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Xandria: Neverworld's End

Xandria is best known for their famous video for the track, "Ravenheart", off their second album of the same name, released in 2004. The video and song are considered to be a classic of the female lead metal genre. This Bielefeld, German band is made up of Manuela Kraller, on vocals; Philip Restmeier and Marco Heubaum, on guitar; Nils Middlehauve, on bass; and Gerit Lamm, on drums.

This band deserves to join the Napalm Records Pantheon of female lead symphonic metal bands. Napalm has created an unmatched stable of bands in this genre including, Edenbridge, Stream of Passion, Nemesea, and Visions of Atlantis. Thankfully there are no controls on the monopoly of talent in the recording industry, because Napalm has got a lock on the female lead symphonic metal genre. The label's talent recruiter/developer should win an award for the vast talent he/she has assembled.

But enough about Napalm…on to Xandria!

Why do they belong in the Pantheon? Well, let's start with Manuela Kraller. She possesses distinct vocals with plenty of range that do not make you want to turn down the volume or the treble nob. Kraller's vocals give Xandria that extra edge that others in this genre do not possess. But that is only the glorious beginning. The match of innovative lead guitar licks and perfect keyboard interludes helps define their sound and provide the distinctive moments which separates them from the rest of the bands in the genre.

This is the album to shoot for this year, in this genre. The engineering, production, orchestration, and mixing is all set at elite levels.

The gauntlet has been laid down. Right now Xandria's hand is full of aces!

Now, let's get into the album…!

1. A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall opens with bold…symphonic strings, keys, choirs, and thundering drums, befitting the title. A minute and a half of power symphonic sound, before the launching guitars, keys and pounding drums rocket this masterpiece, demonstrating perfectly the wonderful mix of guitars and keyboards I spoke of earlier. Then we get Kraller's first vocals, as she grabs your interest immediately, and never let's go. She has a very intricate way of sounding out the words, "I am the one that is walking the night. Sleepless, I'm dreaming - eyes wide open"; with clear cool precision, before she wraps your eardrums in soft enveloping melodies that caress from the heart, "I keep on hoping for this world to survive…to keep me alive". The rhythmic power of that drum beat, set against the crystal clear sound of the keys and guitars is just awesome. This track is a great opener, and gets the action started powerfully and full of magic. It is easily one of the best songs on the album. Kraller's operatic power is unmatched on this track and close to my favorite singer in this genre, Sabine Edelsbacher. "So for all you ever desired, you wanted to be was shining so bright, but only a dream". Kraller's vocals take on otherworldly qualities, especially surrounded by the full tilt of the drums, orchestrated keys, buzzing guitars and an ocean full of sound coming at you at full peg through the speakers. Her whispering forbiddance simply sounds amazing. As the track ends you almost feel like the wave of music is going to come crashing through the speakers.

2. Valentine, the album's first single, was launched with a music video on Valentine's Day, 2012. The track blasts forward, fueled on the propellant of guitars, heavy bass and launching drums, with Kraller's vocals leading the way. It doesn't have the magic of the opener, but Kraller's vocals rise beyond the wave of sound supporting her like a flag in front of a marching army. Her choruses are simply spectacular! Though the accompanying music video released for this track lacks the power and vision summed up in the lyrics and storyline, Valentine is another excellent track.

3. Forevermore is another of the best songs on the album. This track slows the pace after the fiery openers, giving all listeners a chance to appreciate Kraller's softer side. I think you'll like both sides. She has an uncanny ability of being able to raise the level of her vocals without blowing out your ears. True talent, or excellent engineering and mixing? I'll enjoy the power and grace and let the experts decide.

4. Euphoria opens with excellent strings and drums, and eerie echoing keyboards surrounding the soundscape. Kraller's vocals reach out as heavy bass, ripping guitars, and excellent pulsating drums fill the air. Heubaum adds some male vocals to the mix to take things even further into the darkness. The piano has a familiar Stream of Passion ring to it, but it works as a compliment. The ripping guitar is let loose with accompanying keys and we are off and running. "Say goodbye to the dreams destroyed fantasies". The way Kraller sings the word "Euphoria" will almost make your eyes water.

5.Blood on My Hands is another powerful guitar, bass, and drum masterpiece. But it opens with Kraller first, "Silver stars in my black night. Cold as ice, but beautiful". The storming drums, orchestration, bass, and slicing guitars are back. Kraller's vocals are supported well by the choir – like surrounding voices.

6. Soulcrusher is the heaviest and darkest track on the album. Kraller and the gang really amp the power beyond the frost line on this one. Kraller's vocals rip in tune with the guitars as bass mines explode behind storming drums. The guitar solos are worth the price of admission alone, but those drum romps really soar. Spoken male lyrics add to the effects, then a blistering combo of drums, bass, explosive keys, glazing guitars and Keller chanting in the background. Wow!

7. After the last one you need a break, and The Dream is Still Alive provides it. Beautiful piano, orchestration with accompanying strings, and Kraller's matching vocals. This track has a Celtic feel to it. You can hear Kraller's sigh as if she just finished singing Soulcrusher and is trying to catch her breath. The sigh provides the illusion that she sang the album from beginning to end, and it adds a great effect.

8. The Lost Elysion brings the return of Kraller's operatic voice with the vast accompanying orchestration. Her chanting is just stellar! Those pounding drums are some of the best I've heard this year. Excellent drum rhythms can be found throughout this production. Melodies and lyrics that stick with you beyond the initial listen.

9. Wonderful strings enter the soundscape, along with some Celtic rhythms to open Call of the Wind. Kraller's vocals are directing and calling the spirit of all who will listen to follow. The choirs are excellent, but Kraller's the leader of this show. Devastatingly beautiful ending on this one. The sounds of Karnataka mixed with a powerful North wind of orchestration behind it!

10. A Thousand Letters is another beautiful example of Kraller's soft side. This is a great example of what might happen if Stream of Passion was mixed with the UK prog band Karnataka for a song. Great inspiration. Celtic themes set to powerful German drumming and guitar, with an operatic butterfly floating about.

11. Cursed brings more German thunder after another great Celtic – like jig opening. Those drums again fire up the soundscape. A "Ride of the Valkyries" taken beyond the imagination of Wagner himself. Stomping drums and pounding guitars set to violin nuances and Kraller's vocals.

12. If you're not convinced this is one of the best albums of 2012, so far, then, The Nomad´s Crown, the album closer, ought to do the trick. This track has a decidedly Eastern feel and sound to the opening. What more can I say that I haven't already? The drums, blistering guitar solos, orchestrated keys and strings, and of course Kraller's vocals fill your ears and leave you with a feeling that you have experienced more than an album, you have experienced an event.

Track Listing:

1. A Prophecy Of Worlds To Fall
2. Valentine
3. Forevermore
5. Euphoria
4. Blood On My Hands
6. Soulcrusher
7. The Dream is Still Alive
8. The Lost Elysion
9. Call Of The Wind
10. A Thousand letters
11. Cursed
12. The Nomad´s Crown

Added: February 18th 2012
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link:
Hits: 5053
Language: english

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Xandria: Neverworld's End
Posted by Carl Sederholm, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-02-20 15:44:28
My Score:

For the last few years, I've been discovering all the relatively new female-fronted symphonic metal bands. I've never made a secret of my preference for Leaves' Eyes, but I have been increasingly impressed with the range of work that I'm hearing from bands like Kells, Epica, and Nemesea. As I listened to Neverworld's End, I quickly decided that Xandria is one of my new favorite symphonic metal bands. The opening track alone is enough to convince most listeners that these guys are serious about raising symphonic metal to a new level of drive and excitement. I was especially drawn to the way they use their symphonic strings and percussion to punctuate the beat created mostly by the drums, bass, and guitars. Xandria is a heavy metal band with strings, a band that understands how the various instruments they use create an effective musical texture.

Xandria has been recording since 2003 and scored a hit in 2007 with Salomé--the Seventh Veil. Since then, they lost long-time singer Lisa Middelhauve and also her brief replacement, Kerstin Bischof. They are now fronted by Manuela Kraller, a woman with a cool, gothic-like flair who also happens to have a bold and beautiful voice. She has a clean, melodic style with just enough use of vibrato to bring to mind her classical training. She fits well with the sound of this band.

I need to pay special tribute to the guitar work on Neverworld's End. Xandria has two guitar players, Marco Heubaum and Philip Restemeier. Listeners will love the way these guys blend heavy riffing with the larger symphonic sound of the band. I also enjoyed the way that the solo playing ranged from some simple and melodic solos to rapid, old-school, shredding. These guys also create some lovely harmonies that complement the booming strings and drums of the orchestral sounds. Symphonic metal doesn't always appreciate what talented guitarists can add to a band's sound. Listen to the outstanding solo on "A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall," for example, to see how well it blends innovative playing with great tone. Listen, too, for the judicious use of pinch harmonics throughout this album, but especially on tracks like "Valentine" and "Soulcrusher."

My only complaint about Neverworld's Endis that it starts out so boldly that some of the later tracks sound a little weak by comparison. I liked the final tracks on the album well enough, but they draw on a slightly different range of melodies and sounds than they did on the opening tracks. I don't mind the sounds of the violin and flute, neither do I mind the more folk-oriented melodies and sounds, but I didn't think the overall effect of the closing tracks was quite as strong. This was especially true given that the final track tries to capture a more epic feel with its length (nearly 10 minutes) and its diversity of sounds and textures. It works well enough, but I wouldn't end with it. Neverworld's End is, nevertheless, a recording that won't disappoint fans of well-played, generally hard-driving, symphonic metal.

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