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To Nightwish and beyond - 90%

Empyreal, October 3rd, 2012

Wow. I seriously have never heard a band nail the old Nightwish formula as hard as Xandria have here. I had never heard of this band before, but Neverworld’s End, their newest release, is a really good, energetic take on a style that mostly relegates itself to pop-friendly streamlined sounds (that’s not necessarily a bad thing either), and if you liked Nightwish back in the day, this is really about as good as that band ever was. I mean, they even have the required Nightwish-esque bout of filler in the middle of the album. That’s some admirable dedication!

OK, but really - this is an excellent album. Xandria’s formula is heavy guitars, airy symphonic sounding keys and the breathy, luscious vocals of frontwoman Manuella Kraller, who is as close to a legitimate clone of Tarja Turunen that you can get. The sound isn’t really original at all, but that’s not what Xandria is about. Some bands are good because they branch out from the established order and create exciting new sounds, and some are good because they take what already existed and refine it to a polished sheen, which is what Xandria is good at. Hell, the first time I heard lead single “Valentine,” I said “damn, did someone just take a time machine and drag 2003-era Nightwish out of the past and make them record a new album?” I mean it’s seriously that close. The chorus is unabashed Once worship, the production has the same sort of downtuned, gothy sort of timbre to it and the structure, while a little busier than Nightwish got, is propulsive and smooth just like their idols' best hit singles. The resemblance is uncanny. But it’s a great song, with a monster hook and some tight riffing in between the keyboard parts, and can stand up with the best Nightwish songs with ease.

The whole sound of this album is just incredibly professional. One thing I like about this is how heavy it is, and how the guitars are playing real riffs rather than just strumming big chords in the background. On songs like “Soulcrusher,” Xandria show they can rock with the best of them. The best songs on here are just impeccably good, with real drive and momentum and the entire band working together to create hooky, majestic songs that flow with a big, unified sound and atmosphere. The whole first half is just great, with the daring “Prophecy of Worlds to Fall” setting the stage with its mature songwriting and celeritous melodies, and then leading into great songs like “Valentine,” the breathtakingly gorgeous “Forevermore,” the catchy “Euphoria” and maybe the album’s best song in “Blood on My Hands,” which is a tune that Nightwish couldn't match if they tried, with an instantly memorable chorus and towering melodies that you will never forget. “Soulcrusher” is a bit of an anomaly, heavier and meaner, but it’s probably the second best on here, and “The Lost Elysion” is a clinic in power metal glory with its soaring vocals and speedy riffs – awesome.

After that the album takes a bit of a dip with some weak ballads and “Call of the Winds,” which is a Middle Eastern-sounding jingle that just doesn’t stick, but the album regains momentum with “Cursed,” which gets some heaviness going, and 9-minute closer “The Nomad’s Crown,” which is the most mature and musically advanced song here, with riffs that build on one another like a game of Jenga and melodies that unfold like a blooming lotus. It surprisingly never gets dull and ends the album with class and a more cerebral, introspective note than one would expect from a band like this.

If the whole album was on the same level of quality as “Forevermore” or “Blood on My Hands,” which are two of the best symphonic metal songs I’ve ever heard, we’d be talking modern classic, but as it is, Xandria has still put out a great album in a style that doesn’t seem to be quite as popular these days. Neverworld’s End has some serious chops and despite the fact that its whole sound is basically old Nightwish albums cobbled up in a blender, shows a band with potential exploding in spades. The next release from these guys will be the test – can they live up to the potential? I don’t know. But I’ll be rooting for them.