XandriaIt’s Xandria’s turn to release one of these extended EP type things that Napalm are so keen on as a fill-in between albums. We are treated to 3 new songs 2 re-recordings and a cover. There are actually TWO cover versions, but I personally can’t in any way call one of them a treat. More of that looming up later in the review.

The new tracks (the first three songs on the release) follow on perfectly from the last album. The first is a heavy, up-tempo Epica style track, the second is in a style somewhere between Nightwish’s ‘Wish I Had An Angel’ and classic After Forever and the third is more of a ballad in a style that is reminiscent of how the band used to be, just with a little more orchestration. They are all of the band’s usual high standard, perfectly delivered, and just as good as anything on the last album. It’s easy to sound a little flippant, and I don’t mean to, but it’s a compliment to Xandria when you hear songs of this quality and EXPECT it from them. Neither of the three leap out as an obvious reason for this release, so therefore maybe come across as tracks that failed to make it onto the album and given a new lease of life. Still essential for fans of the band.

The re-recordings are obviously an opportunity to hear how Xandria classics would sound with relatively new singer Dianne Van Giersbergen. ‘Now and Forever’ from “India” is true to the original, given a little more diversity in the vocal department and a touch more orchestration. ‘Ravenheart’ (one of their best loved tracks) gets the same treatment musically, but the vocals stay a little closer to the original. Probably a wise move because this song has such a great chorus which almost carries rest of the song. I suppose neither song really needed re-recording, but it’s nice to hear a new version and see how the songs fit with the band’s current incarnation without seeing them live.

And finally we have the covers. Sonata Arctica’s ‘Don’t Say A Word’ was already a great song and it’s hard to see how a band could change it for improvement…so basically Xandria don’t. The music is very similar to the original (again with maybe a little more orchestration) and of course a female vocal rather than male. It’s a good version, totally on a par with the original, though maybe more of a tribute than a cover. The other cover (here it comes…shudder…) is of the (another shudder…) overblown Meat Loaf power ballad “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”. Blurrgh. The original track by Mr. Loaf is pompous, over-egged, dramatic, cheesy and epic. Many people loved it for these very reasons…but it got right on my bloody nerves. And, recalling the whole, endless, interminable original, I’m still none the wiser what the hell the “That” is that he “Won’t Do”! Xandria play it close to the original – and they have put an incredible amount of effort into it. It’s a bit heavier, of course, and has some nice orchestration. Meat’s original part is female sung here obviously and the bit that other singer sang 3 and a half hours into the original is this time sung by a chap. Obvious I guess, but effective. However I still don’t like the song, have no desire to ever hear it again and am left feeling that it’s a shame the “That” that Xandria “Won’t do” is cover this damn song. But hey, Xandria are bringing this to a new generation, and many people will love it, just as some may not thank them for doing so, just as much as I dislike poor old Loafy for the original. I don’t like the song, it’s not Xandria’s fault, but they perform it better than most would.

So basically, this is a top quality, symphonic metal release from a band I now come to expect it from. It’s purpose is obviously to keep the band in the public eye, buy them a little more time to write another great album and tide the fans over. The final mark I’ve given is not including the Meat Loaf cover as it’s a little unfair to judge the band for covering a song I personally loathe. 7 songs, 4 of which I know really well…and which one is stuck in my head? Damn you Meat Loaf…

(8/10 Andy Barker)