CD and MP3 Xandria: The Wonders Still Awaiting (Napalm Records, 2023)
Short version: Despite the hiatus, they are as good as ever, with a thick sound and great lyrics that showcase very good vocals.
This has been a very rich winter and early spring for fans of symphonic metal. Avantasia, Twilight Force, Ad Infinitum, Dark Sarah, and Xandria all have new releases. Each is very different (OK, Twilight Force is pure Twilight Force, but they’re sui generis so you know what you’re getting.) Of these, Avantaisa and Xandria are the two I’d had the highest hopes for.
Xandria is probably my second-favorite symphonic metal group after Nightwish. Their music tends to be on the lyrical end of metal, with some numbers that are not “real” metal. They went into hiatus for a while, and rumor had it that they’d fully broken up and that was that. The rumor proved to be false. This album, the first in six years, is heavier than the bulk of their earlier work. The female vocals are less operatic overall, but just as good as earlier releases, and they work very well with the complex instrumentals, growls, and choral elements.
The preview songs, “You Will Never be My God” and “Wonders Still Awaiting” gave a good tease for the direction of this album. All the songs hold up, and repay close listening for both the music and the lyrics. The songs range from flat out heavy metal to introspective laments and meditations on memory and loss. All are very good. This far, I like “Wonders Still Awaiting,” “Two Worlds,” and “Your Stories I’ll Remember” the best, but there’s not a bad number on the album. It is longer than it sounds, and I didn’t realize that it’s over an hour. It’s that good.
The balance between guitars, vocals, and other instruments is very good. A full chorus fills out the recording, but never overpowers the other parts. Over-weighted instrumentals is a problem I’ve been hearing with a few other recordings, so kudos to the engineer and composer and arranger. All the parts are present, but they don’t drown the lead singer.
The album art is odd. Not quite Hyronemous Bosch strange, but definately goth.
Overall, I’d say the album is well worth the wait. It’s the first new release thus far to be everything I’d hoped for – rich, long, complex, with great vocals. I recommend it for fans of symphonic metal, people who like the Nightwish sound without Nightwish’s occasional occult inclinations, and goth-metal buffs. It’s not heavy-heavy, but it’s not pop, either.
FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this album for my own use and received no remuneration from the band or the record label for this review.