Neverworld's End is the fifth full-length album by German symphonic metal act Xandria. The 2012 album is the band’s first full-length to be released since 2007’s Salomé - the Seventh Veil and a lot has happened since then. For starters lead vocalist Lisa Middelhauve decided to leave the band to be replaced by Kerstin Bischoff, who in turn also left the band without recording with them, and Lisa returned to the fold in 2010 for live performances but never officially rejoined the band. Fronting the band now is Manuela Kraller, who has also been a member with Haggard. The rest of the Xandria line-up remains unchanged from the previous release but the sound of the band has received a substantial dose of power metal injected into it. Not to the point that their sound has moved into the same sort of symphonic power metal territory as what a band like Ancient Bards play that has more to do with the power metal genre than symphonic metal, but it comes pretty close to it.
This of course means that comparisons to Nightwish’s early material will be made, and they won’t be entirely unfounded, as there’s more than a couple of moments within Neverworld's End that bring mind to Nightwish circa Oceanborn and Wishmaster. But despite some undeniable similarities the album doesn’t come across as being a direct sound-alike, but rather the sort of album that complements those other high calibre releases of the symphonic metal genre, as that’s just what this is as well. It’s symphonic metal at its finest. We’ve got heavy guitars, fuelled by the speed of power metal, excellent use of the symphonic element to create an epic backdrop to the metal, and a flawless performance from Manuela Kraller that adds so much to the classical bombast of the sound, and in a couple of places there’s even a bit of folk thrown in for good measure, and also some surprising progressive twists. If I could only have one word to describe the album it would be ‘epic’.
Honestly I never expected to encounter a symphonic metal album in this particular vein of this sort of quality these days. It’s most definitely a genre that although I love has been feeling a bit stale, and even somewhat clichéd. Xandria impresses me immensely with Neverworld's End though. Here we have a symphonic metal band that of course is still more accessible than other metal genres such as thrash and death but doesn’t completely go into the sort of pop territory that Within Temptation do. Here we have a symphonic metal band that allows their stunning lead singer to shine without making her share the microphone with a death growler in beauty and the beast vocal style. Here we have a symphonic metal band that knows how to use their symphonic element to perfection, without allowing their riffs to take a backseat. Really there can be no high level of praise given to a symphonic metal album than what Neverworld's End deserves.
Also the album is highly consistent. There is no point in singling out any particularly tracks as highlights with an album like this because as soon as the album kicks off with A Prophecy Of Worlds To Fall what you’re getting is the same high level of material all the way through until the album ends with The Nomad's Crown. Even the slower balladry parts are as epic as the really intense and heavy stuff like Soulcrusher and don’t come over as cheesy in any way. Of course I have a few personal favourites, Soulcrusher being one of those, but Valentine, Call Of The Wind, Blood On My Hands and especially Cursed all really do something special for me.
At the end of 2011 I told myself that I should be more reserved with my review scores, but Xandria just blew that idea out of the water with Neverworld's End. The album is the perfection of a genre, and fully deserves the one score that can be associated with that. I was convinced that if any symphonic metal album of 2012 would be within this sort of level it would be Epica’s, which is due out very soon at the time of writing, but honestly Epica has already deliver a symphonic metal album of this sort of strength in Design Your Universe, so the chances of two on the trot are slim, and there’re going to have to pull something really exceptional out of the hat to top what Xandria just did. Neverworld's End comes recommended as an essential purchase. I haven’t reviewed many of this year’s albums yet, but this one is going straight to the top of my fledgling list and I can’t think of a single album due out this year that has a real chance of upsetting it.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org))