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Zine Main arrow Band Interviews arrow Xandria - Neverworld's End
Xandria - Neverworld's End
CD Reviews
Written by Sara Letourneau   
Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Xandria - CD Review
Neverworld's End
Xandria - Neverworld's End

 

CD Info

2012

Napalm Records / Austria

12 Tracks

English Lyrics

 

Welcome to Neverworld’s End, the highly anticipated fifth album by Xandria – and an album that almost never was. Since 2007, when Xandria released their previous album SaloméThe Seventh Veil, the German gothic metal act has gone through two changes in lead vocalist. First went long-time and beloved frontwoman Lisa Middelhauve in 2008, then Kerstin Bischof in 2009 after just one year of performing live and no recording sessions for the new album. Today, Xandria have entrusted their future in German soprano singer Manuela Kraller. And quite frankly, she’s the perfect choice for the new material. Because after one listen to Neverworld’s End, it’s clear that Xandria wanted to return to symphonic metal – and Neverworld’s End may be their ticket to the forefront of the genre.

Neverworld’s End marks Xandria’s return to the symphonic realm, which they first tested on their 2005 album India. At the same time, India didn’t stray too far from the oriental / Middle Eastern tinged gothic pop-metal roots that made Xandria’s music highly enjoyable for some metalheads and a mockery for others. With Neverworld’s End, the "pop factor" is now in the past. This record shows Xandria at their most metal and symphonic. Chugs and riffs galore, guitar solos aplenty, and double-kick drumming collide with a soaring soprano and bombastic string and choral arrangements. Wait– are we talking about Tarja-era Nightwish? Well, Neverworld’s End does bring back memories of Nightwish’s Once, and I have a feeling some critics and fans won’t forgive Xandria for this. Frankly, though, the songs on Neverworld’s End are terrific, from the melodies and structure to the overall execution of each track. And if the music is like kerosene, Kraller is the match that lights it up. She displays great control of her operatic voice and sounds comfortable at all ends of her range. Her clear English pronunciation also allows listeners to pick up on most of the lyrics the first time around. In fact, Kraller’s performance is so impressive, it’s hard to believe she’s only been singing for 7 years.

Xandria couldn’t have picked a more appropriate title for Neverworld’s End. Most of the songs have a grand, post-apocalyptic vibe that’s reflected in every manner. "A Prophecy Of Worlds To Fall" sets the tone by alternating between cinematic, crushing, and melodic moments and is easily Xandria’s most dynamic (and best) opener to date. The phantom-anthem "Soulcrusher," on the other hand, shows just how heavy the evolved Xandria can be. Punishing arrangements, sweeping strings, and crowd-ready sing-along refrains all help this song swell to its tsunami ending. Other numbers weave Middle Eastern mysticism and majesty ("The Nomad’s Crown"), fiddles and pirate’s tales ("Cursed"), and the rush of speed metal ("The Last Elysion") into the symphonic fabric.

Neverworld’s End also contains one of Xandria’s enduring strengths: insanely catchy songs. "Blood On My Hands," "Call Of The Wind," and first single "Valentine" are just a few that are guaranteed to stick in your head after only a couple of plays. "Call Of The Wind" in particular is a Riverdance-esque rocker with stomping rhythms and a lively violin. It’s so much fun to listen to that it makes you want to start some Irish step-dancing – with a little headbanging thrown in, of course! As for ballads, "The Dream Is Still Alive" is one of Xandria’s simplest and most affecting songs to date. Kraller’s voice especially trickles with emotion at the end of the second verse: "… The final brick in the wall / Was so hard for me to see / But now I see it all."

Other than "The Dream Is Still Alive" and "The Nomad’s Crown," the other ballads on Neverworld’s End aren’t that memorable. The weakest of them all is "A Thousand Letters," which feels like all the other Celtic-laced love-notes that Xandria have done before. And I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to think of Neverworld’s End when I first listened to it. I needed to get used to the band’s new direction before I could form an opinion about this record. However, if you listen to Neverworld’s End closely enough, you’ll realize that some aspects of the Xandria we’ve known for almost 10 years remain the same. Their music was famous and easily recognizable for its playfulness, sensuality, and whimsicality. Those qualities still exist on Neverworld’s End; they just manifest themselves in a grander, more mature way this time around.

And if I didn’t said so earlier, that new way for Xandria is so shockingly good that it will blow you backwards. I say "shockingly" because (in my opinion) the band showed only sparks of greatness on their previous albums. However, with Neverworld’s End – and with the help of the evocative Ms. Kraller – Xandria have finally broken down the gates of reservation and unleashed their full potential. That’s what makes Neverworld’s End much more than an average female-fronted metal album. It’s symphonic metal at its most unabashed, and it’s exceptionally composed and performed. Plus, at a time where some of symphonic metal’s heavyweights have moved away from the genre’s opera-tinged roots, it’s great to hear a band bring back a classic sound with flair and conviction. Who cares if it sounds like the old Nightwish? I don’t, not when Neverworld’s End is such an accomplishment. Look out, Epica and Within Temptation – and yes, Nightwish, you too. Here comes your new competition for the female-fronted symphonic metal throne.

9 / 10

Best Songs: "A Prophecy Of Worlds To Fall," "Soulcrusher," "Call Of The Wind"

Highly recommended for fans of Xandria’s India album and of bands such as Nightwish, Epica, After Forever, Edenbridge, and Leaves’ Eyes

Neverworld’s End will be released via Napalm Records in Europe on February 24 and in North America on March 6. Visit Xandria’s official website for more information on where to purchase the album.

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