Xandria: Neverworld’s End

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Xandria: Neverworld’s End
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Xandria: Neverworld's End
Symphonic Power Metal
Self-release, Napalm Records
March 6th, 2012
Release length: 1:03:48
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Back in 1997, Xandria had formed and taken their first steps into what would shortly become the female-fronted Gothic Metal boom of the late-nineties up to modern times. While the band never really put out material that was awe-inspiring, they did retain a unique sound that captued the patronage of a strong fanbase through their more Indian inspired material. This would be be pushed in their music a little more as time went on. However, Neverworld’s End shows the band shedding themselves of any original sound and trying to pick up where Nightwish left off when Tarja was kicked out of the group. If you really didn’t know this was a whole other band, chances are good you would assume this to be that act, but a missing album near the end of Tarja’s run that just never got released due to obvious band issues and perhaps even legal ones. But, either way, this is Xandria, and this is where that fan base will begin to feel alienated.

Right off the bat, Neverworld’s End becomes really irritating. Not for the fact that the album is basically a clone of the aforementioned band’s mid-career material. The music here is just too loud. No, it’s not the “If it’s too loud, you’re too old” syndrome or manner of looking at things, it’s just the levels when recording were clearly set way too high, and for over an hour of material that is not a good thing. After thinking perhaps my speakers just gave way since yesterday [March 4th, 2012], I tried different devices and speakers, messing with the bass, treble, and whatever else possible to try to get a sound that doesn’t drop the bass at four on the dial, I honestly just gave up and listened to it turned down. The guitars are way too high and drown everything out with an obnoxious sharper sound that seems lacking much of a distortion, finding the bass guitars and even the kicks just giving up before it even reaches the half-way point of my volume knob, even if that specific setting is cranked all the way up. When you have it maybe a quarter of the volume, things do start to work out better, and you can pick up on the thin bass presence in the background, but the loud, annoying guitars are still there and can easily enduce migraines on the first track, “A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall.” The keyboards, when used to symphonic proportions, can also work with the higher guitars to drown out everything, and even push the vocals back when they are not an enthusiastic approach. The drums are lost a bit at times during these louder passages as well, finding the whole kit drowned out aside the click of the bass kicks that does end up coming through stronger than anything else, but only when the volume is turned down.

So, Neverworld’s End is too loud to the point where you can’t really enjoy it, and is basically Nightwish plagiarism. That’s about where this review should stop and you get the concept to not even bother with this unoriginal and obnoxious album. But, the truth is, Neverworld’s End actually has some good music if you can actually look past the audio levels, the lack of originality, and have a pretty hefty supply of migraine meds handy. “Valentine” is a prime example. This track really shows the band’s talent well and mixes a superb combination of Symphonic Power Metal elements with a Gothic presence and operatic vocals. There is a good amount of energy with it, and the not-so-epic tone of the music finds the material to not be as loud. There are some restrained parts to this song that allow everything to come through well, and show off the beauty of the music with some chugging guitar chords that build up to a somewhat grand sound for the chorus, but even that feels a bit held back to allow the bass to really shine through as its own instrument, helping to set the rhythm with a nice twang.

And that’s one thing to look out for with Neverworld’s End: Restrained/softer songs. While the music still sounds horrible cranked up, some tracks, like “Forevermore,” end up sounding fantastic since there’s nothing too over-the-top. It allows the music to actually come through. The drums sound fantastic, the keyboards add a nice hint of beauty to the material, and the operatic vocals are given time to shine properly and allow the listener to appreciate them outside of trying to sort them out from the insanely loud music and symphonic elements. “The Dream is Still Alive” uawa some really slow keyboards and subtle additions of guitars and drums, all building up towards a more powerful and emotional performance with a ballad foundation. The only gripe here is there is a chiming effect used at the start, and it seems to go so quick and at a high enough pitch it just sounds like an annoying noise washed out that becomes sharper in the chorus. “Call of the Wind” has a bit of Folk Metal vibe to it, which comes through a lot better in some of the slower parts. The chorus is much louder like usual, having a richer presence, and again at a lower volume it sounds really good.

But, of all the songs here, it’s “The Nomad’s Crown” that will lure dedicated fans back into checking this one out. The song is simply beautiful, and brings the group back to their roots. There are plenty of Indian elements to the passages that make one picture Xandria‘s previous works, such as Ravenheart and on. Of course, these are mixed with the Symphonic Power Metal concepts laid out through much of the album, and about half way through the music switches gears specifically to that approach for a while. Again, the music is slower, and the symphonic elements in these moments, even the richer, built up sections, work well to create an operatic atmosphere without the guitars really going overboard. This allows the bass to come through again, and really make an impact on the music with a loud, twangy sound on certain passages, and the drumming effectively amps up the epic sense at certain moments that require it. After over fifty minutes of completely unoriginal material, this song comes out of nowhere, and for nine minutes shows the dedicated Xandria fan what very well could have been, and it’s absolutely perfect. Truly, this is the biggest tragedy of them all with this album…

None of the songs here, fast or slow, are really bad, but there isn’t a moment that goes by, aside “The Nomad’s Crown,” where you either mistake the vocals for Tarja, completely expect to hear Marco Hietala (not this band’s Marco Heubaum mind you) suddenly burst in with his signature vocals, curse the insanely loud audio, or start shouting “I’ve heard this Nightwish song before!” It seems with the addition of Manuela Kraller on vocals, effectively replacing Lisa Middelhauve who left in 2008, the band felt it necessary to leave behind what trace of that unique sound from their roots and completely rip off the obviously more successful act to usher in the talents of their latest member. While the music itself is far from bad, the audio simply is. So, if you’re craving something like Wishmaster up to Once, then this is worth a listen with plenty of Tylenol handy of course. If you’d rather listen to the original and not some imposter, then by all means do it. Neverworld’s End really becomes a judgement call for the listener. Everyone is going to have their own opinion on it, so, despite the score, this is one you’ll have to sample on your own to make an effective call on it best related to your taste in music.

01. A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall – 7:24
02. Valentine – 4:12
03. Forevermore – 4:59
04. Euphoria – 4:30
05. Blood on My Hands – 4:17
06. Soulcrusher – 6:12
07. The Dream is Still Alive – 4:24
08. The Lost Elysion – 5:27
09. Call of the Wind – 4:52
10. A Thousand Letters – 4:19
11. Cursed – 4:11
12. The Nomad’s Crown – 9:02
Overall Score: 4.5/10
Xandria (Band)
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Digital review copy of this release provided by Napalm Records.