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Great album that's mistaken to be like old Xandria - 90%

Kritus Irilkemar, November 1st, 2012

The first thing of note is that this album is very much NOT like Xandria's previous offerings. Many a reviewer will tell you that it is, but it is not. Older Xandria stuff was, indeed, created for a rather specific audience: gothic metal fans. This album is not like Xandria's older albums because this album lacks those gothic overtones that filled their previous offerings.

It could instead be argued that this album is more along the lines of symphonic metal. Gothic metal is known for being less ambitious in its use of symphony, and is often cheesy in its usage of such instruments. This album instead goes full-blast with the symphony, to the point that it sounds like Equilibrium with a female singer at the lead. Getting compared to Equilibrium is a good thing, mind you. In this album, Xandria focuses less on the guitar, bass, and drums in favor of the symphony. This was not true of their previous offerings. Although focusing less on the fundamental instruments of metal is an aspect one would naturally use to detract from an album's score, it works here because the symphonic work is borderline cinematic. A few songs stick to the old Xandria formula, namely "The Dream Is Still Alive" and "A Thousand Letters", but that's only 2 songs out of 12 (14 if you have the bonus tracks), and I doubt Xandria would fancy alienating their old fanbase.

As someone who does not care about lyrics and instead listens to music for music itself, I can still cringe at some terrible lyrics. But these lyrics, although still skewed toward themes Xandria has stuck with since its inception, do not make me cringe. This is not to say that the lyrics comprise deep, complex narratives that are a must-hear--again, they are still about love or deep inner feelings--but they aren't going to make you wish you never heard the album.

Now let's talk about the vocals. For those of you out of the loop, this album's vocals are not supplied by Lisa Middelhauve, the vocalist on all of Xandria's previous albums. In 2010, that vocalist left, and Xandria got another to tour with them. Then, even later, that vocalist left as well, and Xandria then picked up their current one, Manuela Kraller, who provided the vocals on this album.

Middelhauve's singing voice could be described as "angsty, breathy, and modern", a type of singing voice that is seemingly made for gothic metal, if the subgenre's MVPs are any indication. In contrast, I can only describe Kraller's singing voice as powerful, operatic, and downright beautiful. She has a wide range, being able to sing more mellow while also being capable of sounding as though she belongs to the opera as a lead character. In many songs, the band uses this to their advantage by layering together various tracks of Kraller's singing to produce the effect of a powerful operatic chorus. This is most notable in "Nomad's Crown", in which for much of the song, Kraller sings mellow... but then, towards the end of the song, we hear no less than five different operatic (I apologize for using that word so much) vocal tracks running simultaneously on top of the aforementioned symphony and the electric guitar plus the double-kick drums, and it absolutely blew me away. The vocals are unarguably the absolute strongest point of the album.

Another aspect I should mention is that the album doesn't quite remain purely symphonic for the entirety (the two aforementioned old-style Xandria songs notwithstanding); once you get past "Soulcrusher", many of the songs take on a more folksy vibe. "Call of the Wind", "Cursed", and parts of "Nomad's Crown", although remaining symphonic, incorporate several folk elements, mostly in the form of sound and riffs. The primary riff of "Cursed", for example, brings Vikings or Britons to mind, and if that doesn't indicate folk influence, I do not know what does. This is not a bad thing in the slightest; I actually quite appreciate it. It should just be noted in case any readers are particularly averse to folk metal or folk music.

All in all, this album is excellent, with wonderful symphony and breathtaking vocals. If you enjoy symphonic metal at all, or even just symphonic music, you should seriously consider picking this album up. Don't allow your past experience with Xandria to skew your decision.