~review by Stuart Moses
I can clearly picture the scene. The various members of Xandria are recording their latest album when an engineer wheels a kitchen sink into the studio. “What are you doing? We didn’t order this. No, hang on a minute. I think we can use that after all…”
After all Xandria have chucked everything
else into their opening song, the titular “India”. We start with sounds
of the sea and some moody synthesisers. There’s a snatch of violin, some
Bohemian Rhapsody-style vocal stabs before every instrument known to man,
and some known only to aliens, start playing. Over the top – and I mean
over-the-top – vocalist Lisa sings like an opera diva: “On! Sailing on!
To our fate! To India…” There are hints of the Orient, there is a heavy
metal guitar solo, it is frankly a mess. But it’s the sort of all-hands-to-the-pumps
chaos that makes sense. If they keep this up over the length of the album
I’m going to be exhausted just listening to it.
“Fight Me” isn’t as aggressive as the title
suggests it might be. There are heavy rocking guitars but these never dominate
Lisa’s vocals. It works well as a song of defiance. Electronic atmospherics
start “Black and Silence” before some Led Zeppelin-sized riffs with Lisa
whispering menacingly. Checking the band’s website it seems she is whispering
the intriguing: “I am amused/
By now I was expecting to understand where this album is going. Instead Xandria wrong foot me completely with the Irish-folk music of “Like A Rose On The Grave Of Love” which is a complete change of direction. I like it when bands surprise me like this. Here Xandria lose bombast, but gain fiddle. We’re back in bombastic prog-rock for “Widescreen” – it’s the band’s most oppressive moment but remains listenable at all times. There’s another guitar solo which makes perfect sense in the context of the song.
Xandria fuse both styles of songs on “The End Of The Story”. Once again it shouldn’t work – but it does. Magically. Xandria have enlisted the help of the Deutsches Filmorchester for this album most notably on “Dancer” which is pure vocal, piano and strings-fuelled emotion. There’s some Kate Bush playfulness here and the whole experience is delightful. “Winterhearted” returns to the gothic rock side of things, sounding all the more powerful for the contrast with what has gone before. I like the imagery behind the title so much I can forgive the ‘cold as ice’ cliché in the chorus. The emotion is raw: “One of us is breaking hearts/And it's not me.”
Finally we “Return To India” which brings things full circle. To Xandria the idea of India symbolises a search for meaning. This song seems to hint that this quest is a journey that goes on forever. While we might feel: “Sun rays touching my skin like a stream of gold” there are always more things to learn: “Perpetual striving made my life complete and now that I reached new dimensions”. While we may seek enlightenment, ultimately the darkness within us is as much a part of us as the light: “Left behind the ghosts I knew so well, … need their guidance and advice to define the inner me.” All this is set to operatic wailings, tribal drums, ethnic violin and much much more. Eventually, we end as we began, with the sounds of the sea. A disembodied voice informs us that we have to learn the lessons this life seeks to teach us or be fated to: “sail on and on and on…”
There might be those that fault the band for their ambition, some that might dismiss them as pretentious, but not I. They are ridiculous, over-the-top and indulgent but these are things to praise a band for not a criticism. Xandria can do bombastic prog-rock and Irish folk – sometimes in the same song – and never put a foot wrong. If more bands had just a tenth of their imagination the world of music would be a much more colourful place.
The website: www.xandria.de