Xandria - The Wonders Still Awaiting review
|Album:||The Wonders Still Awaiting|
|Release date:||February 2023|
01. Two Worlds
03. You Will Never Be Our God [feat. Ralf Scheepers]
04. The Wonders Still Awaiting
06. Your Stories I'll Remember
07. My Curse Is My Redemption
08. Illusion Is Their Name
10. Mirror Of Time
12. The Maiden And The Child
Here it is, the review of the February 2023 album that’s the first outing of the new-look version of a symphonic metal heavyweight, after the band’s founding keyboardist kicked out everyone else a year or so ago... wait, why are you telling me that Omne already reviewed the new Delain album? I'm talking about the new Xandria record, obviously.
2023 seems to be bringing up all kinds of unusual patterns. I’ve already reviewed three albums that reacquainted me with bands that I discovered in 2015 and subsequently lost track of for 8 years, and now there’s been two records on consecutive weekends from symphonic metal bands that are barely recognizable from how they were at the start of this decade. There are some differences between Delain and Xandria, even if the two groups both had early-career hiatuses and have accumulated about as many ex-members as one another by now (gosh, I love strange parallels); to start with, Delain are Dutch and Xandria are Deutsch. Beyond that, Marco Heubaum is Xandria’s keyboardist, but is also their rhythm guitarist and former vocalist. Additionally, while two of last year’s departing musicians (guitarist Philip Restemeier and drummer Gerit Lamm) had been around for a couple of decades, the vocalist role has had a far more turbulent history, with no one remotely as synonymous with the position as Charlotte Wessels had become in Delain, so there’s far less whiplash hearing someone new behind the microphone.
The latest person to fill the role is Greek/French singer Ambre Vourvahis; from what I can tell from searching online, this is her first full band position, although she did perform live with Fragment Soul last year. The vocals she was performing with them had been recorded on Axiom Of Choice by Heike Langhans; Vourvahis doesn’t descend into the same deep range of Langhans on The Wonders Still Awaiting, but also isn’t an operatic soprano like Manuela Kraller, whose sole record with Xandria, the Nightwish-esque Neverworld’s End, is my main previous experience with the group. Vourvahis is less Tarja and more Anette in tone, or perhaps Ad Infinitum’s Melissa Bonny is a more accurate comparison, particularly with their similar growling abilities. It’s a difference in approach that’s reflected in the music, as Xandria v2.023 far less closely resemble a Nightwish tribute act than they did on Neverworld’s End back in 2012.
Xandria come out of the blocks with panache on The Wonders Still Awaiting with “Two Worlds”, a song with a memorable up-tempo power metal chorus that effectively integrates symphonics and choirs while still giving Vourvahis the centre of stage to unleash both her cleans and growls. Admittedly though, it does feel like in passages here and elsewhere where the band seemingly wanted an operatic lead voice that they end up burying her voice within those of the choir’s. The album is frontloaded with the songs released as advance singles; of these, “Reborn” is a solid mid-tempo rocker with a dramatic chorus and emotive bridge, while Primal Fear’s Ralf Scheepers makes a nice contribution to the key moments in the powerful “You Will Never Be Our God”.
The album has some solid variety, without ever threatening to move outside of its primary genre. From the more anthemic “Ghosts” to the balladic “Your Stories I’ll Remember”, and from the more aggressive “Mirror Of Time” to the more mellow “Scars”, there’s healthy range here. The songs also score fairly highly on the memorability scale, particularly the likes of “Ghosts” and “Mirror Of Time”. Arguably the album’s piece de resistance, however, is the 9-minute closer “Astéria”, an extravagant effort featuring oriental melodies, soaring soprano singing from Vourvahis, a solid guitar solo, and some powerful musical swells.
This has all been pretty positive thus far, and overall The Wonders Still Awaiting is a solid first outing for the newest version of Xandria. However, it’s not an exceptional package, which becomes a problem when you factor in the fact that this album is a whopping 75 minutes long. I will say that I’ve usually managed to get fairly far into this record on full album playthroughs before becoming truly restless, but there’s simply not enough captivating material here for it to remaining engaging the whole way through. Everything I’ve said above about the songs being relatively varied, satisfying and memorable, all of that is still relative; there’s nothing here that threatens the quality of prime Nightwish material, and I’m not sure I’d take any songs here over most of those on an album of the quality of Ad Infinitum’s recent symphonic metal debut Chapter I: Monarchy. It’s a solidly consistent listen with few standout songs or moments, and that ultimately becomes an issue when stretched out this much.
Still, while a touch of self-editing wouldn’t go amiss going forward, there’s good signs that Xandria can gather some momentum if they can keep the current line-up relatively intact; certainly, I'm more taken with The Wonders Still Awaiting than what the new Delain managed on Dark Waters. Hopefully they can also avoid more of that signature symphonic metal lead vocalist drama, as they’ve made a very strong hire with Vourvahis.
||Written on 16.02.2023 by|
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