One thing which the German symphonic metal act Xandria cannot be accused of is staleness. A seemingly constant revolving door of members since day one, there simply isn’t enough time for inertia or sterility. The musical merry-go-round did slow down recently though, as for only the second time the band did actually manage to keep the same line-up for more than one record. However, it all changed once again as guitarist and founder member Marco Heubaum returns not only with an entirely refreshed group of musicians, but a noticeable modification to the band’s sound.
This reboot comes courtesy of a new singer (the sixth overall, although there are probably more hidden under the carpet), the half-French, half-Greek, all-talented Ambre Vourvahis ensuring The Wonders Still Awaiting (Napalm Records) is a very different beast to the band’s previous outings. Less operatic than her predecessors, Vourvahis still clearly possesses those attributes but uses them sparingly, letting her natural voice take the limelight before switching to throaty roars sure to draw comparisons with the likes of Arch Enemy.
Curtain raiser ‘Two Worlds’ gives the listener the first taste of this new direction, moving from a gentle choral opening to dramatic power chords and double-kick drums before a thunderous breakdown and the first of many hard-hitting choruses. Elsewhere, songs like ‘Reborn’ and ‘Paradise’ bear similarities to Within Temptation, while ‘Ghosts’ and the magnificent title track echo the likes of Epica and Nightwish.
Featuring a guest appearance from Primal Fear frontman Ralph Scheepers ‘You Will Never Be Our God’ consists of simple, chuggy riffs from Heubaum and current axe partner Robert Klawonn, and boasts another killer chorus, the only negative here being that Scheepers’s voice seems a little too low in the mix at times. The Celtic strains of the mandatory power ballad ‘Your Stories I’ll Remember’ allows Vourvahis to show her more vulnerable side in a quite stunning manner. At the same time, the thunderous ‘Illusion Is Their Name’ packs a serious punch.
‘My Curse Is My Redemption’ is all cinematic drama as is ‘The Maiden And The Child’ which even briefly lifts the theme to David Lynch‘s 1984 sci-fi epic Dune. ‘Mirror Of Time’ features an explosive breakdown with some excellent drumming from Greek skin-smasher Dimitrios Gatsios and bassist Tim Schwarz while the powerful ‘Scars’ mixes orchestrations, chunky riffs, and electronica with clean and guttural vocals before the album concludes with ‘Astèria’, a nine-minute colossus with an unsurprising Greek influence and lyrics written by Vourvahis.
With violin and cello contributions from Subway to Sally‘s Ally Storch, orchestrations from Lukas Knöebl (known for his session work with the likes of Serenity, Warkings, and film director Roland Emmerich), and a collaboration with the Bulgarian National Radio Children’s Choir, The Wonders Still Awaiting is dynamic, powerful and enthralling. At nearly an hour and a quarter in length, a longer attention span is certainly required but the rewards are many.
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9 / 10