REVIEW: XANDRIA – “Theater Of Dimensions”
Germany’s Xandria have returned with a new release of symphonic metal theatrics titled ‘Theater of Dimensions.’ And a mere three years since ‘Sacrificium,’ guitarist/composer Marco Heubaum and company have passed since that last release of their brand of highly cinematic symphonic metal. I was unaware of the band’s existence before reviewing this album, so my listening and knowledge of their catalogue was a cold listen. I also would never call myself a fan of the symphonic metal genre — I listen to a few bands that might fall under the label, but they are an exception to the rule. What I do know, however, is that Xandria have put out a rather fun album of material that will please their fans, and fans of the genre in general.
The band start with the rather bombastic “Where The Heart Is Home,” although, truth be told, pretty much the entire album can rightly be called bombastic. My initial thoughts upon hearing this song and the general sound of the band were that they sounded like a metal band playing the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. You can easily imagine Captain Jack Sparrow fighting his way across his beloved ship many times during the album. Whether you consider this a good thing, or not so much, will of course be up to the listener. It gets a bit of an indulgent smile and chuckle from me; however, it’s damn catchy and has some nice riffs, so the Pirates movies may have been improved had Xandria been employed to take part in them.
The band’s essential sound of driving power metal guitar riffs, fairly basic drum patterns, and lush strings are put in place during this first track, and the sound is quite consistent through the entire album. They are all held together by the high, floating vocals of classically-trained vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen, who does a commendable job throughout. Her vocals are fairly typical of the symphonic metal genre, and they work well with the music, although at times a stronger and more powerful voice would aid the heavier portions considerably. The fifth track, “We Are Murderers,” finds the first inclusion of male vocals on the record, which if my reading of the history of the band is correct are provided by Marco. They are mostly harsh and growled in nature — rather reminiscent of the vocals combination of Sirenia — and the combo works quite well with the heavier aspects of the music. I found myself wishing this pairing was done more often as it enriched the song a good deal.
Not to go track by track, but the following song, “Dark Night of the Soul,” deserves mentioning, as the metal elements are entirely absent and the song is instead carried by orchestration and the lovely clear soprano of Dianne. Indeed, I feel this song to be her vocal highlight of the album, as she allows the natural softness and warmth of her voice to carry the song along. It’s actually quite lovely, and the melody may well worm itself into your mind as well. The band returns to their pirate theme with “Ship of Doom” and this time, the allusion is clear and not merely implied as it begins with Marco exclaiming “One, two, three, four, can you hear the cannons roar?” Yes, it comes across every bit as cheesy on record as it does reading it. However the song is a rollicking tale of high seas, plunder and pirates, and it’s a fun little tune, so it works.
The album wraps up with its lone epic, the 14-minute title track “A Theater Of Dimensions” and it is a summation of everything that came before it. It contains light, airy melodies, and heavy strings at the beginning with Dianne singing over the top of it, and it gradually builds with their full metal sound. And halfway through, we have semi-harsh male vocals that sing and speak what are supposed to be intimidating spoken words. The song continues on in this manner and is clearly striving to be a “big” song — a real epic, like so many metal bands are fond of doing. The result is less than convincing, and the overall effect lacks the epic quality they were clearly going for and drags more than a little bit at times. In all likelihood, I’m letting my affinity for prog rock and metal get in my way; bands of my preferred genre use 14-minute songs as a warm-up, and Xandria simply doesn’t have the compositional or technical chops to impress me very much with their epic. But it’s a big, bombastic piece of music which encompasses much of what the genre stands for, so depending on your disposition and listening background, you might well get more out of it than I.
Ultimately, Xandria have put out a fun, and rather typical example of symphonic metal. Fans of the band and the genre will find a lot to love with ‘Theater of Dimensions’ and so would do well to check it out. It’s a sometimes heavy, usually bombastic release, with lofty aspirations that occasionally are fulfilled, but often fall short. Still, if you’re looking for a cinematic, often catchy way to spend 70 minutes, you could certainly do worse.