This month saw the return and release of the impressive new album from German symphonic metal band Xandria. After a long wait between previous album Salomé – The Seventh Veil in 2007 to new album Neverworld’s End, which saw the departure of previous singer Lisa Middelhauve to be replaced by the wonderful voice of Manuela Kraller, Xandria has burst back with a new intensity, creativity and collection of songs which treat the senses to a feast of majestically soaring metal veined sounds. With a great deal of pleasure we had the opportunity to talk to band founder guitarist/keyboardist Marco Heubaum about the new album, new singer Manuela and other aspects of Xandria.
Hello and welcome to The RingMaster Review, thank you for talking with us.
Marco: You are welcome, it´s a pleasure for us! J
First simple question is could you please describe the band in your words and introduce its members?
Marco: We are a German metal band that plays a symphonic, atmospheric and cinematic sound! We consist of five members: Gerit Lamm on the Drums, Nils Middelhauve on deep strings, Philip Restemeier and me on guitars and our new singer Manuela Kraller.
The band has been a vibrant force for a few years now but what was early Xandria like compared to now?
Marco: In the beginning Xandria was heavily influenced by nineties atmospheric, dark metal bands like Tiamat, Paradise Lost and other, and our debut Kill the Sun sounded like late nineties Tiamat only with female vocals. Much less bombastic than we are now and also more simple.
Has the evolution in sound and as musicians been completely organic or have there been times you have made a deliberate change in direction?
Marco: If you are calling picking up new influences and checking out what you can do with them organic, then it is this way. After the debut, influences like movie soundtracks and folk music emerged and our music became sounding bigger and more varied.
Relating to the last question your excellent new album Neverworld’s End has a more defined steel and harder edge to it than ever before was this deliberate or as I asked before a simply natural progression?
Marco: This time we had a clear picture of what the new album should sound like. We wanted to reach another level and to bring forward everyone´s favourite tastes more than before and thus we wanted the next album to be heavier, darker, and more complex.
What are your emotions on the eve of its release, trepidation, fear or confidence or …..?
Marco: We are very confident of what we have done on this album. Whatever the reaction will be, they will not change this, because this album is what we liked to do! But of course we are excited to hear people´s opinions, because it would also be great if our fans like it!
It has been roughly five years between Neverworld’s End and previous release Salomé – The Seventh Veil, why the time? Was it down to simply time taken writing the follow-up, the line-up change which we will talk about later or a mixture of factors?
Marco: Yes, the ones you mentioned have been the main reasons.
Though not openly active over that period to the outside the band must have been continuing in aspects of Xandria but how frustrating and hard is it to deal with things when all you want to do is play music to people live and for them to take home and immerse into?
Marco: We played our first South American tour in this time, and some more shows, all of them belong to the most successful live shows in our history, so there indeed has been something going on. But you are right; being not able to present a new album to the public because we had no permanent singer for the future was frustrating. Especially when you already know what you are about to create, that this is much more what you want to present than only the old songs over and over again. That´s why we already played at least one or two of the songs that have already been written live in this time.
As we touched on, the period between albums saw the addition to the band of vocalist Manuela Kraller, where and how did you all initially link up and meet with her leading to her eventually joining the band?
Marco: Because we started a public call for a new singer, we got lots of applications, and she has been the one we have been searching for! She sent us a very nice email with stunning samples of her voice and then we had invited her to our place to get to know her.
Replacing Lisa Middelhauve, Manuela has brought a new and impressive dynamic to the band but how much of an impact does a new singer have on the older already established songs and how a band plays them from that point on?
Marco: On stage it´s all about the chemistry between the musicians, and that is the most crucial thing. As this chemistry is absolutely great now with Manuela, this is what drives the songs, whether old or new, to new heights. It´s amazing to see how she can bring power to some of the old songs so they get a totally new dimension!
How daunting was it for Manuela to come into the band and bring alive these existing songs with her own ‘breath’.
Marco: I think she wasn´t too scared of this. She knows that we chose her because we believe in her voice and that she is the right one for us, so I think that gives her confidence. But I know that she – as we all do – has great respect for the older carnations of the songs as sung by Lisa, but we do not look back too much. We are the Xandria of now altogether and that´s how we see it when playing the songs.
The new album Neverworld’s End is a stunning release with as mentioned a new edge to the band’s sound, where did this new direction find inspiration and is this the future of Xandria?
Marco: The inspiration came from the things we liked most in our previous music, the atmospheric, bombastic and heavy moments, but we wanted to take this even further. There also have been influences by classical metal bands we always loved, like Iron Maiden, Pantera, Dream Theater, Emperor, Judas Priest, Metallica and also movie soundtracks. Of course there are also the likes of such fantastic symphonic bands like Nightwish that inspired us to go some steps further and unleash everything that was only sleeping in us until now.
The impressive blend of metal forged intensity and the soaring vocal command of Manuela is a seamless and creative mix but has songwriting for the album been as it has been on previous releases, how you go about crafting songs?
Marco: Well, as the main songwriter, I first gather ideas and work on them for myself, in my own fantasy I try to make the best out of them, and when I think they have become good songs, I show them to the other guys and then we are working on them together, everyone bringing in ideas to the arrangement. This main scheme has been working best since the very beginning of the band, when I founded it back in the late nineties to bring my musical visions to life. But also sometimes the other guys come up with ideas for songs and then we are working on them the same way.
Many bands stiffening up their attack with darker metal edges might have brought in additional coarser male vocals to play across from Manuelas tones, was this ever a thought approached and dismissed?
Marco: We thought about a male singer´s guest appearance on one song, but not as a permanent addition to our sound. And it didn´t happen in the end. Well at least you can hear me doing some spoken stuff, backing vocals and also some screams in the finale of Soulcrusher – listening to Children Of Bodom while driving the long distances between the recording studios inspired to do something like that (laughs). But it´s nothing too obvious and we are not really thinking about hiring a permanent male singer…
I must be honest my favourite tracks on a album of nothing but highlights is the meatier likes of Euphoria, Soulcrusher , and Cursed but are there any tracks or just elements of parts that you are most proud of or even surprised you at how well they have emerged?
Marco: I am most proud of the more complex, heavy and long songs, because this is something I never done before but absolutely wanted to.
This is your fifth album, how has the bands approach to recording and the studio changed over the years?
Marco: This time the production has been lying in our hands and we also recorded most guitars and bass at my home studio, this is something new for us. It gave us a lot of freedom but also big responsibility. If something would have run terribly wrong, we couldn´t blame someone else for it (laughs). But we had a lot of great people working with us, the Principal studio´s boss Jörg Umbreit who recorded the drums and did the mix, Corni Bartels with whom we recorded the vocals in his Weltraum Studios in Munich, and also the amazing talents of our orchestral arranger Joost van den Broek and the musicians who played authentic Celtic and Arabic instruments. These brilliant artists accompanied us very well and so we always had faith in what we were doing. Also we have been well prepared after this long time of rehearsing the songs and letting them mature.
Do you now have a more defined destination each time you enter a studio that you do not need or welcome outside ideas or has it worked the other way and you are more open to suggestions than ever before?
Marco: Both. We had a strong picture of the album and its sound in mind when we started with the actual recordings, but ideas from our orchestral arranger or other involved parties had been always welcome, though this didn´t affect the big picture as a whole.
Your retrospective album Now & Forever – The Best Of Xandria that came out in 2008 was a kind of summary and rounding up the band to that point, should we have seen it as that and was it a kind of that was us then release and now for something new?
Marco: Exactly. At the point of planning this best of it was an idea of our old label, a natural thing when contracts have been fulfilled, I think we already knew that our former singer would leave and that we would be heading for new directions. The title was not only referring to our song of the same name, but was meant as a hint that we would carry on with the band for sure.
Though generally it is a compliment do you get frustrated at the early Nightwish comparisons even with the new album which we feel definitely holds a distinct sound of your own far removed from theirs?
Marco: It´s right, Nightwish sounds different today, at least because they don´t have a classical sounding singer anymore (laughs), but for sure there are parallels in the overall musical vision, I think we share a lot there. As they are a real great band and have been one of the launchers of this kind of metal, it is a compliment when someone says “I think you are as great as…”. But of course we don´t like if someone says we are copying them. This is not our intention, we want to go our own way, we just share a lot of the destinations.
Is there to be extensive touring to promote Neverworld’s End?
Marco: We hope so, but we are just in the middle of planning things. So keep checking our tour dates in the next time, there will be news!
It is always too soon to ask really what is next for Xandria, but we will all the same.
Marco: Playing live as much as we can!
Thank you so much for sharing time to talk to us, good luck with the album though one doubts you will need it.
Would you like to leave us with a final thought or comment regarding anything?
Marco: Thanks for this statement, but good luck is always needed, we just hope people haven´t forgotten us and give us a chance with our new singer and the new album!
Neverworld’s End is available now via Napalm Records
Read the Neverworld’s End @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/xandria-neverworlds-end/
RingMaster Review 28/02/2012