2014 has already been a fantastic year for symphonic metal. It’s only April, but we’ve already had such established bands such as Delain, Within Temptation and Stream of Passion release their best albums to date, and several other fantastic albums coming from the likes of Diabulus in Musica, Anette Olzon and Seventh Sin. And just when you start to think that there’s no way the year can possibly keep up the degree of excellence we’ve already been offered, the German band Xandria’s new album Sacrificium is their best album to date by a LONG way. Their first three albums were middle of the road pop tinged gothic metal, definitely not up there with the best of the genre, and for their previous album Neverworld’s End, featuring the now departed singer Manuela Kraller on her first and only album with the group, they moved towards a more symphonic sound, and released a half-decent album, but really nothing special. In short, I’ve never been a Xandria fan, so when I got sent Sacrificium I had NO idea just how brilliant it would be, and that it would be on one of the most exciting symphonic metal releases I’d ever have the pleasure to hear, and I don’t say that lightly.
With the departure of Manuela Kraller, the band have found a replacement in Ex Libris vocalist Dianne Van Giersbergen, who simply one of the best voices I’ve ever heard, I was absolutely blown away by how amazing she sounds. Classically trained, her voice throughout the album is incredibly powerful, as much as any woman I’ve ever heard, yet very rich sounding and stunningly beautiful. Her voice is a joy to listen to throughout the album, and never having heard her sing before, it immediately struck a chord. It would be unfair to compare her to other singers in the genre, as her voice doesn’t sound exactly like a lot of them, she’s in a league of her own. And it’s not just the vocals that are stunning, but the rest of the music is too. The theme of the album seems to be a sense of supreme power, as it sounds exciting and powerful from start to finish. The symphonic sections on the album are out of this world, the arrangement is brilliant, but it’s the way it combines with the metal elements that makes it really stand out, they blend perfectly. Symphonic music can have an emphasis on the powerful, and when intertwined so well with another powerful style in heavy metal it just becomes this epic, exciting sound that gives the listener a real rush. The composition on Sacrificium is incredible from the outset, opening with the ten minute title track, beginning with dramatic sounding symphonics before kicking in with some of the best used choirs I’ve heard in symphonic metal, really heavy pounding guitars, and the symphonics becoming melodic, sweeping and triumphant sounding. With the introduction of Dianne Van Giersbergen’s beautiful yet strong voice, the track becomes an absolute epic, with all these incredible elements tying together to create one sweeping flurry of pure drama, beauty and power, and with none of the cheesy bombast that can plague the genre. The guitar playing is fantastic, with the song filled with fast, epic sounding riffs with a really thick heavy tone and great melodic leads, the guitar solos in the middle of the track are really well placed and brimming with energy. Opening the album with such a great ten minute symphonic metal masterpiece shows just how far the band have come, this is certainly not the pop oriented sound of the earlier albums, but the sound of a band that have finally found their niche in fantastic style. Ending with the beautifully sung line “when I take my last…breath” it certainly leaves the listener breathless themselves.
The epic, powerful sound of the title track continues through the rest of the album, with next track Nightfall having a glorious sound, with an epic uplifting chorus and fantastic guitar playing making it seem like it will be a permanent fixture on future setlists, while the first single Dreamkeeper is a slower affair, with another catchy chorus and great headbangable rhythm to it, making it a really fun track, though definitely sounding like the single of the album. Dianne Van Giersbergen uses her clean vocal style much more than her more classical oriented style on this song, and it’s sublime. Stardust continues that in the same vein, and with pounding drums, deep rumbling bass and a mixture of equally catchy chugging and melodic riffs combined with sweeping keyboards, its another supreme effort, and that heavy breakdown in the middle is bound to leave some listeners with a sore neck.
Betrayer is the heaviest track on the album, brimming with energy, with some of the album’s most heavy riffs and drumming, accentuated by one of Dianne’s best performances on the album and the dramatic sounding symphonies. Crunching and fast bass playing combined with the powerful drumming and riffs give the track the best rhythm section of the album, pounding away with a ferocious energy. Every section sounds beyond epic, and it all combines into a sweeping dramatic piece, a lesson to everyone out there on how to write a symphonic metal song. Little Red Relish and Come With Me are two more uplifting, madly catchy songs, and ones which would be really good live, especially with the headbang inducing riffage at the end of the former. The strings and piano at the beginning of Our Neverworld create a great atmosphere, and it’s a slower song with more great singing and guitar playing, but it gives the album a bit of variation, going for the uplifting and stirring, rather than the dramatic and triumphant. Temple of Hate is another incredibly catchy one, with an infectious fiddle melody in the intro and great string sections through out, one of the more straightforward tracks, this is a really fun power metal track. Closer Our Atonement is a more melancholic track, with the only instruments consisting of fantastic violin and piano melodies, giving a gorgeous backdrop to Dianne’s voice, and it’s a great way to close a great album.
Sacrificium is one of the finest examples of symphonic metal around, and one with the real emphasis on the symphonic elements, the album has some of the best composition I’ve ever heard in the genre, and the way it intertwines with the powerful guitar oriented metal sound of the album is simply unparalleled. While some bands in the style sound like metal with orchestral parts tacked on, this is a perfect mixture of the two and it flows so well. And with their brilliant new singer in Dianne Van Giersbergen being a perfect fit for their style, Sacrificium is a real triumph, really refreshing and full of life. At over an hour in length it rarely lets up, and if you like your metal full of symphony, and enjoy bands such as Epica then you’re bound to be blown away by this. I cannot wait to see them in London next month, especially with support coming from the excellent Stream of Passion.
5. The Undiscovered Land
7. Until The End
8. Come With Me
9. Little Red Relish
10. Our Neverworld
11. Temple Of Hate
12. Sweet Atonement
Watch the lyric video for Dreamkeeper:
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