After talking to bassist Steven Wussow a few weeks back, I took it upon myself to review their latest album when it came through our mailbox after he had drawn me in with details of an instrumental; a fifteen minute song and guest vocals from Soilwork. When the fateful day came, I whacked it straight on.
Opening with “Where The Heart Is Home” we are greeted with an intro which everyone should have come to expect by now; strings, booming drums in the distance with a galloping bass part underlying it all; it builds the tension and sets the scene. I reach for my popcorn. Suddenly a gnarly, crunching guitar riff knocks my savoury treats from my palms. Destiny calls! This is a classic Xandria song with spacey verses and a chorus with a melody that rivals any of their previous work (even “Voyage Of The Fallen”!). This band has a knack for outdoing themselves as they go on to prove with this defining release.
Whilst there are no Xandria songs that are not epic, “Death To The Holy” seems to me more of an opportunity to show off drummer Gerit’s proficiency. Having seen him playing live I could imagine the power this song would portray on stage. Nevertheless Dianne’s despairing preach is captivating midway through this song which undoubtedly proves further her ability to command an audience. It is definitely a song I would urge them to get into the setlist along with “Where The Heart Is Home”. Following on from this is “Forbidden Love”, taking a blinding u-turn to a hopeless romantic track. Another forté of the band is their ability to cover multiple areas in their songwriting in addition to being able to go where they want with their albums.
Another switch up from the symphonic metallers proceeds with “Call Of Destiny”, kicking off with a thrashing riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pantera song. This track is oozing with metal and showcases the band at their most energetic. Another impressive song here. This leads to the call-to-action single; “We Are Murderers (We All)” which begins again with relentless, energetic thrashing. With Björn Strid guesting vocals, this kicks some mean ass although it has a message behind it eliciting provocative, dramatic imagery (all the best songs do). A certain highlight to a diamond of a record.
Then there’s the ballad “Dark Night Of The Soul”. There’s always one isn’t there? It is played well and will undoubtedly go down well with the fans and pulls out all the stops of a ballad; the slow, building vocals with a blistering solo going a million miles per hour that shouldn’t work but always does. You know the kind of thing I mean. “When The Walls Came Down (Heartache Was Born)” is a sturdy track at a modest tempo that “brings it” but seems to fade away from the other tracks after a few listens which is a shame but, bearing in mind we’re now halfway through the album this is the first remotely flat moment – that’s a good sign isn’t it? Nevertheless it still has its moments when eagerly listened to.
Seven songs in is “Ship Of Doom”. This has got to be one of my favourites off the album although I remember my friend saying to me once that there are three main issues in metal, either it is “uninspiring, plain boring or cheesy”. I fear that “Ship Of Doom” may fall into the final category. That whiff of dairy hits hard on the lyrics “One, two, three, four, can you hear the cannons roar?” When everyone hears that on Friday (release day for this album) they are going to grin from ear to ear because it just has an irresistible charm to it, in the same way that “A Little Piece Of Heaven” is possibly my favourite Avenged Sevenfold song. The ability of some bands to write wildly charismatic songs is such a beloved thing in metal, be it Avenged Sevenfold and necrophilia, System Of A Down and shopping lists or Xandria and sea shanties, it’s just a great thing to hear and I don’t want to hear anyone ripping into this song, OK?
At last we uncover the instrumental in “Ceilí”. Boasting the best singalong guitar melody on this album, it suffers no loss despite not featuring Dianne’s vocals (no offence of course). Whilst it is relatively outshone by a couple of absolute bangers on this record, it feels as though it has been made for being played live. If anyone is reading this who can get in touch with Xandria, please please please ask them to add this to the setlist. Dianne can take a breather and we can tunelessly roar along… doesn’t that sound like fun?
As we progress to the end of the album, the stripped-bare, minimalist “Song For Sorrow And Woe” with layered vocals and whispered melodies complements the record greatly although it’s another song that after a few listens gets the dreaded skip. “Burn Me” has an interesting introduction, an absolute earworm of a chorus and a secondary vocalist that I would love to find out, but other than that it’s just another song before “Theatre Of Dimensions” which brings the house down. The same problem goes for “Queen Of Hearts Reborn”. This is an issue with setting the standards so high. That being said “Queen Of Heats Reborn” does have another good spoken word interlude, some tasty key changes and a rich atmosphere which is always welcome.
It’s “Theatre Of Dimensions” however that proves itslef the spectacle of the album. A tale of introspection, realisation, grand discovery then harrowing regret. A real lighter moment in the introduction which would be also be great live. Intermingled melodies create a discernible mood and present an inspired approach to the song. Again they show an ability to dramatically change focus within the song that follows Dianne’s descent to delirium, done powerfully and frighteningly convincingly. This song, I would argue, stands up to to themed classics such as “2112” and “Operation Mindcrime”. That opinion will ruffle some feathers but I mean it in all sincerity… and I love Rush! But this is just something else and I stand by Xandria completely in this endeavour. This is a modern band doing something really exciting and refreshing which raises metals flag high. The conclusion to this song is so emotive, raw and pulls tight at my heartstrings. I am incredibly excited about this song… this whole record.
How can I conclude an album review like this one? It picks up where Fire And Ashes left off, although it suffers a tad from “sameness” here and there, however this may be because it could lose a song or two. I feel bad saying it because I am head over heals with parts of this album though it does waver every now and then. In its strongest parts however, it is inspired, other-worldly and brave, all the things a modern classic should be which will surely take them to new heights. Not only will I ask for anyone who calls themselves Xandria fans to pick this up, I urge anyone who is into melodic metal to give this a chance. You may just discover your new favourite band on the brink of evolving into something extraordinary.
Really I cannot oversell this, I have no doubt it will be in my top five albums of 2017.
Theater of Dimensions will be released worldwide on January 27th 2017 via Napalm Records.