01. Two Worlds 02. Reborn 03. You Will Never Be Our God 04. The Wonders Still Awaiting 05. Ghosts 06. Your Stories I'll Remember 07. My Curse Is My Redemption 08. Illusion Is Their Name 09. Paradise 10. Mirror Of Time 11. Scars 12. The Maiden And The Child 13. Astéria
One of those bands that so obviously deserve more credit that it's hard not to smell a conspiracy, XANDRIA have been a steady presence in symphonic metal for two decades. Founder and creative driving force Marco Heubaum has been operating under the same banner since the mid-'90s and is rightly regarded as one of the genre's architects. XANDRIA have generally stuck to the symphonic script, delivering lavish and intricate records wherein melodic metal and fantastical storytelling are perfectly entwined.
Their last full-length, 2017's "Theater of Dimensions", felt like an artistic peak of sorts, and the Germans' renown grew accordingly, if not quite to the mainstream-hijacking levels of NIGHTWISH and WITHIN TEMPTATION. Since then, things have been a little chaotic for Heubaum's crew, the result of which is that "The Wonders Still Awaiting" features an entirely different line-up — their leader aside — from the one on "Theater…" Most noticeable, of course, is that XANDRIA have a new singer. Not surprisingly, Ambre Vourvahis is a perfect fit for the role and acquits herself with power and grace throughout this rather lengthy comeback. Her new bandmates, as fans might expect or possibly even demand, are all measurably up to the task, too. "The Wonders Still Awaiting" sounds immense, in true XANDRIA fashion, and everything from Vourvahis's richly diverse vocals to new guitarist Rob Klawonn's effervescent solos fit neatly into Heubaum's increasingly elaborate songwriting.
That said, XANDRIA have always produced immaculate anthems to balance out their leader's more indulgent flights of fancy. Here, they reel off four of them in a row, with opener "Two Worlds" and the ACCEPT-go-DISNEY clangor of "You Will Never Be Our God" standing out as dead certs for the live set. Both "Reborn" and the title track are instantly memorable, too, while "My Curse Is My Redemption" is a gothic pop-metal gem for the ages. The obligatory power ballad, "Your Stories I'll Remember", is strident, cinematic, liberally sprinkled with strings and acoustic folk instruments, and the best song of its kind that Heubaum has ever written.
They always retain the melodic sensibilities that remain so essential in a crowded genre, but XANDRIA are equally happy in self-indulgent mode. Tapping out a generous nine minutes, "Astéria" does feel more refined and perhaps more restrained than previous epics like "Sacrificium" (from 2014's album of the same name) and the last album's 14-minute, "A Theater Of Dimensions" climax, but it is also the most dazzling piece of music on offer by some distance. Melodramatic violins spiral into the heavens, a 40-piece choir erupts, Vourvahis unleashes an otherworldly snarl and XANDRIA embark on a grand heavy metal journey through impossible realms, with all the twists, turns, turbulence and trickery that anyone could hope for.
If there is a downside to all of this, it is that "The Wonders Still Awaiting" lasts for a rather unwieldy 75 minutes and might have been improved by a bit more ruthless pruning. But if top-of-the-range symphonic metal is your thing, XANDRIA are doing it with as much style as anyone right now, with the excellent Vourvahis as a convincing new figurehead.
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