Xandria – Sacrificium
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Recently I’ve noticed a pattern with my opinions about female-fronted symphonic metal albums: When a band releases what ends up becoming my favorite album of theirs, their next release fails to impress me. This has happened with Epica (I loved 2009’s Design Your Universe, then was bored by 2012’s Requiem For The Indifferent) and earlier this year with Within Temptation (The Unforgiving was my favorite album of 2011, while Hydraneeds a miracle to make my Top 10 of 2014). Unfortunately, I’m now adding Xandria to this list. The German quintet’s new album Sacrificium has its moments but doesn’t electrify as its predecessor, Neverworld’s End, had done. (Click here to read my review of Neverworld’s End at Sonic Cathedral.)
Let me be clear: I wasn’t expecting a repeat of the last album. With Dianne van Giersbergen replacing previous frontwoman Manuela Kraller last year, I knew Sacrificium would be different. And it is, with a slight power metal edge, a greater choir presence, and a more sophisticated air – almost like Epica without the male grunts. As for Dianne, fans who are familiar with her work with her other band Ex Libris already know she OWNS the mic. Her expressiveness and operatic gymnastics rival the likes of Floor Jansen and Tarja Turunen. Dianne shows shades of her vocal colors on Xandria’s new material, but she doesn’t paint with her entire palette. Instead, she takes a more conservative and reserved approach that pales in comparison to her Ex Libris recordings. Comparing the work of two different metal bands here may not be the fairest way to review. But with Ex Libris releasing a new album just a few months ago and Dianne’s outstanding performance there still fresh in my mind, it’s awfully hard not to.
What disappoints me more about Sacrificium, though, is that none of the new songs stand out to me. They’re not terrible, but most of them sound… well, like filler. I remember very little about this album when I finish it, so I walk away unmoved each time. Also, my brain just can’t process Sacrificium as a Xandria album. It’s convinced that a completely different band is playing. Sure, this album’s equally as bombastic as Neverworld’s End, but the latter album retained the playfulness and sensuality we’d heard from Xandria on other older albums, going back as far as Ravenheart. I can’t detect those qualities anywhere on Sacrificium, and I miss them.
Sacrificium does have its bright spots. “Stardust” funnels a flurry of guitars, choirs, and synth-strings through an exhilarating worm hole, complete with (what sounds like) a sci-fi lyrical slant that’s new for Xandria and works well. “Betrayer,” on the other hand, breathes down the listener’s neck with saturated, throttling guitars. No competition here for the title of this album’s “Soulcrusher.” (If you own Neverworld’s End, you know what I’m talking about.) “Temple of Hate,” the short yet pretty “Our Neverworld,” and the exquisite winter-tale “The Undiscovered Land” are also worth revisiting.
I can’t say the same for the rest of Sacrificium, though. Even while listening to this CD to write this review, I’m fighting the urge to switch to other Xandria albums in my collection. Stylistically it may be a good example of symphonic metal’s grandiloquence. But as a listener, I want to be stirred or inspired – I want to feel something beautiful. Indifference with streaks of pleasure is how Sacrificium makes me feel, and that’s not what I’d call beautiful.
Highlights: “Stardust” (below), “The Undiscovered Land,” “Betrayer”
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Coming Soon: The next Music Monday Review, on Divided We Fall’s Dreamcrusher, won’t be ready for a couple weeks. But I’ve finished reading George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows and Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study, so get ready for two new Recent Reads! On top of all that, I passed 60,000 words on my novel last week, which means I need to get cracking on the next installment of “Chronicling The Craft.” 😉