Xandria has gone through some difficult times in the last few years. Although they achieved some popularity in their native Germany, with their own brand of Gothic Metal, they failed to become as big as other bands in the genre like Within Temptation or Nightwish, perhaps because back in the early 2000s female-fronted bands were a dime a dozen.
Adding more complications, in 2008 Lisa Middelhauve, responsible for many of the band’s songs, left the band for personal reasons. Although Xandria found a replacement in Kerstin Bischof, with whom they even toured South America, she left the band before they even had a chance to record an album (a pity since, having seen her on tour, she was a great performer). By the end of 2010 it was announced that Manuela Kraller would be the new singer.
So, after almost 5 years, Xandria finally managed to hold a singer for enough time to go to the studio. But was it worth the wait?
Although I enjoyed Xandria’s previous releases, with songs such as Ravenheart, Kill the Sun and Save My Life (and even their ballad Eversleeping, which the younger, cornier, me actually thought was worth sending to my girlfriend at the time) I never really got into them. Perhaps it was the abuse of high-pichted panflutes or what I thought was an overly dramatic goth style (with the exception of Salomé – The Seventh Veil, which took a different direction) that kept me from becoming a true fan. Because of this, I didn’t have very high expectations for this album and was actually expecting some generic goth music for unappreciated teenagers. I’m happy to say that I was wrong.
Neverworld’s End is not only a new album… it’s a whole new band.
Xandria‘s sound has matured a lot in the last few years, which becomes obvious as soon as you start listening. “A Prophecy Of Worlds To Fall” sets the tone for the whole album, as a dramatic and powerful symphonic metal song. This opus, as well as others like “Valentine” and “The Nomad’s Crown”, would feel at home in classic albums of the genre like Oceanborn and Wishmaster. As a matter of fact, the whole album will remind you constantly of the Tarja era of Nightwish, not only because Manuella‘s voice can match that of Tarja, but also because the melodies and the ambiance created by the orchestral background.
Instrumentally, this is Xandria‘s best release. The riffs and solos in songs such as “Soulcrusher” and “Cursed” (the hardest songs in the album), as well as the drumming in “Call of the Wild” (which flirts with both folk and power metal) are a real delight, showing that the band doesn’t rely exclusively on the singer (which some female fronted bands do) but also possesses the necessary skills to be a serious player in the heavy metal scene (something that, in the case of Nightwsih, occurred thanks to Tuomas Holopainen‘s skills as a composer)
Power Ballads are, of course, not forgotten. “The Dream is Still Alive” and “A Thousand Letters” fulfill this requirement down to a T. Manuella’s voice conveys a lot of emotions, performing both pieces in a truly touching way. The emotions, however, are not limited to the ballads, since even powerful songs like “Euphoria“, “Blood on my Hands” and “The Lost Elysion” transmit feelings in a way that only a very talented singer can achieve.
Although not completely generic, the lyrics do fit well on the stereotype of the so-called “female fronted metal”, with mentions of lust, rape (this, oddly enough, in the most upbeat song of them all, “Euphoria”) and moonlight, so they’re not exactly something to write home about. Don’t get me wrong though, they do fit well with the music and don’t come off as ridiculous or childish… in the end, isn’t that what really matters?
The bottom line: Neverworld’s End is a terrific album and the band’s finest. They took a huge risk by choosing a singer that departed so much from the style set on their previous records by Lisa Middelhauve, so it’s good to know that it paid off.
Some critics may point to the similarities between this new incarnation of Xandria and Nightwish, claiming that the band is not doing anything new and that they rather limited themselves to play it safe and use a proven formula. It’s true, this is not a groundbreaking album and it won’t be remembered as a trend setter. However, it might very well be the album that catapults Xandria into the spotlight that they, without a doubt, deserve.