(2012) Xandria – Neverworld’s End

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The recent history of German metal act XANDRIA is a very tangled one, to say the least. Last decade they were on the brim of becoming one of symphonic metal’s powerhouse bands first with Manuela Kraller, then with Dianne van Giersbergen (EX LIBRIS)… but we all know how both of those potential paths panned out. It all started in 2012 when the band switched gears and, in a surprise move, released one of the genre’s best albums with “Neverworld’s End.” It is the only album to feature German soprano Manuela Kraller and was released on February 24, 2012, via Napalm Records.

In between Manuela Kraller’s wonderfully operatic vocals and Philip Restemeier and Marco Heubaum’s hefty guitar work, this album is the perfect marriage of headbanging moments and bombastic flair. It has all the attributes that qualify it as a worthwhile time investment into its 63-minute playtime. Without exaggeration, “Neverworld’s End” could easily find its place in the Tarja-era NIGHTWISH catalog. To clarify, this reference is totally complimentary as XANDRIA have taken that sound and refined it so as to get the best results and stand out from the crowd (which they achieved in spectacular fashion). Now that the obligatory reference to this high caliber band is made, let’s see what still makes “Neverworld’s End” not just a classic album but a must-listen for all (symphonic) metal enthusiasts.

First off, it is really heavy and massive from start to finish. It doesn’t sacrifice the metal aspect in favor of the orchestral arrangements; these act more as extra layers of sound that enhance the instrumentals and vocals. Tracks like opener “A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall” or grand “Blood on My Hands” are some of the album’s best and highlight the band’s ability to merge operatic vocals with a wall of blazing guitars and intense drumming. Upping up the heaviness factor, “Valentine,” “Soulcrusher,” and “Cursed” are the most aggressive and beefy cuts on “Neverworld’s End,” giving it even more weight and impact. The opening riff of “Soulcrusher” brings to mind the start of “Slaying the Dreamer” and the rest of the track is just as fierce and raucous as the NIGHTWISH heavyweight song.   

Secondly, the album is quite melodic and enjoyable, with plenty of drama, instrumental swells, majestic orchestral arrangements, and vocal delight but without ever feeling pretentious or over-the-top. Case in point the back-to-back verve of “Forevermore” and “Euphoria,” whose catchy choruses and melodious energy is infectious. The folksiness of “Call of the Wind” or “The Nomad’s Crown,” as well as the power metal glory of “The Lost Elysion” make the album all that more diverse and engaging. Not even the ballads, “The Dream is still Alive” and “A Thousand Letters,” feel overdone or cheesy in any way. It is fascinating to hear how much the band has improved since their debut with “Kill the Sun” in 2003, and how they got so many things right on this album, as well as on follow-up “Sacrificium” (2014).

The best part of this album is that it masterfully avoids using the “beauty and the beast” routine that many see as an integral part of both symphonic or Gothic metal. Instead, they make full use of Manuela Kraller’s lush vocals and explore her different singing styles for maximum effect. The operatic moments are especially impressive as is the case with the choruses of “Valentine,” “Forevermore,” and “The Nomad’s Crown,” or the opening of “Blood on My Hands.” She is the backbone and the soul of “Neverworld’s End” and carries it with gusto and grace. To be fair, she is backed-up superbly by the rest of the band, who deliver everything from crushing riffs and powerful drumming to subtle piano melodies in just the right amounts so as to service the songs and not show off their skills. No matter what you expect from a symphonic metal album, “Neverworld’s End” has it all… well, except for growls/harsh vocals, but I don’t think many would complain about that.     

Listening to such a sumptuous collection of songs, one can’t help but wonder where would XANDRIA be today if only the collaboration with Manuela Kraller (or Dianne van Giersbergen) had worked out for the benefit of everyone involved. But, alas, some things are not meant to last and after a few shows in 2018 and 2019 with former AEVERIUM vocalist Aeva Maurelle the band has pretty much been inactive. Whether they will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and surprise everyone with another banger of an album like their last three or will they remain dormant is anyone’s guess at this point. Nonetheless, we have seen bands/projects revived after decades (ex: CONCEPTION) so there’s still hope.  

Written by Andrea Crow

Tracklist

A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall
Valentine
Forevermore
Euphoria
Blood on My Hands
Soulcrusher
The Dream is Still Alive
The Lost Elysion
Call of the Wind
A Thousand Letters
Cursed
The Nomad’s Crown

Line-up

  • Manuela Kraller – vocals
  • Marco Heubaum – guitars, keyboards, production
  • Philip Restemeier – guitars
  • Nils Middelhauve – bass
  • Gerit Lamm – drums

Label

Napalm Records

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