Xandria – Neverworld’s End (2012) Album Review

Good old Xandria, how long has it been since I’ve seen this band releasing a new record. We speak about 5 fucking long years, 5 fucking long years filled only with break ups and recording halts. A time when the band pretty much toured and toured and toured some more, endlessly, waiting for a chance for stability within the band. Born in 1997 (at the same time with Nightwish) the band released a demo but soon disbanded only to reunite in 1999 with new members, new approach and ready to have a word to say in the symphonic metal realm, alongside other important bands such as After Forever, Nightwish, Tristania or Within Temptation.

Marco Heubaum is the sole remaining original member from the 1997 Xandira line-up, and the man that managed to rise Xandria from the ashes in 1999 by hiring new artists. He began with a vocalist, Lisa Middelhauve in 1999, a pretty talented woman with a tender, calm and sorrowful voice that would fit more into a gothic metal band. So it was the case, Xandria at the beginning was a gothic metal act and it remained a gothic metal band until Lisa’s departure. Until 2001 Marco hired three more members, Gerit Lamm responsible for drums, Philip Restermeier responsible for guitars and Nils Middelhauve at bass guitar. Everything went well for a couple of years and until 2007, Xandria released 4 full length albums, each surpassing its predecessor.

However, every good thing needs to have an end as well, and this event occurred in 2008 when the band was touring in order to promote their newest record Salome – The Seventh Veil, released back in 2007 via Drakkar Entertainment. A rather solid and impressive record, one of the best they’ve made until then, with memorable tracks such as the intro Save My Life, Beware, Salome or Sisters of the Light however, I always had the feeling that Xandria lacks essence. These records always wandered in between gothic and symphonic metal styles, yet they never actually managed to harmonize these two style. Even though the tracks were good, listenable and memorable, something did not really work, how much I admired Lisa Middelhauve, I must admit that her voice did not really enchant me that much, it was rather too mellow and too forgettable. The band faced the first obstacle since they’re reunion once Lisa Middelhauve gave them a notice that she is leaving the band in 2008. Not quite a decision that would put the band into a perfect position in order to change something, especially since they were still not done with promoting the new record, and the most important chess piece has been taken.

The band went on one year hiatus concentrating on auditions for a new vocalist. They found one, and hired her immediately, a female vocalist named Kerstin Bischoff a rather unknown vocalist, credited with one contribution for the German band Axis in 2006 where she performed female vocals on the bands 2006 record Paradise In Flames. She did not stand for long, as 2010 came and she decided to leave the band as well. At that moment I lost my hopes in Xandria and I believed that it will not be long until they will announce the bands second disbandment. To my surprise, they decided to hire Lisa Middelhauve for several concerts only as a live performer and not as permanent member, until they will find a permanent vocalist. They did it in 2011, and her name is Manuela Kraller, a songstress that will bring a change into Xandria’s playing style given by her soprano high pitched voice.

Things went smoothly with this new singer, I even saw them live with her once, and the band clearly had the essence that I was looking for, the only thing that needed to be done was a new record, that would show the world how capable Xandria is and how talented the new songstress is as well. My expectations were met and in the autumn of 2011 the band confirmed that they were going to release a new record in early 2012 with Manuela Kraller as their front woman. Neverworld’s End, for me reflects the end of an era for a brilliant band, an episode similar with the one Nightwish faced in 2005 after Tarja Turunen‘s departure, a line-up change that affected their playing style too. Here the episode is reversed, Xandria changed into what Nightwish was when Tarja was still part of the band.

Those expecting another Salome kind of representation, they will be disappointed because we have a representation in this album similar with Nightwish’s older works featured on albums such as Oceanborn or Wishmaster. Manuela Kraller seems like a Tarja clone, however a very crafty one, a very talented with a hunger for singing and performing. On this record we witness a more symphonic operatic Xandria than ever, it represents a major change in their style, but also a new beginning, which in my opinion is a promising beginning. This disc is absolutely brilliant, I felt chills that I never felt before from other Xandria albums or even from Nightwish’s albums. The old Xandria was not completely erased, as some tracks still retain the old style, like Forevermore or The Dream Is Still Alive, though the way Manuela sings in them is much better and much more appealing to the ears than Lisa’s performance. Basically, the style that made Xandria unique has almost disappeared in this album, but I think this new approach suits them as well, especially with such a talented songstress. I mean come on, it’s not like they copy other bands, the members clearly placed their marks on this record and it is very different from Tuomas’s compositions.

The album beings with A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall the second longest track on this album, and the second longest track in their entire discography, a track that reveal the atmospheric potential that this record has to offer. It descends into the 2nd track Valentine, a track which features perfect instrument harmony bending all the sounds into a perfect track, no wonder that it was chosen as the track that will promote this album with a video. Other memorable songs are Euphoria, in my opinion the best track of this album and Soulcrusher along with The Lost Elysion, the heaviest tracks on this record. Call of The Wind has a lot of common elements with I Want My Tears Back from Nightwish’s latest album Imaginaerum. Blood On My Hands is yet another nicely done track given by the flawless performance displayed by Manuela while the last two tracks Cursed and The Nomad’s Crown depict celtic folk elements as well as oriental elements.

A splendid come back done by Xandria, with an album that proves to be a serious candidate this year for the best symphonic metal album considering the fact that there are other competitors awaiting to unleash their newest works like Diabulus In Musica, Delain or Epica. With Neverworld’s End, Xandria revived the old Nightwish age with Tarja as their vocalist but this time we have a much more dynamic and talented songstress, Manuela Kraller which also sings in the band Haggard, a band that constantly changes its line-up at every album, at every concert. One thing is for sure, if she wished for stability in order to unleash her potential, she might be able to find it in Xandria, seeing that this band was hardly struck by unfortunate departures and recording halts for quite a while so I believe that the other band members wish to keep the line-up intact for a long time. If you want to listen to a metal album this year, think no more, pick up Xandria’s Neverworld’s End and be prepared for a feast of audible pleasure.

Overall Impression: 100/100