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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.