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Xandria - "Sacrificium" (CD)

Xandria - "Sacrificium" CD cover image

"Sacrificium" track listing:

1. Sacrificium
2. Nightfall
3. Dreamkeeper
4. Stardust
5. The Undiscovered Land
6. Betrayer
7. Until The End
8. Come With Me
9. Little Red Relish
10. Our Neverworld
11. Temple Of Hate
12. Sweet Atonement

Reviewed by on May 8, 2014

"'Sacrificium' [is] a rolling landscape of varying levels of topography…there is all kinds of sneaky power hidden throughout the cracks and crevices. The album is booby trapped and ready to strike when you least expect it."

Falling victim to oversaturation, the pure influx of symphonic metal has really made the genre stagnant. Add to that a strong German power contingent in 2014 and it would take a monumental effort for symphonic metal to become as interesting as it was in the 2000’s.

The prospects of a new Xandria, the band that made a successful and powerful transition from Gothic metal to full blown symphonic metal a la Nightwish, admittedly had me expecting only tepid results. The band has gone through yet another vocalist change, but thankfully Dianne van Giersbergen was as impressive on the album as she was live at 70,000 Tons of Metal. She was even as formidable as former vocalist Manuela Kraller was at ProgPower USA. Given the performances I have seen, coming into “Sacrificium,” I wasn’t as concerned with the vocalist change as I was my personal waning interest in the genre as a whole. Lately, only a handful of acts (Epica, Leaves’ Eyes, and Within Temptation) are still releasing relevant interesting material. However, just after the very first spin, I do believe that Xandria may just be on the brink of one of the finest symphonic metal albums in an age.

The last time I felt this strongly about a purely symphonic album with no growls, it was “Neverworld’s End,” which was met with a barrage of “Nightwish clone” responses, though overall the response was very positive. Why? Despite the attitude of those quick to pull the “clone card,” there is currently a gaping hole in the in scene when it comes to the type of symphonic metal brought forth by Nightwish from 1997-2004 (“Angels Fall First” through “Once” albums). Most bands have strayed from that style – even Nigthwish itself. Now, this isn’t meant any other way than a compliment, but there are times in “Sacrificium” where Marco Heubaum’s writing captures the spirit of Thuomas Holopainen’s older material so perfectly, it renders his top hat irrelevant.

In most unusual fashion (unless we are talking about a Dream Theater album), “Sacrificium” kicks off with the near 11 minute title track. It is also highly unusual that a near 11 minute track would have zero points of drag and be solid muscle from start to finish, especially the glorious beauty of heaviness that bursts forth from the symphony at 6:38. Its big, its heavy, and you would be hard pressed not to destroy every surrounding item within earshot. Even better is the part starting precisely at 4:02 in “Stardust.” I lost a couple of prized lamps listening to that riff over the last couple of weeks. Add to the mix some pure beauty with “The Undiscovered Land” – a slow builder that is reminiscent of “The Islander.”

Despite all of that great material, the stand alone for me is “Betrayer,” a fast paced thrasher with a haunting chorale melody throughout. Though “Betrayer” is pure metallic override, imagine the rest of “Sacrificium” as a rolling landscape of varying levels of topography…there are all kinds of sneaky power hidden throughout the cracks and crevices. The album is booby trapped and ready to strike when you least expect it. For a symphonic metal album, it has a giant set of balls – and the band is not afraid to stand toe to toe with some pure power metal albums as well. Songs that exude some of that hidden power are “Come With Me,” “Little Red Relish,” and the mighty “Temple of Hate.”

There are absolutely no flaws and the only complaints I can foresee involve the subjective problem of the genre in general. Just when I was about to jettison much of my love for symphonic metal off of the highest cliff, where death metal can lie in wait to roll like a crocodile all over its bloody carcass….there was a “Sacrificium” to the gods…and Xandria gave itself and it was resurrected. Oh alright, it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but there is no question that “Sacrificium” is Xandria’s defining moment and despite all the changes, the band stands on top of the symphonic metal heap.

Highs: A breath of fresh air for symphonic metal and a return to the glory of Tarja-era Nightwish.

Lows: Fans of extreme metal are left out in the cold here.

Bottom line: Xandria has saved truly great symphonic metal, with the "Sacrificium" of itself.

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)