'Theater of Dimensions' is Xandria's full-length follow-up to 2014's 'Sacrificium' album. And it's rife with rampant histrionics throughout, although this never veers too far towards the gratuitously ostentatious end of the symphonic metal spectrum. Sure, it's over the top in places, but in keeping with Xandria's heavily symphonic stylings. It's almost part of the inherent makeup of the subgenre; to colour the music with a large degree of bombast. Further, compositions are pinned down with a refined sense of grandeur, which is what ultimately prevents the album from disappearing up its own symphonic arse (of which it's incessantly in danger of doing). Arrangements are incredibly well thought through and executed, which steers songs away from rectal recession.
It's not all refined and polished grandeur, though. There are a handful of cheesy moments on the album. 'Ship of Doom' is a prime example, with the chant-counts of "1, 2, 3, 4..." etc. And the harmony vocals that open 'Burn Me' are prime cheese, through and through. However, it's the deviations from their symphonic core that add a degree of variance and interest to proceedings, such as the folky flavours of instrumental number 'Céilí'; the beautiful acoustic guitar intro to 'Queen of Hearts Reborn'; or the heavied-up 'We Are Murderers (We All)', with death vocals courtesy of Soilwork's Björn Strid. And the lengthy, 14+ minute title track to close the album features all kinds of shenanigans, including a pseudo-sinister voice (which is more amusing than it is menacing); polyvocal overlays; and a filmic, Danny Elfman-esque part. It must be said, though, that the passage of music two thirds through 'Song for Sorrow and Woe' sounds like it's been lifted from the mid-section of Green Carnation's 'Light of Day, Day of Darkness', with an all too similar vocal melody and arrangement.
'Theater of Dimensions' is the second Xandria album to feature Dutch singer Dianne van Giersbergen, and her vocals are rather impressive throughout. She gets to showcase her incredibly wide range (tonally, at least, anyway), which has the lower end of her voice on parts of 'Forsaken Love', right through to her histrionic-fuelled soprano delivery that colours many of the tracks. And the band's instrumentalists all excel in their performances here.
It must also be said that 'Theater of Dimensions' borrows heavily from Nightwish in places, and that's not me succumbing to lazy journalism by comparing Xandria to the sympho-metal hegemonists. I guess such a comparison is inescapable for any band opting to exercise their musicianship within the context of a series of compositions largely dictated by adherence to a subgenre previously popularised by another band. But we're talking Nightwish of yore here, rather than their work of more recent years... what many would regard as the Finns' heyday. As such, 'Theater of Dimensions' has an overwhelmingly retro vibe about its sympho-metal underpinnings. It almost comes across as stylistic pastiche in places, in what feels like a series of interchangeable sympho-metal paradigms. Playing it safe through the tried-and-tested, if you will... at least for some of the tracks. Most importantly, though, Xandria excel in their chosen stylings. Pastiche reigns, but so does compositional excellence.
A lot of work has evidently gone into the arrangements, instrumentations, etc, and this should never be taken for granted. Overall, 'Theater of Dimensions' is a fine achievement from Xandria, even if some of it does sound all too familiar from the very first listen. Had the album been more original through the compositions themselves, I would have score this higher.
THEATER OF DIMENSIONS
Review by Mark Holmes
27th January 2017
1) Where the Heart is Home
2) Death to the Holy; 3) Forsaken Love
4) Call of Destiny
5) We Are Murderers (We All)
6) Dark Night of the Soul
7) When the Walls Came Down (Heartache Was Born)
8) Ship of Doom; 9) Céilí
10) Song for Sorrow and Woe
11) Burn Me
12) Queen of Hearts Reborn
13) A Theater of Dimensions
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"It almost comes across as stylistic pastiche in places, in what feels like a series of interchangeable sympho-metal paradigms... Most importantly, though, Xandria excel in their chosen stylings. Pastiche reigns, but so does compositional excellence."