After impressing much of the symphonic metal community with their still-recent release Sacrificium, Xandria has decided to release a short EP, Fire and Ashes. Personally, I wasn't the craziest about Sacrificium: While Dianne van Giersbergen's voice is stunning and the instrumentation is epic, overall I simply felt that too many songs blended together. Still, I was curious to see if I'd enjoy any songs from this new EP.
Fire and Ashes opens with three brand new tracks: "Voyage of the Fallen," "Unembraced," and "In Remembrance." "Voyage of the Fallen" is the lead single, and like many of the tracks from Sacrificium, the instrumentation is epic, but overall it just doesn't spark much affection from me. The chorus is nice and bombastic, reminiscent of old Nightwish, but it's not a track I'd revisit.
However, the other two new songs left me totally impressed. "Unembraced" begins with a beautiful fast-paced piano part that reminds me of the song "True" by Tom Twyker, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil but gives way to thrashing guitars and strings bound to catch any symphonic metal fan's ear. It's irresistibly catchy in a way that reminds me of Within Temptation and Delain; it stands out because of the way it's written and utilizes the bands best elements without necessarily trying to blow the world away with ALL the orchestration all at once. Then of course there's "In Remembrance," a power ballad that showcases Dianne van Giersbergen's powerful and beautiful voice. "Tides of Time" is to Epica as "In Remembrance" is to Xandria, and that's saying something - it's just so gorgeous, particularly that chorus! The first half primarily consists of piano and vocals, and while Dianne certainly sounds strong in the beginning, by the time we reach the key change towards the end she truly unleashes her voice, the band fully backing her.
As for the rest of the EP, Xandria decided to have a little fun and remake a couple of their older songs (they seem to be very proud of their sound with Dianne, and really, who can blame them?) as well as cover a couple of songs. This is the part where I'm perhaps too impartial: I never really listened to Xandria before Sacrificum and I'm not particularly attached to the songs they covered as I don't listen to Meatloaf or Sonata Artica. However, I looked them all up out of curiosity to see how these new versions compare.
From their old catalogue, Xandria redid "Ravenheart" and "Now and Forever." Personally, I prefer these new versions as I really adore Dianne's voice. Both are quite catchy, but I prefer "Ravenheart." As for the covers, Xandria first tackles Meatloaf's "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" - I think we can all agree that was an amusing choice. It's definitely the most lighthearted track on the album... But they sure know how to make a cheesy old rock song heavy. Xandria also covered Sonata Artica's "Don't Say a Word," which probably makes more since as both are metal bands. That being said, Xandria's version isn't wildly different, but it certainly has its own charm - the vocal styles alone are different enough to make each version feel different. Dianne mostly sounds operatic as usual and she sounds great on this track, but sometimes she belts, and she sounds perfect either way. I'm going to have this one on repeat for a while.
As only a casual Xandria listener I was merely curious to see if I'd enjoy a song or two from Fire and Ashes, but truth to be told, I loved the vast majority of this EP. Two of the three new songs were added to my ongoing list of favorite songs almost instantaneously, I now appreciate a couple of their older songs a bit more now that they've been rerecorded with a voice that I'm more familiar with and generally more impressed by, and I've also found a new favorite in "Don't Say a Word." I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the material; hopefully Xandria can keep it up.