Words: Neale McGeever
Although there seems to be an influx of female-fronted rock bands from North America recently, mainland Europe have been giving us ‘girl power’ in world of metal for decades. ‘Fire & Ashes’ will be the second XANDRIA release with vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen, also front-woman of prog-metal band EX-LIBRIS. The seven-track EP serves as somewhat of a lucky dip: three new tracks, two remastered tracks and two covers. Is this just a void-filler for fans, or a future classic?
Symphonic metal will always have an audience, but sadly will constantly compared to nu-metallers EVANESCENCE or Finnish legends NIGHTWISH in English speaking territories. Opening track Voyage Of the Fallen definitely changes this view by sounding more like an operatic IRON MAIDEN or female-lead DRAGONFORCE in sections. The guitar work by founding member Marco Heubaum is what really makes these tracks what they are. This EP has an epic feel to it from the get-go, along with Unembraced this isn’t a forgettable EP and we’re barely quarter-way through. Having said that, third and final original track on the album ‘In Remembrance’ is pretty dull and very Eurovision ish compared to the rest of the album.
Ravenheart, which is a re-recording of the album of the same name, doesn’t sound too different from the original, and to be fair isn’t any better. It’s as if XANDRIA are saying ‘We have a new singer, isn’t she good’. A lot of die-hard fans, or even casual symphonic-metal fans may prefer the version by their ex-vocalist Lisa Middellhauve. Its counterpart Now & Forever was also recorded by Midellhauve initially, and as you may have guessed – isn’t any different. The most notable thing here is that Van Giersberen’s high-pitched vocal is slightly grating at parts. Although a classically trained singer, a lot of metal and hard rock works best without this style. Not the worst track on the EP but totally unnecessary.
The most noticeable cover on the album is MEAT LOAF’s I Would Do Anything For Love is pretty fitting given Van Giersbergen’s voice, yet seems a little karaoke. The other being SONATA ARCTICA’s Don’t Say a Word which actually sounds more like XANDRIA’s style. Not as heavy as the original, but overall not a terrible cover. It’s also interesting to hear an operatic female voice take on this kind of song. If this was an all-covers album, it might have been a bit better.
Sadly it seems my initial thoughts were true – this really is a filler album. Not the worst thing from the symphonic- metal genre (which is generally filled with NIGHTWISH copies) but nothing to attract fans to the category either. The original tracks are the best thing on this EP and will probably be included on their next LP – possibly even re-recorded. One for hardcore fans and collector’s only. If you want to get in to XANDRIA try their 2008 compilation ‘Now & Forever’ (named after a track re-mastered on this EP ironically) and take it from there.