DATE OF INTERVIEW:
13th February 2017
DIANNE VAN GIERSBERGEN
Xandria's full-length follow-up to their 2014 album, 'Sacrificium', finally arrived at the end of January this year and, with it, the Dutch-fronted, German symphonic metallers have delivered another slab of epic-edged entertainment. Aptly titled 'Theater of Dimensions', it offers up just as it promises - a diversified mix of styles within its histrionically heightened sympho-metal core. Vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen provided Metal Discovery with an insight into the creative process behind this new album as well as chatting about its varying dimensions; guest vocalists; producer and uber talented ex-After Forever's Joost van den Broek's creative input; and a different side to her own creativity, with her intriguing and unique Precious Metal jewellery business...
METAL DISCOVERY: Congratulations on ‘Theater of Dimensions’, it’s a genuinely epic sounding work. Do you think you bettered ‘Sacrificium’, and is it always your aim to try and top the previous album?
DIANNE: Well, better or different should indeed be the aim, and I’m happy to say that I think with our new album we’ve accomplished both!
(Dianne van Giersbergen on Xandria's new album, 'Theater of Dimensions')
"I think it is safe to say that, with this album, we tried to not only take a step up in quality... but also to widen our horizon by implementing the different flavours..."
Xandria - promo shot, 2016
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2016 - Stefan Heilemann
Xandria Official Website:
Thanks to Andy Turner for arranging the interview
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MD: How have fan reactions been, thus far, to the album? Are you satisfied and pleased with how it’s been received, and is it a mixture of nerves and excitement before each new release?
DIANNE: Of course it is but, with this one, we were also so convinced of the total work that we weren’t too afraid; if no-one would like it then at least the 5 of us would ;). But the album has been warmly received by our fan base and critics, and we simply can’t wait to now share the new songs with everyone!
MD: With this being the second album you’ve written and recorded with the band, did it feel like a more natural and easier process this time, compared to ‘Sacrificium’? And, of course, Steven joined in 2013, so it’s the second album you’ve recorded with the current lineup.
DIANNE: Totally different. When I joined the band, the songs to ‘Sacrificium’ were already fully written; I could only adjust a few minor things. We made it work but, if you compare it to ‘Theater of Dimensions’, you will clearly hear what the result is when the process had been like the one we had now: a set out plan to write the songs; joining up with Joost van den Broek, who not only fully produced the album but also co-wrote; implementing the voice to the songs in a much earlier state so that we could really find where my best colours were; adjust tunings and arrangements to let the voice shine; do a proper pre-production; being coached on our English and, when all of this was set and done, we were so overly prepared that recording was almost like a holiday!
MD: Is there a loose theme binding all the tracks together under the ‘Theater of Dimensions’ title? It’s often said that life is like a theatre, so do the “dimensions” in the title refer to the different aspects of life covered in each of the songs?
DIANNE: Haha, well, you totally stole my text here! Though I would say the dimensions are more a reflection of the different colours, styles, structures; basically, the variety that we used for this album. There is much more contrast to be found in “Theater of Dimensions” than ever before.
MD: There are a lot of histrionics and bombast throughout many of the songs, but always with a refined sense of grandeur, for which I said in my review “is what ultimately prevents the album from disappearing up its own symphonic arse.” I presume there’s a lot of work in arranging the compositions and integrating the symphonic elements, so that it never comes across as ostentatious or gratuitous?
DIANNE: Well, precisely! Though the 5 of us all have our ideas on how to implement the symphonic aspect, we must really give credit to Joost (van den Broek) for this. He is the one making the (orchestral) arrangements and has the talent to balance band-choir-orchestra in a way that they are never in each other’s way; instead of that, they support one another. The writing sessions take place in his studio in ‘Sandlane Recording Facilities’ in the Netherlands and Joost always implements his orchestral ideas right there and then in the moment. Of course, later on, all will be fine-tuned but, with this method, we safeguard that band and arrangement would become separate aspects.
MD: Aside from the symphonic aspect, the album diversifies on occasion, such as with the folky flavours of ‘Céilí’ and the beautiful acoustic guitar intro to ‘Queen of Hearts Reborn’ (the latter sounds inspired, in terms of style, by classical guitarist John Williams). So, was there a conscious effort to spice up the album by introducing different ingredients into the symphonic metal core?
DIANNE: Yes, I think it is safe to say that, with this album, we tried to not only take a step up in quality (better production, but also reinventing the whole process of writing songs for Xandria), but also to widen our horizon by implementing the different flavours you just mentioned and I called ‘dimensions’ earlier on.
MD: Joost van den Broek produced once again… apart from his fantastic production skills, does he have an inherent understanding and shared vision of the symphonic metal sound you’re seeking, what with his own musical background in After Forever?
DIANNE: I maybe already answered this question in one of my answers above but, when it comes to Joost, we can indeed say that he not only has a clear understanding of what the genre is, he also understands what the band needs from him; how far his influence/guidance needs to go and what needs to be left open for the band to discover. I then not only speak about Xandria. Joost is working with many bands from the genre, most known might be Epica, but also Stream of Passion, Revamp and Anneke van Giersbergen. I’ve heard the Epica guys say that he felt like a 7th band member and I think it is safe to say that, for us, this would also be a statement we would stand by.
MD: Vocally, the album’s stunning through your wide ranging voice, both stylistically and tonally. Do you approach songs in varying ways before you settle on the vocal that works over each passage of music? And is this part of the pre-production process, or do you have time to experiment with your voice in the studio?
DIANNE: Yes! I’ve been a part of the writing process from the beginning this time, which gave us the chance to focus on my voice at a much earlier stage. Once the songs were there in their basic form, I took them all home with me and set out to write vocal lines that fitted my voice best or that fitted the song best, and then work out a different key to which the song had to be transposed in order to have the best vocal outcome. Especially this last step is something that is new to Xandria and something we really gained on! Lyric-wise, I’ve also done far more than on ‘Sacrificium’. Like with melodies, also with words, the fact is that as the singer who is asked to sing them I know best on which vowels my voice shines best and at which position.
MD: You have a few guest musicians on the album, including Soilwork’s Björn Strid, who provides some growls on ‘We Are Murderers (We All)’, which is perhaps the heaviest track on the album. Did you feel the song needed some death vocals of Björn’s ilk, to make the heavy nature of the song even more emphatic?
DIANNE: You could say that, yes. The song is an idea by Marco, who really wanted to make this little trip into a heavier metal sound and, in order to make it a bit more authentic, we were looking for a guest who could live up to that. Who could deliver a means growl as well as a solid clean voice, which led us to Björn.
MD: And you have Firewind’s Henning Basse on the title track – how did he become involved, and why did you choose him for that song in particular?
DIANNE: Henning is a fantastic singer! We met one another during ‘Karmaflow The Rock Opera’ in which we both performed and clicked straight away. When we decided on having a male part for ‘A Theater of Dimensions’, and it became clear that we were in need of someone who could live up to this theatrical performance, I instantly knew that we had to ask Henning.
MD: Talking of the title track, it turns up the epic quota to eleven, and provides a very impressive finale to the album. Was it a challenge to make such a long track sound so effortless in how it shifts between so many disparate passages?
DIANNE: Well, it is sort of like a mini musical or opera and guided by the story. With that I mind, you set out to compose in a different way but I wouldn’t say it’s more difficult to write; rather, more inspiring and much much closer to writing a classical piece where the poem or libretto is the inspiration as well.
MD: Around two thirds through the title track, it becomes very filmic… kind of reminiscent of a Danny Elfman soundtrack. Was Elfman the inspiration here?
DIANNE: Might be; we all are huge fans of Tim Burton’s collaboration with Danny Elfman. But again, here is Joost, the one who deserves the compliment. His work as (film) composer really shines through here.
MD: Aside from music, you also have your ‘Precious Metal’ jewellery business on the go, with pieces fashioned from (bass) guitar strings and cymbals donated by a variety of bands. Of course, all creativity is an outward expression of a person’s inner emotions, so do you get the same emotional kick from making jewellery as you do singing?
DIANNE: Wow, that’s a nice way of putting it into words. To be honest, I’m not sure if you can really link my inner emotions to the jewelry I create, but I do feel a sort of passion for creating these jewels and am humbled by the thought that the material I work with already tells such a tale, and will live on as a jewel around the neck/wrist of happy fan and customer. It has become the perfect way for me to out my creativity without using my voice; giving it the chance to also rest a bit. For all of those interested, please check out my jewelry at: www.facebook.com/preciousmetaljewelry
MD: Do you have a dream list of bands/musicians who you’d like to donate their strings and cymbals to you? Whose strings or cymbals would be your ultimate dream to create art from?
DIANNE: I asked the boys and Philip just shouted out ‘Jimi Hendrix’. For me, it would not matter so much as I think every story is unique.
MD: Finally, what’s in store for Xandria in 2017? You have a handful of shows already announced, but can fans expect a full tour? Any plans to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Xandria, seeing as it’s now two decades since Marco recorded those original demo tracks in 1997?
DIANNE: Now there is a cool idea! Though I must say that the band sees their career start with the release of ‘Neverworld’s End’, so, for an anniversary, we might have to wait a little. For 2017, we, of course, plan to tour and promote our new songs. At the moment of answering these interview questions, we are in Tunisia and just returned from the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. More dates will be released shortly!
MD: Thanks for your time, I hope the album does astoundingly well for you, and hope you have continued success with the jewellery.
DIANNE: Very kind of you! Thank you so much for your time and to all those who read this interview: thank you so much for your support! We hope to see you on the road!