Review Summary: "Neverworld's End" propels Xandria to the very forefront of the symphonic metal scene.
After Tarja Turunen's departure from Nightwish, the symphonic metal genre no longer had a big-ticket band with a voice quite as powerful and distinctive as the one Turunen brought to Nightwish. Though there have been attempts to replicate that magic Tarja-era Nightwish formula (Visions of Atlantis's "Trinity" comes to mind as one of the more successful attempts), none could really pick up that torch and run with it...this is, until ex-Haggard vocalist Manuela Kraller joined forces with Xandria and brought us the perfectly epic powerhouse known as "Neverworld's End".
As far as symphonic metal albums go, this one deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Nightwish's best albums. The album dives into the deep end of epic the moment the album starts with "A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall". And it just keeps going and going from there. For those who favor fast, brutal, and heavy, "Valentine" and "Soulcrusher" will satiate every thirst. Or if you prefer slow and pretty, look no further than "The Dream Is Still Alive" and "A Thousand Letters". Want some folk melodies thrown in? Give "The Lost Elysion" and "Call of the Wind" a listen. It doesn't matter what you look for from a symphonic metal album; this one has it all. And it all culminates into "The Nomad's Crown", an enormously satisfying conclusion that will leave your ears begging for more (and if you get the iTunes version, Xandria covers that base as well, with two bonus tracks that stand up well to any of the other hits on the album).
Along with Manuela's nigh peerless vocal power and command, this album is about as well-balanced and as well-mixed as you can get, getting plenty of power from the guitars and drums while still giving enough to the orchestral arrangements to keep the music soundly in symphonic metal territory. If there was anything that could have made it even better, I'd say a larger orchestra, a more evident story/concept, and Gregorian chants, but those nitpicks are largely the equivalent of begging for more of the best dessert you've ever tasted (and if the tantalizing rumors from the band about their next album due out in 2014 are true, then I may just get most if not all of my request). If you like symphonic metal, you owe it to yourself to give this album a listen. It ranks among the best ever (in my professional opinion), and it dwells among the top of my all-time favorite albums.