Xandria – Sacrificium
Reviewed by Kylie McInnes
When I was at ProgPower USA (how often am I going to use that as a frame of reference?) and saw Xandria being announced for the 2013 lineup. I initially mentally wrote the band off as “Yet Another Nightwish Clone” after hearing a few of its older tracks, trying to give them a once-over in anticipation of the bands I actually wanted to see (namely Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody and Armored Saint). What I had heard was mostly older stuff with Lisa Middelhauve on vocals, but when I heard 2012’s Neverworld’s End with then-new vocalist Manuela Kraller, I was impressed, and it became a belated favorite from that year. When I first heard about a follow-up, I had it figured for another solid album due in 2014, along with every other major release that was slated for an early-mid ’14 release. I never would have had it slated as potential “Album Of The Year” material, considering some of my absolute favorite groups both new (Ancient Bards, Sinbreed) and old (Gamma Ray, Sonata Arctica) had been releasing amazing snippets of their forthcoming works.
I say that because this has been kicking my ass since the first time I gave it a spin (my hard drive isn’t solid state, so that counts as a “spin,” right?). Sacrificium is Nightwish, if that band had been featured in one of Marvel’s “What If…?” series and had progressed more in line with Oceanborn than Wishmaster (not that it sounds like Oceanborn II, just if that had become the Big N’s “sound”). Given that guitarist Marco Heubaum is the group’s primary songwriter, it does make perfect sense to get the heavier and more more “riffy” feel while still being undoubtedly “symphonic power metal.” Since tracks like “Devil And The Deep Dark Ocean” and “The Pharaoh Sails To Orion” are among my favorite Nightwish songs, this is the album I’d been secretly hoping Tuomos & Co. would drop since Once.
New vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen was seamlessly slipped in (then again, the one thing about classically trained vocalists is that there are generally enough of them with similar range and timbre that they can be replaced without much notice, especially if they’re not a songwriter). The monster opening title track really sets the tone for the entire album. Crunchy guitar riffs, great flow between heavy half-time and even heavier double-bass drumming, and the vocals are damn near perfect (even the backing vocals are a highlight, providing great countermelodies).
Jumping around a bit, “Betrayer” is the “yup, we can thrash, we just choose not to…most of the time” track, something that I tend to write off when it’s poorly done and doesn’t mesh with the rest of the album. Here however, it’s a perfect complement to the aggressiveness of “Sacrificium” that doesn’t necessarily stand out from a compositional perspective. It’s just a more-fun-than-a-barrel-of-monkeys symphonic quasi-thrash track.
“Nightfall” and “Little Red Relish” are single bait, but that’s what happens when you get something more catchy and infectious than a bad flu without sacrificing the quality (repeat after me: “catchy is good!”). Both are among my favorites on the album (the latter really reminding me of the more “poppy” tracks on Oceanborn). “Dreamkeeper” is along the same lines, but hits a bit more heavy while still retaining the lethal sense of melody that Mr. Heubaum has an overabundance of.
Honestly, I don’t have anything to complain about here. Every single song on, even the piano ballad “Sweet Atonement”, stands up on its own as a wonderful piece of symphonic Euro-metal. I’ve even had a difficult time picking out one or two absolute standout tracks (something that normally comes easily, even on a great album). There’s something for everyone who enjoys this subgenre of metal; if you like heavier, rockier stuff, you have “Sacrificium” and “Betrayer,” and if you’d rather listen to something a bit tamer, “Stardust” and “Come With Me” should be right up your alley.
Xandria followed up what should have been an impossible-to-follow-up album (especially given the circumstances: new vocalist and whatnot) with an instant classic. If Xandria wasn’t on the Mt. Rushmore of symphonic metal already, let this be the reason someone chisels the logo into a giant slab of granite for all to admire. So if you’re like me, and wish Nightwish had made a true successor to Oceanborn (or even Century Child), Sacrificium should more than appease your lust for music. This album hits a perfect chord with my heartstrings, and I can’t say I’m not deeply in love with it.