Xandria - Sacrificium (2014)
Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
Germany’s home-brewed symphonic metal band Xandria has managed to survive and stand out among so many other similar acts that popped up at the end of the nineties when genre leaders like Nightwish had their breakthroughs. Xandria is mostly known for catchy songs such as “Ravenheart”, “The Lioness”, and “Sisters Of The Night”, but lately, the band has gone in a darker and more epic direction. Xandria has survived many important line-up changes, some of which occurred very recently. Bassist Nils Middelhauve left the band after eight years and was replaced by Fabio D’Amore for a few live shows before Steven Wussow was hired as a permanent replacement. The band also has a new singer: the Dutch Dianne van Giersbergen of Ex Libris fame. She is already the fifth lead singer for the band. The only original member remaining is guitarist, keyboardist, and occasional backing vocalist Marco Heubaum. I saw Xandria live in early 2008 when they supported Salomé – The Seventh Veil, and during a festival in the summer of 2012 quite a different line-up after the release of the critically acclaimed comeback release Neverworld’s End. I preferred the older line-up, and when I heard that the band went through several line-up changes again, I was curious to hear what the sixth studio album, Sacrificium, would sound like.
In my opinion, this has turned out to be the band’s greatest record; perhaps even one of the best genre albums ever composed. Xandria sounds more ambitious, epic, and symphonic than ever. The sound is also a lot fresher and heavier than expected. The opening title track breaks the ten-minute mark and strikes home with a dark spoken word introduction, bombastic choirs, dramatic string samples, powerful riffs, and tons of promising ideas. It’s courageous to open an album with such a song, and even though this track needs a few spins to open up, I would say it was well worth the risk to put it right at the start, as it brilliantly represents everything that Xandria is about in 2014. Gone are the childish melodies with simplistic lyrics, the short and catchy potential hit singles, and the gothic pop ballads for anime nerds or emo teenies. Say hello to ambitious and versatile song writing in the key of early to mid Nightwish: complex symphonic arrangements, as well as a hint of the brilliant Edenbridge, with a heavier sound that could even be compared to Epica. This is how symphonic metal should sound. Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation, who were this year’s disappointments to the femme-metal scene, should immediately take note.
Let me point out a few more highlights apart from the brilliant title track. This is not an easy task because there is no bad track on the album. “The Undiscovered Land” starts like a world music-inspired ballad, but becomes an epic soundtrack-like masterpiece with an elegant and powerful vocal performance, tear-jerking folk melodies, and gripping guitar riffs. If you liked the last two Nightwish records, you are going to adore this song. The last time a symphonic metal song impressed me this much at first listen was seven years ago when I heard Nightwish’s “The Poet And The Pendulum”.
What could a band forth after such a sophisticated mid-tempo soundtrack? Xandria gives us the right answer with “Betrayer”. This song is a bit faster and bears some thrash influence. It features gripping, emotional riffs and beautiful guitar solos, but also includes bombastic symphonic arrangements that develop an almost apocalyptic atmosphere. After the light and enchanting “The Undiscovered Land”, the almost destructive “Betrayer” sounds like its dark and wicked counterpart. There is nothing left to criticize, both songs are equally impressive and complement each other professionally. “Until The End” follows up this duo with some catchy hooks, and rounds out a trio of epic majesty.
“Little Red Relish” is maybe the catchiest track on the album thanks to a truly powerful chorus. In comparison to past efforts, this doesn’t keep the band from adding brutal and speedy guitar riffs and its signature orchestrations to this more accessible song. “Temple Of Hate” impresses next with its excellent guitar work. The twin leads and emotional solos sound like the legendary Iron Maiden, and the use of the violin makes me think of Irish folk music. The vocals in this song are even greater than usual, as they reach for nearly angelic heights without losing their grounding power.
Just when I thought that I’d heard the best vocal performance on the entire album, I am proven wrong with the very last song. Even though I’m not a big fan of piano ballads, the closing lullaby “Sweet Atonement” is performed with vocals full of soul and passion that are likely to break the fiercest metal hearts. I’m having massive goose bumps while I’m listening to this closer.
And no, it’s not over yet! The special edition of Sacrificium includes instrumental versions of all regular twelve songs, plus a bonus track entitled “The Watcher”. Once more, this bonus track features some great symphonic arrangements, powerful vocals, and one of the catchiest choruses among all the new songs. Other symphonic metal bands fail to write one song this memorable in their entire careers, and here it’s merely a bonus track!. This song alone is worth the extra money for the special edition, even though I don’t care for the instrumental versions. “The Watcher” would have been a perfect choice for a single along with “Little Red Relish”.
To reiterate: this is one of the very best female-fronted symphonic metal albums ever recorded. I’m deeply impressed and surprised by this ferocious rebirth of the band. The overused phoenix, rising from its ashes one can see on the beautiful album cover, never fit better than here. Anybody who cares the slightest for the symphonic metal genre has to purchase this album. It’s hard if not impossible for me to imagine a fan of this genre disliking such an outstanding record. Sorry for all the words: don’t lose any more time discovering this masterpiece!
4.75 // 5