XANDRIA, are a chart-topping, German, female-fronted Symphonic Metal band formed by Guitarist / Keyboardist / Composer, Martin Heubaum in 1994. Throughout the years there have been various lineup changes, including five different singers. Ambre Vourvahis was announced as the latest singer to join XANDRIA in May 2022 when the band posted a music video of their new single, Reborn. Along with a new singer, Bassist Tim Schwarz, Drummer Dimitrios Gatsios and Guitarist Rob Klawonn were announced as the new and current lineup. The single's title seems apt since the entire band except for one member has been replaced thus bringing a rebirth to the band.
In September 2022 a second single and music video was released, You Will Never Be Our God featuring Primal Fear frontman, Ralf Scheepers. Then in November a third single and music video, Ghosts was released and the band announced that their eighth studio album, titled The Wonders Still Awaiting, was to be released - the first in six years - on 3rd February 2023 through Napalm Records. Shortly after, they released yet another music video for the title track, The Wonders Still Awaiting. On January 31st one more single and music video, this time for the opening track, Two Worlds, dropped, so if I am counting this correctly, of the thirteen tracks on the album, five of them are singles all with accompanying music videos. That's ALOT of hype to live up to!
Lyrically, this album was inspired by the recent pandemic where questions regarding dystopian society and treating each other with respect were brought to our attention. This seems to be a common theme with many bands who have already or are in the process of releasing new albums post-pandemic. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. It appears to me that the covid restrictions and lockdowns have had an impact on the general vibe of current music being released, especially the lyric themes, and it has brought a certain darkness to the energy of the music.
XANDRIA have gone all out on this album in order to create an epic, dark, heavy, cinematic sound. With the implementation of a 40-piece classical choir in The Bulgarian National Radio Children's Choir, authentic Celtic instruments, Primal Fear frontman Ralf Scheepers, violin and cello performed by Subway For Sally's Ally Storch, and orchestrations by Lukas Knobl, they are sparing no expense and they are leaving no stone unturned in presenting the biggest, boldest, most bombastic symphonic metal release of 2023. It's early in the year, but XANDRIA have definitely thrown down the gauntlet with this album and it appears that Napalm are backing them to the hilt. I strongly suspect that this is going to be an interesting journey of discovery into the new XANDRIA ....
The Wonders Still Awaiting opens with the latest single, Two Worlds, an epic 7:09 minutes of symphonic proggy-ness with double-kick drums and driving guitar layered with a 40 piece choir and the soaring vocals of Ambre Vourvahis, with lyrics such as “Around every corner now, Orwell’s next dystopia, Is this world the closer one, Chosen over wonders? How can all these dreams prevail? It's such a fragile hope, Cause a spark can give such light but also burn it all”.It asks the listener what kind of world do they want to live in and as an opening track, it's definitely a statement. I'm intrigued to hear more.
Moving into Reborn Ambres vocals travel from melodic pop-rock to operatic and back while the choir sings sweetly behind her. It's an anthem for a band ‘reborn'.
You Will Never Be Our God is a power metal track, the orchestration and choir are given a rest and the guitar, bass and drums drive the rhythm, featuring harsh vocals by Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear, this is where 80’s heavy metal meets Arch Enemy. This is a song about human rights.
Next is the album title track, The Wonders Still Awaiting. This gives me Nightwish (circa Anette Olzen) feels. Ambres voice soars, as she reminds us that there is still beauty in the world and not to give up on hope. The chorus tells us “Fly far away, Goodbye, until your last day, See the stars, Hear the melodies play, The notes that show us the way”.
Ghosts rockets along then around 3:36 the song suddenly slows and quiets for the bridge until 4:15 where unexpectedly, the angelic voice of Ambre suddenly turns demonic. "Ghosts actually started as a reminiscence to good old Swedish melodic death metal and with that archetypical guitar riff that you hear right in the beginning. And then we integrated it into our XANDRIA soundscape with lots of film score atmosphere and big choirs..."
Your Stories I'll Remember is a sentimental and emotional power ballad. With the use of traditional Celtic instruments it gives it that "ye olde worlde" atmosphere while Vourvahis holds our hand and tells us, “All these moments I’ll remember, All the stories that you've shared with me, I will never get to hear your voice again, But they’ll stay,...”.
My Curse Is My Redemption starts softly, “I'm on my way, but still it stays, I'm walking in silence, For no-one to see, There's nowhere to go from here…” as it builds into an epic cinematic track. Vourvahis' vocals rock the song into the keychange while the choir gently backs her.
Illusion is Their Name pulsating double-kick drums drive this song about the powerful deceiving the world with their lies. “I have been holding the key, And I won't give up my life anymore, To slavery of your kind, We have been waiting so long to be free, To finally see, The truth of this grand design…” Ambre executes this with equal measure of death growl and melodic vocals.
Paradise brings some relief from the previous songs frenetic drumming and at a slower pace, has a melodic metal-pop sensibility with strong hooks.
Mirror Of Time is a song about hope and despair and everything in between. The tale is told with clean vocals layered with death growls, thumping drums, and intense orchestration. The last 1:40 Ambre builds to the end, her voice reaching higher and higher, layered with the screaming lead guitar solo.
Scars begins with a futuristic-synth sound that would be comfortable on an Ayreon track. Enter the strings - they build in intensity as guitars take over and the death growls blanket the melodic clean vocals. There is a rhythmic heaviness to the song as it ends with an intimate whisper, “It’s never enough” by Vourvahis.
With chorale chanting punctuating the melody line The Maiden and the Child begins its aural assault as double-kick drums set the pace and the sweet vocals of Vourvahis commences. The death growls two-thirds of the way through, reintroduces the chanting again, along with Ambres vocal melody line building to the conclusion.
Asteria returns the listener to the prog metal influence with a whopping 9:08 mins of epicness. This track evokes images of an ancient place with a Middle-Eastern violin and zither sound, it begins with chorale chanting and heavy orchestration. Ambre starts to sing, "I came from far away to save my soul.." and we are taken on this final journey of the album. Pulsating double-kick drums, distorted guitar, death growls, and chanting, this is a song that would fit comfortably on an Epica album. Vourvahis sings some of the vocals in Greek, lyrics written by her. It’s big, bold and epic. This track is the exclamation mark at the end of the album!
Ambre Vourvahis brings to XANDRIA an impressive vocal wealth from sweet pop, to gritty rock, to operatic highs and death metal growl lows. If you wondered why she was chosen to be the new lead vocalist, a listen to this album should give you a satisfactory answer. She has the ability to carry the listener on the journey with her, expressing the emotion of the song beautifully.
The Wonders Still Awaiting is an album interspersed with many influences, rich in different styles and genres while still staying within the boundaries of the Symphonic metal genre. It’s brash, bombastic and unapologetic. Often resembling a film score. With a live choir, orchestration by a Hollywood heavyweight, integrated with different instrumentation, coupled with guest appearances by respected artists, a lead vocalist who can sing clean, operatic and harsh vocals, a rhythm section that keeps a cracking pace, guitars and keys that colour and fill each track to tell the story of each song, I can imagine Martin Haubaum must be smiling because XANDRIA have their proof right here that they are indeed, Reborn.