Symphonic metal is a bit of a novelty.
Unless you’re a fan, symphonic metal is a bit of a novelty. Between the striking vocals that could fit perfectly in a literal opera, the dramatic string arrangements, the metal riffs and the musical heft, it’s tough not to chuckle. But, truthfully enough, there’s a reason why people love this stuff. In fact, if you’re able to cut through all the dramatics, a band like Xandria, with their newest effort, Theater of Dimensions, might introduce you to a new facet of metal you’ll find worth listening to.
Theater of Dimensions is a meticulously produced, extremely layered, complex album that, more than likely, will be difficult to listen to in one sitting. Clocking in at about 75 minutes, this is an epic of a record. Luckily, every song features all of the same sonic elements, includes multiple movements and, as a result, is a perfect example of what’s to come throughout the rest of the album. “Where the Heart Is Home,” the opening track, shows off the almost Lord of the Rings-esque string section that makes the tune feel as if it encapsulates the grandeur and scale of a blockbuster fantasy film. Once the more metallic elements charge in, the contrast between the strings and the down-tuned, heavily distorted guitarwork along with the thunderous drumming is a fairly staggering achievement. It almost feels as if the two styles of music were made for one another. Again, however, with tracks that average around five minutes, (save for the title track closer which is 14 minutes long), no matter how many ways the band pulls the seemingly disparate elements of their sound, everything will begin to blend together. Whether that blend is intentional or not doesn’t matter all that much as the album begins to feel like a slog about halfway through.
One of the most impressive elements in Theater of Dimensions, and Xandria as a band, is the vocals. It’s actually the feature that will make listening to the album in its entirety worth the time despite the run time and the musical mish-mash it becomes. Dianne van Giersbergen is a classically trained vocalist whose schooling in musical theater and classical music has turned her voice into an amazingly unique instrument. Operatic, powerful and, above all else, beautiful, van Giersbergen’s voice is what makes tracks like “Call of Destiny,” “When the Walls Came Down (Heartache Was Born)” and “A Theater of Dimensions” feel like pageantry—an invisible rock opera that would be a real treat to see performed live with choreographed battle sequences to accompany the music. If van Giersbergen were to ever decide to move on from the band (seeing as she’s the fifth vocalist over seven albums it seems reasonable) there’s no doubt she could step onto the stage and have jobs lined up for the rest of her life.
Theater of Dimensions is an album that will wow a very niche market. It is truly a tremendous effort considering the scale, the instrumentation and the precision needed to execute such a musical spectacle. But it’s not for the casual listener just as it’s not for a typical metal fan. The way the music melds into itself makes it all the more difficult to get into. But, if given a shot, if listened to in bits and pieces, Xandria will surely give anyone willing to listen something to enjoy.