“Theater of Dimensions” by Xandria

Xandria’s seventh release, Theater of Dimensions, lives up to its name. It is a 75 minute opus of metal, classical, electronica and a dab of pop. The track “Death To The Holy” is a catchy hard rocker with a folk influence. That folk influence continues on the mournful ballad “Forsaken Love.” Dianne van Giersbergen’s soothing vocals complement the downtuned guitars and choppy string sample. Things take a turn for the heavy on “We Are Murderers (We All)” which features Soilwork vocalist Bjorn Strid. Guitarists Marco Heubaum and Philip Restemeier throw out some solid leads and the riffs are satisfactory, but a bit tame by metal standards. Of course, Xandria is not an extreme metal act so any hopes of blast beats and Slayer type riffing are pointless. “Dark Night Of The Soul” is a hidden gem on Theater. This haunting ballad begins with Van Giersbergen’s vocals accompanied by a piano, before the drums and guitar kick in. The track maintains a steady beat with a beautiful guitar solo for good measure. There is a doom metal influence at the start of “When The Walls Came Down.” The choir samples accentuate the sorrowful mood on this track before the band transitions into a mid-tempo groove. The 14 minute long title track concludes the record in grandiose fashion. The classical samples are again used to melodramatic effect, with van Giersbergen’s operatic vocals heightening the experience of this track.

Theater of Dimensions is ambitious, at times a bit too ambitious. Xandria are certainly a talented outfit, but sometimes the vocals and samples are just over the top. There is little restraint on this record, which is not good when things become comical. Symphonic metal is rife with pretentiousness and Xandria is guilty of it on this album. The album is still enjoyable and there are some good tracks. However, at times the quintet does too much. When the band is on point, the songs are dynamic and compelling. The production on Theater is top notch and the vocals are loud and clear on a stereo. The only setback is the drumming is bland and almost sounds programmed. However, the guitars and samples are present in the mix and are not drowned out.

Xandria did not hold back on its seventh album. Theater of Dimensions is certainly a listening experience, albeit tedious at times. Fans of the band should enjoy it as the 13 tracks average to 4-5 minutes in length. Thus there is plenty of music on this record. However, people new to symphonic may want to listen to something a bit more palatable.

For news and tour dates check out the band’s website:

http://xandria.de/

CD Review: ‘Just Crazy Enough’ by SHEL

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I feel as though I’ve lost something… No, not lost, but forgotten something.  Something that was so present in my life once upon a time, but now has been buried under the burden of adulthood.  Each day passes before my eyes as I drone on, carrying around my list of priorities, expectations, and what-have-you’s.  I keep my regrets bundled in my back pocket so that I can’t help but sit askew.  Four extraordinary young women from Ft. Collins, Colo., have cleared that fog from my eyes, reminding me of my forgotten companion.  It’s child-like wonder, and it radiates through these songs as a ray of light through the morning mist.

Just Crazy Enough, the new album from the sister act known as SHEL, makes me smile.  That might sound like a rather plain statement, but it’s deeper than you may think.  This sophomore release is more than just a fun collection of tunes, though they bring them in spades.  The tracklisting overflows with a spirit that wraps you in a loving embrace, lifting you up to the rooftops and cradling you in its comforting reassurance.  It cracks open the shell of apathy and makes you grateful to be in this moment.  I can’t help but be sad due to all the time I’ve spent letting life beat me down, but I’m so happy to have found a momentary reprieve.

“Alright,” you say, “Barry has lost it.”  Fair enough, let us embark upon the finer details of this charming release.  For those who were fortunate enough to snag a copy of the group’s limited time fan-release, The Laboratory Sessions, you might notice a few familiar faces.  Three tunes have been overhauled for this release: “You Could Be My Baby,” which now pulsates with an even more resounding low end, reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Come Together;” “Moonshine Hill,” the Appalachian foot-stomper about being selective in our vices, now featuring a choral intro and extra guitar, bass, and background vocals that fill previously found airy space; and “Stronger Than My Fears,” the soft, finger-plucked guitar closer that now features subtle electronic, symphonic overtones, as well as chanting that brings to mind the African Savanna.

SHEL has always brought us interesting sounds and styles, touching on genres such as folk and classical, while rolling each song into an accessible, catchy package.  Here we find them going a step further, incorporating Liza’s deft beat-boxing [“Rooftop”] that previously was only displayed during their live performances.  Not only that, but after the inclusion of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle Of Evermore” on their debut album, the ladies have decided to venture once more into rock tributes, presenting us with a truly chilling rendition of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”  As Metallica has been one of my favorite bands for over 15 years, I’ll admit that it was difficult for me to hear it in such a strikingly different arrangement, but the Holbrook sisters have been so creative in their approach and I can’t fault their results.  While I wouldn’t put Just Crazy Enough head and shoulders above SHEL’s previous releases, it remains as stunning as all their work has been thus far.  If you’re anything like me, Just Crazy Enough is sure to put a smile on your face.

Buy Just Crazy Enough at:  iTunes | Amazon

For more on SHEL, visit:
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CD Review: ‘Winter Thrice’ by Borknagar

Borknagar continues its progressive push on the band’s tenth record Winter Thrice. The band keeps its black metal roots to a minimum. Instead, there is a greater shift towards folk metal and even power metal. The result is a multi-textured record that draws from diverse influences. The opening track and lead single “The Rhymes of the Mountain” meshes pounding drums with baroque style guitars to stellar effect. Vintersorg’s vocals change throughout the song. First, his voice soars like a hawk over a mountain and then morphs into a hellish shriek. The title track blasts through the speakers in galloping fashion. Again, the vocals are a high point as Garm from Ulver takes the lead on this track. The song contrasts between heavy and serene, making it one of the best tracks on the album. The band is more straight ahead on “Cold Runs The River.” The progressive elements are downplayed in favor of bombastic guitars and blastbeats in the middle of the song. The song is not monotonous at all thanks in no small part to the wah-wah guitar leads and gothic chord progressions. The classically structured “When Chaos Calls” pushes through like whips and twists like a winter storm. The double bass drums and dissonant guitars holds the song together while Vintersorg howls like a wolf atop a hill.

The greatest strength of Winter Thrice is the diversity in the songwriting. There are acoustic guitars, blastbeats guttural vocals, and a slight hint of electronica. Borknagar is unconventional in this respect making the album unpredictable but enjoyable. Fans of European metal will probably appreciate Winter Thrice, with its emphasis on melodicism and its classical influence. The record is heavy, but not like the brutality of American death metal. That does not mean American metalheads will not enjoy this record. However, the acoustic guitars and electronic elements may not appeal to some of them.

Winter Thrice is a solid record from one of Norway’s greatest metal bands. The band’s musicianship is amazing and the production is lushand clear. Borknagar are not the same band it was 20 years ago, but that is a good thing as the band continues to push itself. Fans of Children of Bodom, Amorphis and Insomnium will enjoy Winter Thrice. It is the perfect soundtrack for the Winter season.

For more in for on Borknagar, check out the band’s website http://borknagar.com/