Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: February 3rd, 2023
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Ambre Vourvahis – Vocals
Marco Heubaum – Guitar, Keyboards
Robert Klawonn – Guitar
Tim Schwarz – Bass
Dimitrios Gatsios – Drums
1. Two Worlds
3. You Will Never Be Our God
4. The Wonders Still Awaiting
6. Your Stories I’ll Remember
7. My Curse Is My Redemption
8. Illusion Is Their Name
10. Mirror of Time
12. The Maiden and the Child
It’s been a long wait for fans of German symphonic metal band Xandria, who released the fantastic Theater of Dimensions back in 2017, then largely went quiet for a long time afterward, finally emerging with a couple of singles in 2022, and now in early 2023, they’ve finally unleashed their highly anticipated eighth full-length release, The Wonders Still Awaiting. The last time fans had to wait 5+ years for a new album was of course Neverworld’s End, which stands as possibly the band’s best effort to date. While I wouldn’t quite put The Wonders Still Awaiting on the same level as that album, or Theater of Dimensions, it’s still a fantastic album in its own right, and it fully lives up to the expectations I had for it.
The big story going into this album is the fact that almost the entire lineup has been changed, with mastermind Marco Heubamm being the only remaining member. In terms of the lineup, this is the biggest change the band has ever had going from one album to the next, which would possibly suggest a major style shift along the lines of what they already pulled with Neverworld’s End. However, that is not the case here, as The Wonders Still Awaiting very much continues along the same lines as their previous three releases, falling somewhere in between Neverworld’s End and Theater of Dimensions. Power metal elements are more prominent than on the latter, but not quite as much so as the former, while the symphonic elements are as epic and cinematic as ever before, and the songwriting is once again quite varied, if not quite as dynamic or complex as on the previous album. The Nightwish influence remains intact, and is especially noticeable on a couple of tracks in particular, while I also notice some Epica influence, most notably on the closing epic “Asteria”, and of course, there are also some new elements, with some tracks showing hints of melodic death metal and even gothic metal, due to the increased use of harsh vocals. There’s a good balance between fast and mid-paced tracks, as well as heavy tracks and ballads, so any fan of the band will likely find something to enjoy here.
Production is fantastic, with the symphonic elements being given the most attention, while the guitars can be very crunchy at times, and the keyboards are very atmospheric, often setting the tone for the rest of the music. Everything sounds perfect, and for an album with so much going on, I’d say this is one of the best-produced symphonic metal albums I’ve heard in recent years. Performances are also excellent across the board, with Marco and the new musicians all doing a wonderful job. The symphonic elements and keyboards are often dominant, though there are some tracks where the guitars drive the music a lot of the time, and the heavy parts are very well done.
Of course, I was most interested in hearing new vocalist Ambre Vourvahis, who certainly has big shoes to fill. Xandria has had a long line of fantastic vocalists, with each one filling their role perfectly, and thankfully I can say Vourvahis does not break the trend in any way. Compared to a previous couple of vocalists, she has a lighter voice and mostly relies on clean vocals, not being very operatic most of the time, but her performance is fantastic throughout, being both very smooth and powerful when needed, and she adds a bit of accessibility to the tracks with her voice. I wouldn’t quite say the songs ever enter “pop” territory, but there are certainly some very catchy choruses here, more so than on past albums, and the vocals are a huge part of that. On the other hand, she can be very intense and powerful at times, and she also does some surprisingly awesome harsh vocals on many of the tracks, to add an extra layer of darkness and intensity. Overall, I’d say she’s a perfect fit for the band, and very much lives up to their legacy of having fantastic vocalists.
Unsurprisingly, the songwriting is also fantastic. There’s a good amount of variety to the tracks, as expected, and every track is fantastic, with a few, in particular, being personal favorites, but even the couple of tracks that don’t hit as hard for me could very easily be favorites for other people. Kicking things off is “Two Worlds”, and this is the kind of epic opening number fans of the band have come to expect. There’s an extended intro, with light keys, choir vocals, and symphonic elements, before the guitars and drums slowly kick in, and once the track gets going it’s a fairly heavy, fast-moving symphonic power metal track with a huge cinematic feeling, to go along with some crunchy riffs, and a nice introduction to Vourvahis during the verses, before she’s fully unleashed during an excellent, catchy chorus. The track has a definite Nightwish feel to it, with the cinematic feeling and the guitar tone at times, but it’s heavier and more engaging than anything that the band has done in recent years. The second half has an especially epic section, where the choirs and orchestra go crazy, and then we’re briefly introduced to Vourvahis’ fantastic growls. Overall, it’s a fantastic track, and one of my favorites on the album.
Next is the lead single “Reborn”, which certainly set my expectations for the album quite high when it was first released, and it stands as one of the best tracks on the album. It’s a fairly straightforward track, alternating between heavy, guitar-driven verses which have a strong power metal feel to them, and a slow-paced, light chorus with some massive hooks, which serves as an excellent showcase for Vourvahis. Next is “You Will Never Be Our God”, a more mid-paced track, mostly driven by symphonic elements and some light, melodic guitar work. The track has a slight melodic death metal feel to it, both musically and vocally, with some harsh vocals thrown in throughout, being especially effective during an explosive pre-chorus section, while the chorus is very catchy and serves as a nice duet between Vourvahis and guest vocalist Ralf Scheepers, who sounds excellent as always. It’s one of the lighter, catchier tracks on the album, which makes it a great pick for a single.
The title track is next, and it’s a slightly more upbeat track, not quite moving into power metal territory, but it moves along at a pretty good pace. It’s largely keyboard driven, with the orchestra and choirs becoming more intense during the chorus, while the verses have some nice, light guitar work. It’s another lighter, catchier track, with the chorus, in particular, having some of my favorite vocal melodies on the album, as well as another fantastic vocal performance., especially on the final run-through, where there are some pretty huge high notes. One of the most powerful metal-based songs on the album is “Ghosts”, which has a fast, heavy lead riff accompanied by some epic choir vocals. It moves along at a frantic pace throughout, with the verses being quite heavy and having some powerful vocals, while the chorus is more melodic and epic, but the pace never lets up the whole way through, aside from a brief instrumental section towards the end. Overall, it’s a very fun track, and easily one of my favorites on the album.
The first of three ballads is “Your Stories I’ll Remember” and it’s my favorite of the three, thanks to some nice folk melodies, and a fantastic chorus, where Vourvahis delivers powerful, emotionally charged performances that rank as one of her best on the album. The pace picks up again with “My Curse Is My Redemption”, which starts with a soft intro, featuring some keyboards and light chanting vocals before the pace picks up, and it becomes an upbeat symphonic power metal track, with fast-moving verses, and another light, very catchy chorus with just a bit of urgency to it. Out of the catchier tracks, this one is easily my favorite, with the chorus, in particular, being incredibly addicting and having some of my favorite vocal melodies on the album, while musically it’s also quite interesting the whole way through, with a good balance between light and heavy sections. The power metal elements are dialed up further on “Illusion Is Their Name”, another track with a nice intro before the guitars kick in and it goes full speed ahead, with frantic drums and heavy riffs. It’s probably the most classic power-metal-sounding track here, with some epic growls thrown in for good measure, and while the chorus slows things down a bit, the verses are very speedy the whole way through. There’s an intense harsh vocal section in the second half, leading into one of my favorite solo sections on the album.
The second ballad on the album is “Paradise”, which starts as a light piano ballad before the guitars kick in to add a bit of heaviness. It’s still fairly soft, though, especially during the verses, and is one of the more vocal-driven tracks on the album, with yet another fantastic performance from Vourvahis. I find it less interesting musically than many of the other tracks here, but it still has some memorable moments, and the chorus is excellent. Next is “Mirror of Time”, which alternates nicely between some very heavy sections with chunky guitar work, and some soft vocal-driven passages. The verses are fairly light and full of clean vocals, while the chorus starts like that, before picking up the intensity along the way and mixing in some harsh vocals. There’s an especially intense section towards the middle, where the growls are fully showcased, and the music has a strong melodic death metal feel to it, and that section is the highlight of the track.
The final ballad is “Scars”, which has some strong electronic elements, as well as some light symphonic arrangements. It’s mostly very soft, with brief bursts of heaviness and it once again makes great use of harsh vocals at points, but I find the chorus not as strong as most other tracks on the album. It’s still a very nice track overall, though. Next is “The Maiden and the Child”, which alternates nicely between slow, atmospheric verses and an intense, fast-paced chorus with a strong power metal feel to it. Closing out the album is the 9-minute epic “Asteria”, which I find to be the most Epica-influenced track in the album, with everything from how the symphonic arrangements are used, to the guitar tone at certain points, to the chorus, and even the use of harsh vocals all feeling quite similar. It’s a very enjoyable track, though, and it has a slightly different feel to it than anything else the band has done before, so it works well as a closing track. It’s not overly complex, but there’s quite a bit going on throughout, and I find the harsh vocal sections to once again be fantastic.
After a long break between albums, and a major shakeup, I was curious to see how The Wonders Still Awaiting would turn out, and thankfully it ended up being yet another fantastic album from Xandria, who have proven they can remain one of the best symphonic metal bands in the world, even with major changes. Stylistically, it delivers more of what fans would expect, with a bit of added melodic death metal influence thanks to the increased use of growls, while new vocalist Ambre Vourvahis fits in perfectly, and delivers some amazing vocals throughout. Fans of symphonic metal and symphonic power metal are sure to find a lot to enjoy here, while fans of the band’s previous three albums should also be very pleased, as this album certainly does not disappoint.
Written by: Travis Green
My Global Mind – Staff Writer
Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.