Weekend Intermission – Xandria (Germany) – Two Worlds (single/track from recently released album)
Weekend Intermission is our regular feature where we look at an artist or band not from the Nordic countries, just to mix things up a bit.
I chanced on this song and video by accident, mistaking the German symphonic metal band for female Finnish singer-songwriter Lxandra. Should have gone to Specsavers, as they say.
I’m no metalhead, which is why you won’t see many metal reviews in here. That said, I follow one symphonic metal band very closely and listen occasionally to others.
Bands plying their trade in that sub-genre are going to be compared to Nightwish like it or not, because of the status that band has acquired in recent years. They’ve become the global benchmark, and to be fair Xandria stand up to that comparison pretty well.
‘Two Worlds’ is the album (‘The Wonders Still Awaiting’) opener, lasts seven and a half minutes (par for the course where symphonic metal is concerned) and is a powerful piece that attracts and commands your attention.
I never intended this but as I listened and watched ‘Two Worlds’ it turned into an exemplar for how symphonic metal works. It’s all here, and I mean all:
Heavy orchestral effects throughout;
Thick, chunky guitar licks and breaks;
Gentler ‘let’s take a breather’ bridge built around piano;
Choral effects including children and angelic boy vocals and Götterdämmerung-style massed choir…
Weird instruments like Uillean Pipes…
Powerful percussion played simply but technically including frequent double kick bass drums at 500bpm or more…
Deep vocal grunts and growls, and whispers, to complement and offset a soprano main theme…
Operatic, staccato vocal phrasing, with every sung line being a ‘statement’…
And visually – sparks, flames and explosions (how could it be otherwise on Napalm Records?); lots of nature, especially forests; and clocks (we’re always running out of time on symphonic metal song videos).
Xandria certainly tick all the boxes.
The problem is that the entire sub-genre seems to be derivative of itself. One band seems to be much the same as another, you could put Therion, and Epica, and Within Temptation into a pot, mix them up and the resulting sound would be the sum of the parts.
I would never say something like this myself but along the line a reviewer is going to say that ‘Two Worlds’ could be an off-cut from Nightwish’s last album, Human Nature, and the vocalist, Ambre Vourvahis is a vocal doppelganger for Anette Olzon, melding pop and metal (and very well I might add).
However, that would do them a disservice because there is real quality here. Writing a symphonic composition of this length, with all its twists and turns, and retaining listener attention throughout is no easy matter. Yes, it helps when you have an attractive front woman, but that again is ‘par for the course’ nowadays.
The song lacks a big hook but there is plenty of melody all the same.
Ambre has a fine set of pipes and a comprehensive range. Head and chest voices, belting and death growls – they’re all here.
I often think that the acid test of a song/video combination such as this would be – if it were a trailer for a newly released cutting edge movie, shown inside a move theatre, would it attract people to come back to see it? Well I would.
What’s the song about? I can’t quite nail it. The themes featured in the album are diverse ones, across political and social issues, including climate change and political extremism. But the title suggests keeping the faith that something better awaits.
The lyrics and video seem to indicate an ideological escape to another world from the disaster that this one has become and in the early part of the video there’s a suggestion that the other world is coming to get us, like Melancholia in Lars Triers’ seminal end of the world film.
Lyrics such as “Around every corner now/Orwell’s next dystopia” and the repeated “How can all these dreams prevail/It’s such a fragile hope/’Cause a spark can give such light but also burn it all…” are indicative of hopelessness and ultimately, “We can only live in one of two worlds” is the conclusion, which I interpret as meaning we can’t live with our heads buried in the sand to the dangers that surround us.
So, quite a few contradictions there.
Xandria seems to have quite a history. Formed in 1994 in Bielefeld, just outside the industrial Ruhr area where I guess many German metal bands come from (metal bashing cities seem to breed metal bands, as in Birmingham), the only founder member remaining is Marco Heubaum.
There have been many personnel changes since 1994, enough for a football team of ‘ex-members’ with a full complement of substitutes on the bench.
The other four current members, including Ms Vourvahis, all joined in 2022 in what seems to have been a clear out.
They’ve released eight full length albums and an EP before this album and have always had a female vocalist. I have to admit I’d never heard of them. This album looks to be a fresh start in many ways and I’m sure I’ll be paying a lot more attention in the future.
The single and album are both out now.
Marco Heubaum – rhythm guitar (1994–present), keyboards (1997–present), vocals (1994–2001)
Ambre Vourvahis – vocals (2022–present)
Rob Klawonn – lead guitar (2022–present)
Tim Schwarz – bass (2022–present)
Dimitrios Gatsios – drums (2022–present).
There are release shows going ahead in Germany right now (check website or socials) but I’m not aware of any foreign gigs presently.
Find them on: