Xandria – Neverworld’s End
This album has been so long in coming it’s almost surreal that it’s actually on the verge of release. German Gothic group Xandria hasn’t put out anything since 2008’s compilation Now & Forever: Best of Xandria, and their last original work came out the year before that in the form of Salomé – The Seventh Veil. Back then, and since Xandria started releasing albums in 2003, Lisa Middlehauve, wife of current bassist Nils Middlehauve, was the vocalist and pianist until she quit the band for personal reasons in 2008. For a year between 2009 and 2010, Kirsten Bischof added a classical vocal touch to the mix. Kirsten left, and in 2011 Xandria announced that classical soprano and ex-Haggard vocalist Manuela Kraller was taking over as front woman.
Before Netherworld’s End, Xandria was very good at creating nice, pleasant-sounding Gothic metal with simpler song structures, and their beauty was in their simplicity. Combined with Lisa’s unique voice that had a charming warmth and shyness to it, Xandria had something really great going on. With the hiring of Kerstin, a change in approach was anticipated, and with Manu now at the vocal helm, Xandria’s transformation is complete.
The short story is that Neverworld’s End is an extraordinary piece of symphonic power metal. Comparisons to Epica and Nightwish have been inevitable, but they are at least valid. This is not the Xandria we have seen or heard before. This is a band that could be the next powerhouse of the genre.
Manu, who didn’t start singing lessons until she was 23, has a phenomenal voice that could become a genre legend. She is that good, that polished, and that sophisticated. Her classical style is beautiful, but what she offers in addition to that is a lot of versatility. We hear some aggression, we hear hear her very soft, vulnerable side, and we hear someone who is very talented at conveying a ton of emotion. In fact, I think she’s a better singer than Simone Simons, whom I have always liked but not necessarily always been completely convinced by.
As a work of symphonic power metal, Neverworld’s End outshines anything Nightwish has put out since Wishmaster (believe me, it pains me to say that) and eclipses, in my opinion, some of the other big names in the genre as well.
The songwriting is completely different from Xandria’s past efforts. The songs are longer, more bombastic than anything they’ve produced before, and far more complex. The guitar work is vastly more complex and really has a lot to say. The songs are faster, more powerful, more progressive. The vocal harmonies, which were previously strong, are now, with the help of choirs and Manu’s range, exponentially more impressive. Xandria has plumbed the depths of their creativity and surfaced with gold.
There is no shortage of highlights on Neverworld’s End. The album starts out with the long, dark, catchy, and quite epic “A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall”. It’s a great introduction to Xandria’s new sound, and it remains true to the band’s Gothic, melancholy roots. The second track, the single entitled “Valentine”, for which there is also a video, follows in a similar vein, though it’s obviously slightly more suited for the radio than the previous song. By far my favourite song on the album is track three, “Forevermore.” Here Manu is at her most emotional, in my opinion, and the song has a great hook and a great atmosphere. Other stand-out songs are “Blood on My Hands” and the over nine-minute finale, “The Nomad’s Crown.”
Once this album is released (Feb. 22 and Feb. 24 for Europe and March 6 for North America) the comparison frenzy will commence. A lot of symphonic power metal aficionados will be debating the whole Xandria vs Nightwish/Epica thing. I will say this: despite my enthusiasm for this CD, I think the “old” Xandria had a more unique sound; they were gentle, mellower, and with Lisa’s voice’s distinctiveness, they had something going on that no other Gothic band really had. But, in the end, I appreciate and love both versions of Xandria. Neverworld’s End impressed me, and it was worth the long wait.
Allyson’s rating 4.0 out of 5