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Not Essential - 86%

FOrbIDen, July 11th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Scarecrow Records (Digipak)

BangerTV is an "all metal" YouTube channel run by musical documentarian Sam Dunn (among others) that features album reviews and interviews with various musicians. Another segment that they do is "Lock Horns", which is a debate show streamed live every week, where two people discuss the most influential bands or albums in a genre while also taking into consideration the opinions of those watching from home. Well, they did an episode with Lindsay Schoolcraft (of Cradle of Filth fame) on symphonic metal, which is all well and good until a viewer suggested that Xandria be included among the "essential symphonic metal bands". I was taken aback, and my first thought was "I fucking hate young people", because I could tell that was someone around my age spouting their love for what really is "the new big thing". Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Xandria, but I remember what they were before they reinvented themselves as the Nightwish replacement-to-be: their first ten years of existence yielded four historically insignificant (albeit awesome) albums.

Kill the Sun is the debut album by German quintet Xandria, it was released in the middle portion of 2003, and is significant because it sold well enough to chart #98 on the German album charts. Historically, that is all. Musically, it is quite a treat. Xandria didn't get by because they were doing something radically different to expand the bounds of the genre, they did relatively okay because they have this uncanny ability to write a catchy chorus that is matched by no other. It is a band that was heavily geared towards a mainstream, almost pop audience, and got their fair share of criticism for being so radio friendly and essentially pop music with a metal exterior. Personally, I don't have a problem with this assessment as long as the songwriting is strong, and the heaviness is still there to ground the sound. Which, I think is very much the case here.

The album opens with the title track, which is a short banger, that sets the mood for the rest of the album. The rhythms are strong yet simple, and let the rest of the space be taken up by the delicate and richly textured keyboards and programming. This combinations works to showcase the vocal melodies and guitar leads, as the driving force of this album. Lisa Middelhauve has a very whispy, breathy voice (not dissimilar to Liv Kristine's voice around the same time), that for the most part comes off as bright and crystal clear, and sounds very good against the highly-synthetic soundscapes that the keyboards supply. It's only in some parts where the vocals are heavily layered that they can become muddled, or come off as nasally. Really, the only honest-to-god songwriting misstep on this album is the song "Wisdom", which could have been a really epic song. The main keyboard melody is fucking awesome, but the vocals are entirely delivered in whispers, which would have been fine had the chorus been something really strong, but the song doesn't go anywhere and feels incomplete.

Lyrically, this album has two moods. Most of the music and lyrics on Kill the Sun are written by guitarist Marco Heubaum, but Lisa also lends a hand. Marco's lyrics are of the more magical and fantastical variety, that could sound incredibly cheesy if sung by the wrong person, where as Lisa's are more personal and about love. For example, the sixth song is called "Casablanca" (for some reason), and is about sirens and temptation. Contrast that with "Forever Yours", a song that is credited to be written by Middelhauve alone, which is a proclamation of eternal love. This song, by the way is "für Marco" in the booklet, which is funny to me, because not only did Middelhauve marry a different band member two years later, but in the last ten years since Lisa's departure from the band it has become public knowledge that the two don't even like each other as people. What beautiful irony, I think this feeling is what the Germans call schadenfreude.

Anyway, this derivative piece of work isn't completely void of surprises. Lisa shows off her range by singing the verses of "She's Nirvana" as though there are two singers, a man and a woman, but in reality there is not. Not to mention there's a single cello used throughout that song as well, that provides a beautiful melody in between verses (maybe adding it to the rest of the album could've added more flare and depth, but it is what it is). Another thing that made me raise an eyebrow, was a forty-second interlude of Spanish guitars (like, Malagueña style) in the middle of the closing track "Calyx Virage", which would've been another nothing little song if it weren't for that unusual inclusion.

All in all, I like this album a lot. This style of laid-back symphonic pop metal really works for me, and that is a matter of personal taste. But despite my love for this band, I could never bring myself to think that they would be part of the symphonic metal pantheon among innovators of the genre like Therion, Nightwish, Haggard, and Within Temptation. That's something that people need to realize, popular now is not the same thing as being an influence on the greater discourse fifteen years ago -- but by all means, listen to what you like (though you should probably listen to this).

Somewhat lacking, but very charming. - 75%

Napalm_Satan, June 26th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2008, CD, Artoffact Records

Until the masterful Sacrificium Xandria were always languishing among the third tier of notability when it came to symphonic metal, just a hair's width above the endless sea of unremarkable Within Temptation, After Forever and Nightwish copycats, with this album going a long way to explain why. It doesn't really reinvent the wheel and I wouldn't call it amazing or anything, but even then the charms of well executed symphonic metal are present here in spades.

In this genre there is a balance to be struck between the combined unit of the keyboards, vocals and the rest of the instruments, which in practice either means that the guitars are at the forefront or they are buried behind the keys, and Xandria actually go for the former here, with the guitars shoving aside the keyboard lines when given the chance. The riffs however aren't terribly aggressive and really just serve to back the more energetic parts of a song (the hooks, basically) with a bit of crunch. The vast majority of the riffs are just chugs and chord strums, but even these aren't present for most of the songs, in favour of vocals over bass verses that highlight the singing and how it melds with the keys.

This album, as you would expect, is full of twinkling keyboard and piano lines, everywhere. They aren't quite as overt as those of Within Temptation; rather they carry the melody in the songs in a more subtle fashion as to make the vocals fit the song better. Stuff like the opening piano line to 'Mermaids' is so memorable that it is worrying, and the album has multiple instances of little ideas like this. But as is the case with the best acts in the genre the star of the show is Lisa Schaphaus-Middelhauve (henceforth Lisa), who utilises a breathy and conventional vocal delivery, which is refreshing alongside a sea of operatic warblers. Her range isn't incredible but she does have a soulful, beautiful and emotive voice that combined with the simple but well-crafted vocal lines makes for a memorable and enjoyable listen. The songwriting is used to her advantage too, with soft verses leading into endless bombastic hooks that keep the listener engaged throughout the album.

The pervading sentiment, however, is that it is 'nothing special'. Something like 'Mermaids' with its loopy melodies and particularly lovely vocal performance hints at the potential, and it is a very nice album, but it doesn't blow my socks off or anything. It isn't terribly epic, it isn't searingly beautiful or memorable, it is merely a pretty good album. It doesn't do a whole lot to stand out, but with a bit of work and fine-tuning this band would crank out one of the best albums in the symphonic metal pantheon. For now though, they are merely good and are well worth a few listens.