Review Summary: Perfectly balanced and expertly written, "Sacrificium" maintains Xandria's place among the top symphonic metal acts of the day.
The process of changing lead singers, given its grueling nature, isn’t always the most advantageous thing for a band to go through. Now imagine, like in Xandria’s case, you went through it not just with a singer (Lisa Middelhauve) you released four albums and made a name with, but also with another singer (Manuela Kraller) that made such a big impression on fans very quickly. And with the success of the musical direction that started with “Neverworld’s End”, the pressure was on to find someone who could take up the mantle and "keep the dream alive", as it were. Enter Ex Libris singer Dianne van Giersbergen, who certainly had the resumé and style, but with big shoes to fill there was much speculation on whether or not “Sacrificium” would keep the band on the highly promising road they so recently started out on.
The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is very yes. The album opens with the title track that puts all of the very best aspects of symphonic metal on display. It’s grand, bombastic, and strikes the perfect balance between beauty and beast. Van Giersbergen’s vocals soar up and down through the song and form a fantastic combination with the choir during the chorus. And man oh man, does this choir sound fantastic, ringing with such scale and harmony that Mozart himself would surely find impressive. It’s the perfect example of a choir being used as a vital component in the sound as opposed to being a mere gimmick. Add all of that to some great guitar solos and powerful percussion, and the album starts off as well as any symphonic metal album I’ve heard.
With how good the first track was, one might worry that Xandria played their trump card too early. Not to worry; the band continues to fire on all cylinders from start to finish, and all the aspects that worked on the first track continue to do so throughout the album. Van Giersbergen more than earns her stripes with her versatile vocal style, displaying some aggression in songs like “Little Red Relish” while also showing off an amazing angelic side on such tracks as “Our Neverworld” and “The Undiscovered Land”, all while maintaining a refreshingly classical technique. The songwriting is also a highlight here; the aforementioned “The Undiscovered Land”, for instance, takes the listener through a brilliantly written spectrum of tones from nostalgic to aggressive to mournful against a backdrop of beautiful orchestrations that seamlessly blends in some folk sounds. And speaking of sound, the album is about as perfectly produced and mixed as one could make it. You feel the power of Lamm's drums, the depth of fellow-newcomer Steven Wussow's bass, the emotion of the vocals, the aggression of Heubaum’s and Restemeier's guitars, and the orchestrations/choir as clear as day, and all of them are perfectly timed. The album knows when to be calm and when to be aggressive and exactly how much to mix the two.
If “Neverworld’s End” propelled Xandria onto the Mount Olympus pantheon of symphonic metal, “Sacrificium” helps the band maintain a firm grip on their newfound position. Expertly crafted with precision balance and some expert songwriting, the album is bombastic without being overbearing, epic without being pretentious, and grand without being cheesy. Between Dianne van Giersbergen’s commendable debut and Marco Heubaum’s capable, steady leadership, there’s no reason why the band can’t keep carrying on the mantle it has taken up. One can just hope that the current lineup is there to carry it for as long as possible.