Reviewed by Brian Kelman
Symphonic Gothic Metal Band Xandria, originally from Bielefeld, Germany, has released a perfectly balanced and deftly written magnum opus.
Imagine having to replace the singer (Lisa Middelhauve, nee Schaphaus) that helped the band make it a name for itself with one (Manuela Kraller) who left after only one, highly acclaimed, album (Neverworld’s End). Is it any wonder that fans of symphonic metal in general and Xandria in particular would await their new album with a little trepidation? Well….worry no more. Dutch born Dianne van Geirsbergen (ex Libris) has more than filled those big shoes. Her performance on Sacrificium is, in a word, stunning. In a class unto herself no comparison with others in the sub-genre will be forthcoming here. My only complaint of Dianne, and the album, is that I needed to keep the lyric sheet handy at first since her multi-octive performance left me at a loss as to what words she was singing at times. It was also refreshing not to have to hear or decipher any harsh vocals as well.
Sacrificium exudes unmatched atmosphere, depth and power. From Dianne’s voice, despite being a perfect fit with this incredible power, displays versatility in its richness and emotion; Gerit Lamm’s thunderous percussion; the depth of newcomer Steven Wussow’s bass lines; and Marco Heubaum’s and Philip Restmeirer’s aggressive guitars and emotive solos; the expert arrangement of the choir ‘of the sacrificed’, the PA’dam of the Netherlands (which sounds incredible in range and harmony); and finally the dramatic string passages enmeshed with the whole. What you have as a whole is a perfectly balanced symphonic metal masterpiece; a magnum opus not just for the band but also for the sub-genre as whole.
While Nightwish abandoned the ground that they ruled by the middle of the last decade by following the trend to dress the sub-genre in mismatching pop clothes, Xandria has boldly moved in and claimed ownership. In many ways superior to its previous owners: lyrically (mostly Heubaum but Dianne wrote two tracks) Sacrificium is deeper in scope (the song writing in general being on a par with Lanvall of Edenbridge) rather than naïve and juvenile; the guitars (especially lead parts) are far more dynamic since they are not kept on such a short leash; and the blending of elements is far more integrated, for example.
Is it any surprise that the co-production (along with Marco Heubaum) and the orchestral and choir arrangements were the expert work by none other than Joost van den Broek (Epica, The Quantum Enigma)? All parts of the album are perfectly timed; they instinctively know when to be serene and when to be heavy and when to rein it in and when to let it loose.
The title track leads off the album. For 10:07, Sacrificium gives the listener a taste of things to come. It is as good a lead track as any in the sub-genre. It has all the perfect blend of all elements described above that follow from the remainder of the songs. From the glory of Nightfall; the haunting but catchy Dreamkeeper; the symphonic richness of Stardust; the intense atmosphere of The Undiscovered Land and Our Neverworld; the the refreshingly folk inspired Until The End and Temple of Hate; the ferociously heavy Betrayer; the mega riffing erotica of Little Red Relish; the melancholic Sweet Atonement featuring Dianne accompanied by violin and piano; and finally Come With Me which is a melodic ‘twin’ in Nightwish ‘The Carpenter’ and ‘Come Cover Me’ (perhaps a statement of you can do it but we do it better?).
Xandria’s Sacrificium has successfully laid claim to the top of the Symphonic Metal heap. The bar has been raised. Are there any takers out there that can outdo Sacrificium? Time will tell.
Overall Rating: 4.8/5