, she is the best contemporary and still regularly active symphonic metal vocalist. Therefore I have a preference for the new versions. Other than the vocals, I like that ''Ravenheart'' includes a few more Celtic folk instruments in the opening than the original version and that ''Now & Forever'' has a little bit more drive concerning its production and elegance in regards to the keyboard work instead of the appealing yet somewhat limited gothic atmosphere of the simpler original version.

In the end, Dianne van Giersbergen makes a normally average release a really interesting gimmick that I'm still occasionally listening to since I bought this output last summer. Those who adored Xandria's last regular studio release ''Sacrificium'' will also like this output. Symphonic metal fans who are less familiar with Xandria and only know the famous names like Nightwish or Epica so far are recommended to buy this output for a fair price since it offers a very good introduction to what Xandria was and is about.

Original Songs, Cover Versions & Re-recordings - 66%

ColeMiner, August 6th, 2015

One year after releasing their sixth album with yet another new singer, Marco Heubaum & Co. are back with a new EP. However this EP is not entirely new. Along with three new songs it contains two covers and two re-recordings.

This EP is business as usual for Xandria. Most songs follow the general verse-chorus formula with loud-quiet dynamic. The EP is filled with upbeat songs with fast double bass drumming throughout except for the ballad like In Remembrance and the progressive metal opera I Would do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That). While the drumming is fast in most part, it lacks any creativity or variation. Keyboard is present throughout the songs as you would expect from Xandria. They add melody but don't enhance the atmosphere much. The guitars are mostly buried under the vocals and the drums. There isn't anything memorable riffwise. But there are a few solos thrown in which are one of the strongest points of the EP. But the best feature of the EP is Dianne van Giersbergen's voice. She puts a lot of emotion to the words which is most noticeable in the cover of Meat Loaf's epic song I Would do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That). The re-recorded version of Ravenheart and Now & Forever also sounds more emotional and Diane's vocals gives both song a refreshing vibe. These two are the catchiest songs in the EP. Sonata Arctica cover Don't Say a Word also sounds very energetic and refreshing in Diane's voice. Compared to them the three original songs sound rather boring. They are not as catchy as other songs and basically doesn't have to offer anything memorable.

Finally, this EP further proves that Xandria has found a very competent singer in Dianne van Giersbergen (no relation with Anneke van Giersbergen). But this band is definitely running out of ideas. So they should probably focus more on the songwriting instead of looking for a new singer for every new album.