Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Sharon den Adel – Vocals
Robert Westerholt – Guitar
Ruud Jolie – Guitar
Stefan Helleblad – Guitar
Jeroen Van Veen – Bass
Martijn Spierenburg – Keyboards
Mike Coolen – Drums
1. Let Us Burn
2. Dangerous (feat. Howard Jones)
3. And We Run (feat. Xzibit)
4. Paradise (What About Us?) (feat. Tarja)
5. Edge Of The World
6. Silver Moonlight
7. Covered By Roses
8. Dog Days
9. Tell Me Why
10. Whole World Is Watching (feat. Dave Pirner)
What do you get when you take a modern alternative metal sound, mix in some pop, some rap, and then add in orchestras over the top? If your guess was the latest Within Temptation album, you would be absolutely correct! As a long time fan of the band, I’ve seen them change quite a bit over the years. They initially started as a typical sounding gothic metal band, then changed to a more melodic and beautiful symphonic metal sound for Mother Earth, before going even softer and adding slight pop elements on The Silent Force. With their last two albums The Heart Of Everything and The Unforgiving, their pop elements and modern alternative metal elements were becoming more and more prominent. Now with their sixth full length album Hydra, they’ve gone even further with their more modern sound, while briefly bringing back flashes of their past and continuing to experiment with some new sounds. It’s definitely their most diverse album to date, and also quite possibly their best.
One thing that’s evident just by looking at the track listing is that they had a lot of guests appear on this album. I was initially concerned about this, especially since three of the four guest singers are typically associated with genres that may not mix well with Within Temptation’s music, but I guess it’s just a testament to how much they’ve evolved, their willingness to experiment, and their talent at writing great songs that they were able to make each of these collaborations work out as well as they did. I’ll go in to more detail below, but not only do none of the guests stick out in a bad way, they each manage to enhance their song in their own way, while working wonderfully with Sharon’s vocals to create something truly special.
As mentioned above, Within Temptation has changed a lot since their early years, and at this point their music is almost as much pop as it is metal, so fans of more traditional symphonic metal may be turned off. Personally, I’ve found their more catchy pop influenced songs have always been some of their best, and this trend continues on Hydra. At the same time, there are still some heavier songs where the alt metal riffing takes over, with “Tell Me Why” being the best example of this, and on “Silver Moonlight” we even get some harsh vocals from guitarist Robert Westerholt, which is something he hasn’t done on a full album since their debut Enter. For the most part, though, it is indeed a very melodic and extremely catchy album, where Sharon den Adel sounds as wonderful as ever.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only longtime fan of the band who was very nervous when they announced a collaboration with rapper Xzibit. Well, all my nightmares about this pairing proved to be all for nothing, as it turns out, and get ready for the shock of this statement: “And We Run” is without a doubt my favorite song on the album. Somehow they managed to create a masterpiece out of something that seemed like it was doomed to fail right from the start. Instead of lazily inserting Xzibit into a full out symphonic metal song, they started it out as a really beautiful pop song with Sharon excelling on vocals during the first 90 seconds, then Xzibit does a brief but oh so effective part during the chorus, and then the second verse is just pure magic, as he raps some really epic lyrics while the orchestra plays in the background, and the whole thing is so incredibly epic that on my first listen I literally could not believe what I was hearing. Somehow they pulled off the near impossible, and if anything this song shows how much Within Temptation has evolved as a band, because even back in 2007 I don’t think they would have pulled off what is essentially a symphonic pop rap song nearly as effectively as they did here.
But of course, there are other songs to talk about as well. Continuing with the collaborations, I was also scared when I saw former Killswitch Engage vocalist Howard Jones slated to appear on “Dangerous”. Admittedly, in this case it was mostly me being ignorant in assuming that because his former band is generally considered to be a metalcore band that he himself can’t sing normally, which is something I instantly realized was wrong when I listened to the song for the first time. The song itself is one of their catchiest songs to date, and is essentially a melodic alternative metal song where Howard steals the show during the verses with his very powerful clean vocals, and he sings wonderfully with Sharon during the chorus. The last surprising collaboration is also the last track on the album, “Whole World Is Watching”, with most countries getting the normal version with Soul Asylum singer Dave Pirner, while Polish fans get a special version with Polish singer Piotr Rogucki. I can only comment on the version I heard, which is an absolutely terrific ballad where Dave’s voice matches up perfectly with Sharon’s, resulting in an absolute stunner to end the album with.
In a less surprising collaboration, former Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen appears on the single “Paradise (What About Us)”, which features some very heavy riffing during the verses, to go along with the typically catchy chorus. As expected, Tarja’s operatic vocals work very well with Sharon’s vocals and it’s a duet I’m sure most fans of female fronted symphonic metal are very excited to hear. Other highlights include the heavy and more complex “Tell Me Why”, and the insanely catchy “Covered By Roses”, which is the exact type of pop-ish symphonic metal song they excel at, and definitely belongs in the same category as songs like Sinead and Faster from The Unforgiving.
While a large part of this review has described how much different Within Temptation are now than they were in their early days, one thing has remained true of them: They are by far the most consistent female fronted metal band in the world when it comes to making great albums, as everything since their interesting but flawed debut has been absolutely fantastic. If anything Hydra may just be their best release yet. Obviously it’s a must hear both for longtime fans of the band, and fans of female fronted bands in general.
Written by Travis