2014’s Sacrificium is still my favourite album by a female fronted symphonic metal band, but I dislike everything else they’ve released. Weird right? The new vocalist for that album Dianne Van Giersbergen is probably the genre’s best singer, and the song writing on that album was brilliant, it was well paced, epic and memorable. The symphonic elements were never overbearing, neither were the keys, instead they were weaved well into the great guitar and vocal driven songwriting, and even at nearly 80 minutes long, there was no filler, it was varied and a marvellous listen. I love every track from that release, whereas in the past to me they were nothing but cheesy generic gothic-metal, languishing with other forgettable bands that got nowhere near the levels of Nightwish or After Forever. The EP Voyage of the Fallen released in 2015 saw them go back to cheesy over the top, and often annoying songwriting, but I thought as it was just an EP they’d possibly go back to those heights on the new album.
Nope. Unfortunately the song writing has also gone completely downhill. Across seventy eight minutes and thirteen songs I only really enjoyed one song. Instead of an epic sound being generated through strong riffs, powerful vocals and well done symphonic parts, they just throw everything together in a bombastic mess with no regard for subtlety or song writing. It’s cheesy as hell – the choirs are used too often, the keyboards are way too loud and dominant in the songs and the riffs are unmemorable (I don’t think there’s even one great riff across the album.) It’s just really messy, and without dominant riffs, the keyboard melodies are way too overbearingly saccharine throughout the album – just listen to the instrumental piece Céilí to see what I mean.
Dianne’s vocals are still good, as said she’s probably even the best singer in the genre. There’s two main problems though – a lot of the time when she sings her voice is competing with choirs, keyboards and orchestra, as aforementioned about the messy song-writing. This is why the most listenable parts on the album are mostly the introductions of the songs where her voice actually gets a chance to express itself before the bombast starts. The other problem is there are parts where she spends too much time just wordlessly warbling in her operatic style and it doesn’t sound good at all. She didn’t do this much on Sacrificium, and when she used her operatic vocals they sounded brilliant.
As mentioned before, there’s only one song I really liked. Forsaken Love’s opening of piano and strings and Dianne singing softly sounds brilliant, reminding of the start of The Undiscovered Land on the last album, and when they come in, though the guitars are just chugs rather than riffs, it still sounds good and matches the music. It’s got a strong memorable chorus as well as good vocals from Dianne and shows that they can still write a well paced song that isn’t overbearing. It’s not mind-blowing, but nothing else on the album is, and it’s a solid singalong song – like a better Ravenheart.
There are a few songs which could have been really good, We are Murderers starts with a great barrage of riffs and drums, and Dianne’s powerful vocals are brilliant in the introduction when she gets a chance to sing alone. But when the choirs do start singing “We are murderers, we are, we are, we are” along with a frankly awful attempt at growls from guest vocalist Bjorn Strid, and then in the chorus she also sings “we are, we are, we are” it’s lazy song writing and ruins what could’ve a great song. Queen of Hearts Reborn has some of the best vocals I’ve heard from Dianne, whether in Xandria or her other project Ex-Libris, completely expressive and powerful, and there’s also a great epic guitar solo but the choirs and keyboards are once again too saccharine. The fourteen minute closer A Theatre of Dimensions sounds magical with Dianne’s voice against the piano and strings in the introduction, the vocal melody is simply lovely, with the pitch of her voice ebbing up and down. But unfortunately the song goes on past the introduction, and after some solid dramatic symphonic parts reminiscent of Sacrificium’s title track the guitar chugs are dull and uninspired, and once the choirs come in and Dianne tries to warble over them the song just goes to hell. After a spoken word section, they throw keyboards, orchestra, choirs, vocals, guitars together in a tasteless assault of bombast that as a title track just sums up the album – and in about ten minutes of music a furiously ripping guitar solo bout seven and a half minutes in is about all that’s of interest. Even if they don’t throw all these elements in at the same time, it’s one after the other with little to tie it all together.
Then there’s songs that are just plain bad – Ship of Doom has folk elements but with the OTT bombast this just makes it sound almost like a bad pirate shanty with distorted guitars on top, and “one, two, three, four, can you hear the cannons roar, five six seven, eight, it has been too long a wait” is again just bad lyric writing and just adds to the cheese that’s too prevalent throughout the album – and going from these folky sections to all out symphonic bombast is weird and jarring – it’s a song with no redeeming features. When The Walls Came Down (Heartache Was Born) starts off too slowly, and Dianne’s operatic vocal melody only seems to contain two notes in the verse, and the chorus is also weak in comparison to Forsaken Love – it sounds like it’s trying to be epic and medieval sounding, but ends up reminding one of a bad fantasy movie.
Overall it just seems that Sacrificium was just a lucky anomaly rather than the start of a new amazing act in their career. It’s a big disappointment, because there are some great parts that were just ruined by the rest of the song writing. They’re capable of better, but with one incredible album amid five dull ones, it’s unlikely we’ll see another Sacrificium. By trying to go even more epic they’ve overdone it, and Theatre of Dimensions is more pantomime than Shakespeare, more Lloyd Webber than Wagner.