Released earlier in the month, Xandria’s new album Sacrificium (reviewed by Swirls of Noise here) is one of the finest examples of symphonic metal that has been released to date, and I got the chance to speak to Xandria’s guitar player and band founder Marco Heubaum about the new album, lineup and influences:
Hi Marco and thanks for talking to Swirls of Noise. Xandria have recently released their sixth album Sacrificium, how has the reception been so far?
I have to say its a bit hard for me to follow because we are on tour right now and its a bit hard to keep up with what’s going on on the internet and stuff, but the impression I get is very good, it seems to me that many people that like this kind of music are also liking our new album, and that makes us happy, because we put so much effort into getting this album to happen after all the things that have happened to the band, so its good to have the album out finally and to see people liking it.
Manuella Kraller departed as lead singer last year, and you’ve quickly found a new vocalist in Dianne Van Giersbergen, the singer of Ex Libris, how did her joining the band come about?
Well it was right after Manuella told us she will leave, we agreed to still play some shows so we had some time to look for a new singer, so we immediately began searching and also our co-producer Joost Van Der Broek is also from the Netherlands, he knows the Dutch scene very well there and all the bands, and he suggested Dianne to us, so then we met and it was instantly like “oh we get along with each other pretty well” and playing music together in our rehearsal room when we met felt very good, so we said ok, lets try this, lets work together on the songs and lets see how quickly we can get to the recording.
With Dianne’s powerful voice in both her clean vocals and operatic style she really brings the best out of the new songs on Sacrificium. How well did she fit into the band, especially given you’ve released the album so quickly after shes joined?
Well I have to say that she really gave everything to make it possible, we had many rehearsals together so we could meld her voice to out music, because most of the songs had already been written when she joined and she really was very committed to the band from the very beginning, and she put a lot of energy into working on the songs together with us, so only with this effort we could being to work on the album very quickly, otherwise it would probably not yet have been released.
And how well has she taken to performing the older songs live?
I think she prepared them at home and then we met while preparing for the first live shows we had together, so I think this was also something where she didn’t only have to prepare the new songs for the recordings, but at the same time preparing the old songs for the first shows we had to play in Spain in November, I think it was a lot of work for her but she managed to do it in a fantastic way. I think there’s not a lot of musicians who could do that really, in such a short time, we really have a big respect for her that she did it in a short time.
Long-term bassist Nils Middelhauve also left the band after Neverworld’s End. Was it difficult to find a replacement?
It’s funny to say, but it was a bit more difficult than finding Dianne which happened pretty quick, for a new bass player we were searching for months really, its not like bass players are, in Germany we say like grains of sand on the beach, its not like that, you would be thinking like that, if a band that’s quite known in the scene wants a new bass player, because we did a public piece – send us your email if you want to play bass in our band, but response wasn’t that much, its a bit surprising maybe. So it took us quite a lot of time to really find Stephen, and he was in the band in the first place, he was sending us a message, but then he became a father to his newborn daughter in 2012 and so he took back his offer to become the new bass player, but he told us “okay, if you need someone in a few months just call me back”, he thought we never would, but we did because in the meantime we didn’t find anyone, and he’s now in the band, and that’s very good – he’s a great guy and brings a lot of energy and a good mood to our band.
On Sacrificium you’ve further embraced the symphonic elements of your sound, making it your most symphonic album to date. What’s pushed you further towards this direction?
It was really the ambition to push it a little step forward from the last album, and we took a chance involving a real choir for the first time on Neverworld’s End, we just simulated a choir by doing many backing vocals before, but that never really sounds like a real choir, so we were very happy to be able to use this for the first time, I think that makes a more bombastic sound on this album, and there was even the experience of playing the songs from Neverworld’s End live that gave me as a songwriter more insight into what works really, what’s really kicking and what makes a good atmosphere. So I tried to use this experience for song writing on the new album.
It sounds like it’s your heaviest album to date, how well does the heaviness of the music fit into the symphonic side?
I think it’s sometimes a bit hard, all the guitars are at eleven, and there’s very fast drumming, but then you also would try to put some orchestral elements and its a bit hard to mix it altogether, so this was quite a challenge and we also tried to bring some dynamics, some parts where the orchestral stuff could be more in the foreground and really bloom and blossom, by taking back the guitars a bit, and these kind of dynamics is very important for the songwriting in a genre like this. I think this is also something we will work much more on in the future, because on that album on some songs we really put everything to the max at the same time, and I think it was a good experience, but we will see. I think we learned from the album, as we also did from the last album, its an ever growing process of experiencing and learning. What’s really important also for us is the musicianship because recording the same album over again wouldn’t really be interesting or challenging, so let’s see what the future brings.
On that note, with Sacrificium being your best album to date, do you think you’ll have a more stable lineup in the future?
Well (laughs) we can just hope so, right? We did not foresee the lineup changes in the past, so we cannot foresee what’s happening in the future, but it felt more right than it ever did, with the chemistry with us in the band. I’ll just try to give it a shot and say on the next album we’ll have the same lineup. I would even place my bet a bit higher than I did in the past, and so let’s just hope for the best. I think if we can stay together like this, we can really achieve something in the future musically, and I’m looking forward to grabbing this chance and have the input from everyone into making something really great together in the future.
With the lyrics you’ve written most of the songs and Dianne’s written two of them, what can you tell us about the themes behind them?
Well it’s not the same theme all over, it’s not a concept album, but of course concerning my lyrics, I’m staying me and so some of the topics that go with me all the time, like my personality and my troubles, the things in my life and the demons I have to tame, like everyone of us has to, sometimes these are the topics I often write about, because it just has to be canonized somehow, especially because of last year, I had some very heavy thoughts with the singer change, and when it’s something really important to you, like the music you do with your band it’s so insecure what can happen. Last year it could have all gotten much worse, like we could still have not found a new singer until now, or it could have taken years to make this album, or maybe having the problem that we would never find someone again, or it takes too long with everything and you lose interest also, the buisness partners and the fans. Really these are thoughts that go around in your head and your mind and if it’s about something that’s so important to you it can really stress you a lot, and can really take you to doubting about everything. And you can look inside of yourself and search for the power and strength to go on, which was something very hard for me at least, and I think for the others too. It was something I was also writing about on some of the songs, the experience of going through hard times, but there’s also some other themes, like movies, stories and books that I am inspired by and I try to pick some aspects of some stories and write about them in a different way than in the original story. And it’s also about some feelings, for instance there’s one song that’s about the relationship between the musicians and the fans and the relationship to people that are very important to me, so there are also positive things on this album. It’s very diverse, there are very dark lyrics on it, but there’s light on it too, so there’s also some positive stuff.
Are there any classical composers you would say or favourites, or particular influences on the album?
I have to say I’m not really influenced by classical music, I’m more influenced by contemporary film score/movie soundtrack music. I think these are the classical composers today, not the complicated stuff that modern classical music is about, very unmelodic at times, I’m not into this kind of stuff. But I really like the work of soundtrack composers like Howard Shore and also stuff done by people like Two Steps from Hell is also very inspiring, because it’s a bit closer to rock and metal music – they put together this atmosphere in their music, and with shorter tracks it’s interesting how they do it. But what’s interesting is that it creates pictures in your mind, a good film music composer can create pictures without seeing the movie actually and this is also something that we wanted to achieve on our music, so that’s the influence we have from the film music, thats something I really like about that.
Are there any newer artists you’ve heard and enjoyed recently?
In these moments I always have a blackout, but in these moments I always forget them. Really I’m a long term fan of some classic bands, but I like Arkona from Russia. They’re also on Napalm with us and are a band I’ve discovered two or three years ago. I played together with them and really enjoyed it.
Thanks for the time Marco, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Well as we’re here in the UK I’d like to say thanks to all the fans in the UK for coming to all out concerts over the years. We are here for the sixth time and its always very good to be here. I love this country, especially the town of London, I really like to be here, so I really like to make the most of my time here, and I hope to give it back to the fans.
Thanks to Andy Turner at Napalm Records for setting up the interview.
Sacrificium was released on May 2nd. Watch the video for new song Nightfall: