Revamping the band from scratch, mastermind Marco Heubaum has once again chosen some serious talent for this new iteration of symphonic metal outfit XANDRIA. That is more than evident from the singles released so far, and the full-length is everything you could want from an album in this genre… and more. The band is feeling refreshed and is firing on all cylinders. “The Wonders Still Awaiting” is out on February 3, 2023, via Napalm Records.
With thirteen tracks – of which the shortest is “Scars” at just over 4 minutes – and a total playtime of about 75 minutes, “The Wonders Still Awaiting” is a long album. What XANDRIA tried to prove with such a lengthy record after this hiatus is for them to know and for the rest of us to speculate. Maybe they wanted to show the metal masses that they can still do top-tier symphonic metal… but they could have done that with a shorter offering. On the plus side, the songs are really good and diverse, so listening to them is not really a chore, but more of a delight. The tracks display everything that the genre is notoriously known for – orchestral arrangements (by Lukas Knöbl), classical choirs, lush keys, and operatic vocals, topped off by bombastic sound and a cinematic atmosphere. So, from a stylistic perspective, I can’t really fault “The Wonders Still Awaiting,” as it offers a very rich and textured sonic experience with undertones of darkness.
Vocalist Ambre Vourvahis is such a great choice for the band, as her vocals harken back to the early XANDRIA material with Lisa Middelhauve, while her operatic vocals fall somewhere in between Manuela Kraller and Dianne Van Giersbergen. Consequently, the music is not as dramatic as on, say, “Sacrificium” (2014), nor is it so straightforward as on “Ravenheart” (2004). On the contrary, the sporadic use of classical singing in favor of a mid-register delivery makes the songs feel more approachable and personal, but still heavy and ornate, following EPICA’s formula of melody, distortion, and orchestral arrangements. It is really a best-of-both-worlds –type of situation going on here, with the title track being a perfect example of this, merging symphonic elements with smooth vocal delivery for maximum effect. However, it is her harsh vocals that make all the difference and tracks like fast-paced “Illusion is Their Name,” hefty “Mirror of Time,” alongside single “You Will Never Be Our God“ do a good job of capitalizing on them. Ambre Vourvahis never overuses them, just sprinkling enough harsh vocals to make the songs feel more ominous and dark. The fact that pop-ish “Paradise” is sandwiched in between the two aforementioned album tracks makes for a rather intriguing juxtaposition of moods.
Elsewhere on the album, contemplative ballad “Your Stories I’ll Remember” benefits from soft singing, Celtic orchestrations, dramatic strings, and cello lines (from SUBWAY TO SALLY‘s Ally Storch) that add to the intensity of the lyrics, beautifully framing the vocal delivery. “My Curse is My Redemption” is a simple but efficient track with modern metal vibes to it and a catchy chorus that will have the crowds chanting along if they decide to play it live. “Scars” is too heavy on the instrumental side to be a ballad per se, but boasts an emotional vocal delivery, beautiful keys, and lyrics that tug at the heartstrings, which in itself is a neat pairing of moods and sounds. Talking about contrast, “The Maiden and the Child” brings together growls, operatic vocals, choirs, and intense drums in a seamless fashion, courtesy of Dimitrios Gatsios, with the track being one of the album’s most interesting moments.
Both the opener, “Two Worlds,” and the closer, “Astèria,” are lengthy songs clocking in at 7 and 9 minutes respectively and, while having a longer final song on an album is not that unusual, XANDRIA took a big gamble opening with such an epic number. However, the gamble paid off as “Two Worlds” has a wonderful build-up to it, transitioning nicely from serene piano notes and vocalization to an explosion of instrumentals, orchestrations, and hefty guitar work around the 4-minute mark. The change in mood is also palpable, the track going from light and breezy to dark and ominous. The equally majestic “Astèria” combines oriental/folk metal with growls, swelling orchestrations, powerful guitar melodies, and even some Greek lyrics, closing the album on a spectacular crescendo.
The bottom line is that XANDRIA are back and sounding better than ever before. “The Wonders Still Awaiting” is bursting with melodies, cinematic soundscapes, variety, and excellent musicianship all around, as Ambre Vourvahis’ multifaceted voice allows for a rich sonic palette to unfold in the ears of the listeners. As stated earlier, the album is a long affair but every minute spent listening to it is more than worth it. That is because there are many subtleties that might be missed on a first/superficial listen-through. So, the more one digs into this album the more rewarding the listening experience gets, the songs blooming like flowers in spring. The year is just beginning but I strongly believe this album is gonna end up on many end-of-the-year/best-of lists.
Written by Andrea Crow
1. Two Worlds
3. You Will Never Be Our God (feat. Ralf Scheepers)
4. The Wonders Still Awaiting
6. Your Stories I’ll Remember
7. My Curse Is My Redemption
8. Illusion Is Their Name
10. Mirror of Time
12. The Maiden and The Child
Ambre Vourvahis – Vocals
Marco Heubaum – Guitar
Robert Klawonn – Guitar
Tim Schwarz – Bass
Dimitrios Gatsios – Drums
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