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Xandria - "Fire & Ashes" (CD/EP)

Xandria - "Fire & Ashes" CD/EP cover image

"Fire & Ashes" track listing:

1. Voyage of the Fallen (4:46)
2. Unembraced (4:27)
3. In Remembrance (5:01)
4. I Would do Anything for Love But I Won't Do That [Meat Loaf cover] (7:26)
5. Ravenheart [2015 version] (3:49)
6. Now & Forever [2015 version] (3:24)
7. Don't Say a Word [Sonata Arctica cover] (6:08)

Reviewed by on July 30, 2015

"Although an EP featuring material both new and old, 'Fire & Ashes' really shines as its own release and is an excellent starting point for new fans as well as satisfying entry for long time listeners."

Symphonic metal fans will not be disappointed with Xandria's foray into in-between releases with “Fire & Ashes,” working as stop-gap between 2014's “Sacrificium” and whatever full-length album will arrive next. Although an EP featuring material both new and old, “Fire & Ashes” really shines as its own release and is an excellent starting point for new fans as well as satisfying entry for long time listeners.

The music kicks off immediately with epic symphonics and operatic female vocals before bringing out some shredding guitars with opening track “Voyage of the Fallen,” the first of three original new tracks on the EP. Xandria knows what the audience wants and doesn't bother with any drawn out buildup, instead slamming straight into everything that makes symphonic metal great. There are no harsh vocals, so it's not a beauty and the beast type release, but the metal elements are still front and center (with one exception noted below) so they aren't particularly even missed.

Across “Unembraced” and “Rememberance” it becomes clear that Xandria has a solid grasp on dynamic song writing. Each track moves and evolves without letting go of the core sound – it's a hard balancing act to even achieve, but the band maintains it without breaking a sweat. The production is top-notch here as well, with vocals that are never overshadowed by (or allowed to overtake) the symphonic parts, and there's almost always fast paced, heavy metal guitars going alongside everything. The only real exception on that front is the first two-thirds of melancholy acoustic track “In Remembrance,” which focuses on the vocals and strings until returning to the guitar sound towards the end.

Smack dab in the middle of the release appears a symphonic metal cover of Meat Loaf's “I'll Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That),” which is turned on its head by switching the male and female vocal leads from the original version. There's no doubt about it, Xandria nails this cover, putting in just enough changes while maintaining true to the original. Even if you hate Meat Loaf, the song is still worth hearing. “Fire & Ashes” then ends with two re-recorded versions of previous Xandria tracks and a Sonata Arctica cover.

“Fire & Ashes” succeeds on all fronts: offering up excellent new tracks while providing new spins on old material both from the band's back catalog and in the form of cover tunes. For fans of clean female vocals in metal or anything with a melodic bent, this EP deserves a place in your music collection.

Highs: Excellent production, song writing, and cover tunes.

Lows: Not many - fans may end up wanting more original material and there's nothing in the harsh realm to balance out the melody.

Bottom line: Xandria knows what symphonic metal fans want and delivers it spades, along with a bizarrely awesome Meat Loaf cover.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 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)