Release Date: February 24, 2012 (EU), March 6, 2012 (NA)
Germany’s symphonic metal merchant, Xandria, returns this month with its fifth studio album, Neverworld’s End. The new album, which won’t reach North American listeners until the first week of March, finds a return to heaviness missing on 2007’s Salomé – The Seventh Veil. This also marks the recorded debut of new front woman Manuela Kraller (ex –Haggard), and the band’s debut for Napalm Records. In the five years since the band’s previous effort two singers have come and gone. With the emergence of Kraller the band once again has a dynamic vocalist with an operatic style voice that recalls former Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen. Not bad company to be equated with. That said, Kraller not only brings her own unique signature to the band, she infuses a fresh and energetic feel to Neverworld’s End.
There exists a majestic intensity on this new record, evident from the album opener, “A Prophecy Of Worlds To Fall”. The track rolls out with a darkly portentous atmospheric feel. The mid-tempo tracks build into a soaring piece that is grand and expansive with massive walls of sound, raging choral movements and a certain bombastic intensity. Any questions about the direction of Xandria are quickly laid to rest on this stunning opening salvo.
The album’s first video and single is “Valentine” comes up next with its dramatic and glorious symphonic rush. Crisp guitars by Marco Heubaum and Philip Restemeier swirl effortlessly around behemoth layers of Kraller’s blissful vocals lines. The rhythm section of bassist Nils Middelhauve and drummer Gerit Lamm add the perfect foundation, forceful and solid but understated in a way that does not detract from the centerpiece of the song.
Songs like “Forevermore” and “The Dream Is Still Alive” give the album its slower moments and come closest to the band’s earlier albums in style.
Meanwhile, “Euphoria” bounds about like an auditory call to war, while “Soul Crusher” sets off at a blistering pace before bringing the hammer down with relish.
The production throughout is excellent, and really helps tracks like “Blood On My Hands” and the middle-eastern flavored “Nomad’s Crown” live up to their lofty epic goals.
There are moments of richness and lush beauty, offset by heavy riffs and spiraling headbanging rhapsody. “Call of The Wind” even gives listeners a bit of folkish sound with mood-setting pipes and a blend of driving rhythms and inspired vocals. This segues nicely into the sonically eloquent “A Thousand Letters”. We get more of the Celtic nuance on “Cursed” which has a gritty edginess like the approaching march of death.
Track by track we are treated to moments that range from solid to exquisite symphonic metal. The band eschews some of its earlier more gothic leanings in favor of a sound that longtime Nightwish fans will identify with and enjoy. While one would rather not equate any band’s sound with that of another, through much of Neverworld’s End the comparison to Tarja’s earlier works with her former band are evident. However, it’s not done in a way that’s meant to replicate, rather it is simply the path Xandria‘s new sound is growing into. And a fine sound it is. We often hear band’s and critic’s rave that a band has released its best album to date, and quite often it is gratuitous hyperbole, but with Neverworld’s End, Xandria has now set a new standard it will have to work to eclipse.
In all, Xandria has offered up a formidable entry in the symphonic metal arena which looks to be a very crowded in 2012 by the likes of Nightwish, Epica, Diabulus in Musica and Delain, among numerous others. With Neverworld’s End the German symphonic metallers have carved out a new calling card and Kraller has quickly and decidedly made her enormous and vexing vocal presence known.
You can check out a track by track from founder Marco and Gerit below: