Dutch symphonic metallers Within Temptation have been going now for an amazing 18 years and are starting to see the fruits of years and years of hard work.
They have forged a reputation as a hard working touring band who release good albums and over time have built a following to the point where they play to thousands at gigs worldwide, hit the charts in many countries and are probably a close second to Nightwish in terms of popularity of female fronted Metal bands.
'Hydra' is their sixth full studio album (not counting the 'Q Music Sessions' covers album) and is an important release from them. Their earlier albums had an epic, ethereal heavyness to them labelled goth metal by some but in 2011 they took a brave gamble with 'The Unforgiving', an album that saw a major change in style to a more commercial, modern sound married with their trademark overblown epicality.
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The risk paid off as they reached a lot of new fans while still taking most of their fan base with them and their rise up the ranks of Metal bands continued unabated. This was due in the main part to some quality songwriting and 'Hydra' needs to meet some ever increasing expectations.
I think WT have reached a stature where they deserve a track by track rundown of a new album so here goes:
'Let Us Burn' starts the album in mid paced style and marries gentle sections with breathy vocals from the superb Sharon Den Adel and an epic chorus where she gets to stretch out those magnificent lungs. The production is a little muddy on the chorus and the vocals get a touch lost but overall a sure start.
'Dangerous' is the first of four tracks on the album featuring vocal collaborations which has been a controversial move and has had some fans worrying it betrays a lack of inspiration. This pounding melodic metal track is sung with ex Killswitch Engage man Howard Jones and he acquits himself well in a song which while enjoyable sounds a little throwaway and despite a nice riff doesn't really stick in the mind.
'And We Run' is the most controversial of the collaborations as after starting with some nice keyboards and building up to some great sounding layered vocals from Ms den Adel in comes the voice of rapper Xzibit. I think it works though as this is clearly a Within Temptation song and a pretty good one with a great chorus. It just happens to add some rhythmic deep rap vocals in some spots and they add to the song for me.
'Paradise (What About Us)' is a duet between Sharon and ex Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen over a groovy, crunchy Metal guitar backdrop. It's a commercial pop-metal song really and works well although it is a bit lightweight considering the vocal talents on show.
'Edge Of The World' starts gently with understated sweet vocals over a building keyboards before working itself up to bring in loads of strings and some atmospheric drums for an overwrought melodramatic chorus. I should point out that overwrought and melodramatic are compliments in this kind of music! This is a really modern sounding track and lacks any kind of organic feel, this is a band using technology to help make the song work the way they want. I think it does work too.
'Silver Moonlight' brings the guitars and double bass drums back and is a heavier affair even featuring some grunting vocals from Ms Den Adel's other half and the other main songwriter guitarist Robert Westerholt. The production on the album is kind of muddy at times and vocals get lost especially in the chrouses but the way they bury the grunts here behind the sound as such means they work without losing the musicality of the song. More interesting than awesome though.
'Covered By Roses' is another mid paced commercial sounding tune with nice chugging guitars to power it along. It does sound a bit generic and like quite a few songs from their last two albums but I find I just can't resist its' sing along charms.
'Dog Days' has an intro a bit like 'Edge Of The World' and is a bit too generic and of their current formula to really stand out despite some nice vocals and orchestral sounds.
'Tell Me Why' is a bit more ambitious with some changing rhythyms and metal riffing and some sudden stops to let you hear how pretty Sharon Den Adel's vocals can be. I still have some questions about the muddiness of the sound though which is a shame as this is a really good song which could have been epic.
'Whole World Is Watching' is the last song and features the last vocal collaboration, this time with Soul Asylum's Dave Pinner. It's quite simply a big ballad with lots of strings and a big chorus and while it does still sound like a WT song it comes across as too mainstream and safe and nothing like as good as the beautiful 'Stairway To The Skies' from 'The Unforgiving'.
Verdict: I love this band and thought the last album was brilliant but I have to say I'm a bit disappointed by 'Hydra'. The band has set themselves high standards and while far from a bad album this doesn't feature enough really good songs to match their previous efforts.
I also think the mix lets it down, it just doesn't leap out of the speakers at you like it should and the band's talent deserves better. I'll still be at the UK tour in April though as I'm sure they'll sound bigger and better live!
Sharon den Adel – lead vocals
Robert Westerholt – rhythm guitar, grunts
Jeroen van Veen – bass
Ruud Jolie – lead guitar
Martijn Spierenburg – keyboards
Mike Coolen – drums
Stefan Helleblad - rhythm guitar (live), additional guitars (studio)