Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: May 2 2014
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal
Dianne van Giersbergen – Vocals
Marco Heubaum – Guitars, Keyboards
Philip Restermeier – Guitars
Steven Wussow – Bass
Gerit Lamm – Drums
5. The Undiscovered Land
7. Until The End
8. Come With Me
9. Little Red Relish
10. Our Neverworld
11. Temple Of Hate
12. Sweet Atonement
Sacrificium is an album that had a lot to live up to. German band Xandria had been a respectable gothic metal band until 2008, when their exceptionally talented vocalist Lisa Schaphaus-Middelhauve decided to leave. After a long break between albums, during which the band tried out vocalist Kerstin Bischoff but ultimately replaced her with Manuela Kraller, they finally made a triumphant return with their 2012 release Neverworld’s End. That album marked the beginning of a new era for Xandria, not only because it was their first full length album to feature a different lead singer, but also because it was a change from their typical gothic metal sound to an epic symphonic power metal sound, very much reminiscent of early Nightwish, complete with a stunning vocal performance that could easily be compared to Tarja Turunen. I had listened to a few songs from their early albums but none of them left much of an impression, so I wasn’t exactly hyped up for Neverworld’s End until I heard the single “Valentine”. I loved the song so much that the album suddenly became one of my most anticipated releases of 2012, and before long it emerged as not only my album of the year, but one of my absolute favorite albums of all time . Needless to say, I had insane expectations going into this, their sixth full length release, and while it doesn’t quite match its predecessor, it’s still an excellent follow-up.
Once again, the band’s lineup went through some changes in between albums, as Manuela and bassist Nils Middelhauve both left, and were replaced by Dianne van Giersbergen and Steven Wussow respectively. Despite the ever changing lineup, they remain committed to pushing forward with their new sound, as Sacrificium feels like a rightful successor to Neverworld’s End through and through. I was initially surprised by single “Dreamkeeper”, as it was a more relaxed keyboard dominated track which seemed to suggest a return to their roots, but aside from that song this is very much a power metal album once again. If anything it sounds even closer to early Nightwish than before, with even more of a focus on speedy, hard hitting songs enhanced by epic sounding orchestras. In fact, compared to the last album this one feels a bit more focused, and less dynamic. On the one hand, that means it lacks the unique feel the last album had where every song felt like it had its own specific role within the album, but on the other hand that does mean that fans who especially enjoy speedier songs like “Euphoria” or heavier songs like ‘Soulcrusher” may end up preferring this album, as over half of the songs here are in the same vein as those two. Either way, every song here is excellent, but while I was immediately blown away by every song on Neverworld’s End, there are only a few songs here that have reached that next level for me after several listens.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Neverworld’s End was Manuela’s vocals, so initially I was very sad when I heard she wouldn’t be on this album, but I was much happier when I discovered who her replacement was. For those unaware, Dianne van Giersbergen is also the lead singer of progressive metal act Ex Libris, whose debut I wrote an extremely positive review for. I especially praised Dianne’s powerful and dynamic vocals. Hearing that album only caused my expectations for this to skyrocket, and unsurprisingly Dianne is a perfect fit for Xandria. For the most part she gives a much smoother, more relaxed performance on this album, and her operatic vocals are certainly not too different from Manuela’s. While I was initially disappointed that she didn’t get to show everything she’s capable of on this album, the more I listen to it the more I realize her vocals are perfect for the music. Where she was more theatrical and more explosive with Ex Libris, on this album she sounds much more relaxed, and so her absolutely wonderful tone comes through a lot more, especially on the amazing folk influenced ballad “The Undiscovered Land”.
One thing Xandria does seem to have borrowed from Dianne’s other band is the use of voiceovers. The opening title track uses them effectively (unfortunately, the voieovers on “Betrayer” are much less effective,) before making way for the epic choirs and orchestras, as the 10 minute epic finally takes off after a built in 100 or so second intro. Once it gets going it’s a very fast-paced and epic song, which perfectly showcases what the album is about. It doesn’t quite hit me the way “A Prophecy Of Worlds To Fall” did, but it’s still a strong start to the album. The first big highlight of the album comes immediately after, with “Nightfall”, which is actually the first song the band teased fans with, by way of a quick snippet. I personally feel this song would have been a better single than “Dreamkeeper”, as it’s fast, intense, extremely catchy, and both Dianne and the accompanying choirs sound fantastic on the chorus. Don’t get me wrong, though, after several listens I found a lot to love about “Dreamkeeper”. I Just think “Nightfall” would have given fans a much better idea of what to expect from the album overall.
My favorite song is probably the previously mentioned ballad “The Undiscovered Land”, which makes an excellent use of folk elements, something that continues well into the second half of the album, especially on “Until The End”. Another highlight is the much slower song “Come With Me”, which is a very simple yet very beautiful song which really shows off Dianne’s vocals, somewhat reminiscent of “Blood On My Hands”, and it’s just as impressive as that song was. The closing ballad “Sweet Atonement” is also incredible, and out of the heavier songs my favorite is “Little Red Relish”, as it has more of its own identity compared to the likes of “Stardust”, “Temple Of Hate” and “Betrayer”, which while all being excellent songs, do somewhat come across as attempts to recreate “Soulcrusher” from the previous album.
I have similar feelings about Sacrificium on the whole, but when the worst thing I can say about an album is that it tries to recreate one of my favorite albums of all time and comes up just a little short, then you know it has to be an excellent album. Neverworld’s End was a groundbreaking start to a new era, where Sacrificum is simply a continuation of everything that worked, complete with a new singer who does just as good a job as her predecessor did. Fans of female fronted symphonic power metal, especially early Nightwish, are highly recommended to give this a listen, and obviously anyone who liked Neverworld’s End should enjoy this as well.
Written by Travis