Saturday, February 2, 2013

Xandria - Ravenheart (2004)

Xandria fall into the category of folk-metal-with-female-vocals and as such are an amazing act. Nowadays, they sound a little more Nightwish, but at this stage in their career, they bore more in common with Within Temptation (of the same era, not their more modern stuff) and Leaves' Eyes.

This is one of those "enhanced CDs" which means when you insert it you can choose it to begin a program. This was all well and good, except once I had it on, I could not turn it off without going into my Program Manager and forcibly closing it down. Bit irritating. It did give me the opportunity to watch the video for Ravenheart however. It's a rather moody clip - with some colours exaggerated and saturdated to enhance the otherworld quality. Gosh, she really is a redhead! But I feel bad for the ravens - why are they branded messengers of evil? There are "little red riding hood" vibes in this too. Looks like it was done on a relatively low budget.

The packaging likewise seems a little cheap and self indulgent - the vocalist is rather pretty, but I'm not sure if her startlingly green eyes and the red feathers brushing her equally red hair were what drew me to this CD, although I suspect it did help - since I was going through a power metal/folk with female vocals phase (and I still am). I may also have had them recommended to me. She has gorgeous eyelashes too.

Inside, the lyric booklet uses dark reds and ochre yellows to create a somewhat melancholic mood.

The CD opens with the crashing symphony of "Ravenheart", which fades gently into hushed folk-inspired vocals. Lisa Schapaus has a sweet tinged, but powerful voice.Crashing chords increase the energy and it is almost as though she is flinging flocks of black birds into the sky, with them swirling and flapping through the storm-filled clouds above.

Haunting vibes and rhythms usher us into "The Lioness", until the symphonic sound crashes down, smothering them with their intensity, then fades again as the vocals take hold. Fragile vocals, ephemeral. Such a sweet voice, but predatory words:
"... feel her coming near, she smells the blood, her prey is near..."
Lisa is something of a lioness herself, her voice is like a gentle touch, a sweet caress, but one cannot help but feel there is power and danger behind it.

"Back to the River" starts with some awesome and haunting sitar, before moving into a more modern sound. It is a gentler song, lacking the symphonic power of its predecessors on this album, and for some reason is intermingled with sampled speech.

With flute and piano, "Eversleeping" matches its name with its haunting serenity.

"Fire of Universe" has a rather more modern vibes going on - more technical sounding.

"Some Like It Cold" is another dreamier number, the vocals dominating the song and evoking feelings of blue-tinged sadness and soliture.

"Answer" is another perfectly pleasant blend of female vocals and light background music, with the occasional hint of more modern sound.

The haunting, ghostly sounds that begin "My Scarlet Name" bring with them a touch of the winter chill, and the guitar speaks of loneliness and solitude.

"Snow White" begins with some vaguely familiar chords and a bit more promise. It does follow a similar structure to the rest of this album - bold start, music fading to highlight the vocals, then coming in with them again in a more subdued manner.

"Black Flame" brings with it a bit more energy, but is pretty light by metal standards.

More atmosphere and mood reigns in "Too Close to Breathe". Here the gentle, soft, sweet vocals intermingle with the occasional pounding bass, before the music is once again tamed.

The final track "Keep my Secret Well" is similarly polished and clean, with a somewhat modern edge to it and some fairly banal lyrics:
"...Keep my secret well like my eyes keep their tears...
Some sweet whispered moments and a fairly gentle, mild-natured song with some nicely soothing piano to conclude both the track and the album.

Whilst a perfectly pleasant album, with powerful, symphonic vocals and the occasional soaring guitar, there seems to be something lacking in Xandria. Almost as though they have tried so hard to be polished and pure that it has somehow sanitised the raw energy. The album starts strong, but fades into mediocrity, peeking out its head again with only a couple more stand-out tracks. These later songs - whilst pleasing to listen to, do not show any real creativity or distinction over what has come before. I think too much emphasis has been put on the vocals, and the music is somewhat subdued and tamed beside it. The two need to act in concert to create more energy and atmosphere.

Because I do really like the first two songs plus "Eversleeping" and "My Scarlet Name", I'm umming and hahhing with how to rate this album, trying to decide between a better-than-average but unremarkable six and a quite-good-but-not-excellent seven.

Rating = 6.5/10

1 comment:

  1. Very fine review. I've always been a bit reticent about Xandria's back catalogue, finding them a little too mannered and polite: pleasant rather than exciting. Which is another reason I was so blown away by 'Neverworld's End' as that album is actually very grandiose, epic and pretty damn heavy at times (as well as being the album Nightwish should have released).