No easing our way into a new year with a nice easy run-of-the-mill Power Metal album then? Nope, not for me, I get to put into words the next chapter in a band’s career, who I’ve seen gradually over their last few releases morph from very credible melodic Gothic Metal into the band I am faced with now – a Symphonic Metal force-majeure to rival anything that Nightwish and Epica have put out in recent times. Now, I have been a fan of Xandria’s right from their fabulous debut “Kill The Sun” so many years ago and I’ve enjoyed their musical journey since, but I’m going to have to be completely honest this time around, putting across my own point of view as fairly as I can, because believe me, this is probably one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write in a long time.

I’m sure that if “Theater Of Dimensions” was the first Symphonic Metal album you had ever heard, you would no doubt find it stunning! The talent and material on display is as good as any other band the genre has to offer, past or present. But unfortunately, it’s not the first one I’ve ever heard, far from it, I’ve heard LOTS of albums in this genre, and I’m sorry to say that I haven’t got a clue what Xandria themselves actually sound like! This may seem a little harsh to some (not least the band I’m sure…) and I hate being critical of an album that has clearly had a huge amount of time and effort spent on it, but I’m really struggling to find anything on here that doesn’t immediately sound like someone else.

Vocalist Dianne Van Giersbergen is incredibly talented, it’s almost unfathomable how dexterous as a singer she is. But I don’t know what her natural voice actually sounds like. It’s like the band have written songs in a particular style and said “You know who would sound great on this? Tarja/Floor Jansen/Simone Simons (select as appropriate), any chance you do her voice Dianne?”. And thus it goes on. I’m not laying the blame at her door at all, this isn’t confined to the vocals, because the music seems to set out to emulate the bands that the songwriters clearly hold in esteem – they seem to try far too hard to make each part sound just like who they are influenced by. I just listen to this whole album thinking that it sounds like Nightwish, Revamp, Epica. Sirenia, Delain etc. but never Xandria.

This isn’t blatant plagiarism, nothing is stolen or lifted, it’s just that each song has different elements so similar to another band’s sound, style and arrangement that if you isolate that part you would find it very hard to pick it as Xandria and not it’s original counterpart. Examples? OK, when they have a track with all the aggression and technicality of Epica, they immediately litter it with exactly the same sound and style of choir that Epica would use. The next song might sound like Nightwish, but that’s not enough, they go and throw a Uillean Pipes sound into the mix.

I realize that many of my criticisms may be irrelevant to some listeners and fans of the band and their genre. If you can easily get past the glaring similarities that I’m struggling with, there is no denying how cleverly the band can get from one style to another within some songs. That IS unique to Xandria and is yet another example of their musical prowess. There are some great songs on this album, I just wish I could hear them played by a band comfortable in their own skin, not trying to sound like someone else. There is a well known Oscar Wilde quote that most people know, it goes “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…”, but it then goes on to say “…that mediocrity can pay to greatness”. Xandria are far from mediocre, but if they continue down this path they are in danger of becoming the worlds most talented tribute act, and they are WAY too good for that.

(7/10 Andy Barker)