Within Temptation

Hydra

Written by: TL on 31/01/2014 20:55:16

For almost twenty years now, when you've talked about female fronted gothic metal, you've had to start with Nightwish and Within Temptation. The Finnish and Dutch genre pioneers have inspired countless imitators since both their inceptions in 1996, and while the former has now changed frontwoman a few times, Within Temptation has kept its own numerous line-up changes at the back of the stage, with founding members Sharon Del Adel (vocals), Robert Westerholt (guitar) and Jeroen van Veen (bass) ensuring continuity as the faces of the band.

The last we heard from them was 2011's "The Unforgiven", an ambitious concept album which only fortified the band's well-deserved position as a massive commercial success within metal, yet with today's release of the band's sixth album "Hydra", there's still insufficient evidence to accuse the genre veterans of going on cruise control just yet. To the contrary, interview testimony from Westerholt and Del Adel attributes the album's title to the band's intentions of using it to experiment with different nuances to their style, feeling that they perfected the vision of their trademark symphonic metal on 2007's "The Heart Of Everything".

The easiest way to spot the intended variety is to just look at the other "heads" the hydra has grown. On the album's guest list former Killswitch Engage singer Howard Jones and Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner contend for prominence with iconic ex-Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen and none other than X-2-the-Z - Mr. Pimp-my-ride - Xzibit himself. Of course Jones' somewhat processed sounding contributions to "Dangerous" does little to make a very single-sounding track with a recognisable opening, sound much unlike the Within Temptation of always, but Xzibit's rapped verses in "And We Run" make for a fun - if not entirely well realised - nu-metal power ballad in the vein of Linkin Park or Evanescence.

Relegated to the end of the album, "Whole World Is Watching" feels like a slightly forced and unnecessary tip of the hat to the man behind the evergreen "Runaway Train", and rather it is the pairing of Del Adel with Turunen on "Paradise (What About Us)" that's easily the most noticeable track "Hydra" has to offer. Opening with dramatic violins, the song soon pitches the operatic and ethereal siren song of Turunen against Del Adel's comparatively sweeter and rounder style and the contrast really brings out the qualities of each, especially when Turunen coats Del Adel's chorus with an unreal overtone or harmonises with the guitar during the bridge.

Besides the guest tracks, "Hydra" also offers a couple of tracks that feature growling (a first I believe, in the band's career?). It's barely noticeable in the dark "Tell Me Why", but there's a clear backing presence in the dramatic "Silver Moonlight", which gallops ahead similarly to the classic Nightwish cover of "Over The Hills And Far Away", and while the harsh vocals are clearly kept in check in the mix, it's another solid track on here, along with the hard-rock-ish "Covered By Roses". On the flipside, opener "Let Us Burn" and ballads "Edge Of The World" and "Dog Days" sound every bit as predictable as the filler material that the band has admittedly been known to cushion around their better singles, and particularly in these you can easily sympathise with critical voices that may complain that even on here, Within Temptation has hardly changed at all.

And indeed, calling "Hydra" an experimental album can be considered a stretch, because it can easily sound to the untrained ear like Within Temptation are just up to the same old tricks. Apart from the guest vocals, the excursions into foreign territory are careful and cautious, as to not risk the band's successful formula by which all the material is still very much written. But truthfully I don't mind that too much. Sure, "Hydra" might not feel as cohesive and immersive as "The Unforgiven", and sure, some of the songs on here might feel like paler versions of others that fans could pick out from earlier albums - But I still find it encouraging that the band is not only starting to open up but also doing so gradually instead of recklessly. Considering especially that Within Temptation clearly know the ins and outs of songwriting and production better than many bands music bloggers would likely consider cooler and more relevant than them, they remain a rock solid option for times when you're through being cool and you just want to soak in some unashamedly corny fantasy metal.

7

Download: Paradise (What About Us?), Silver Moonlight, And We Run, Dangerous
For The Fans Of: Nightwish, Deadlock, Evanescence, Amaranthe
Listen: facebook.com/wtofficial

Release Date 31.01.2014
Nuclear Blast / Dramatico / BMG / Universal Music

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