Monday, 10 February 2014
Review; Within Temptation - Hydra
1. Let Us Burn
2. Dangerous (Ft. Howard Jones)
3. And We Run (Ft. Xzibit)
4. Paradise (What About Us?) (Ft. Tarja Turunen)
5. Edge Of The World
6. Silver Moonlight
8. Dog Days
9. Tell Me Why
10. The Whole World Is Watching (Ft. Dave Pirner)
At their most bombastic and grandiose, Within Temptation were a real favoured band of mine. Their Symphonic Gothic Metal sound heard on albums like 'The Heart Of Everything' and 'Mother Earth' was cinematic and identifiable enough that they managed to stand right alongside the scene leaders Nightwish. Within Temptation's approach was built less around an operatic feel than their aforementioned contemporaries, but was equally as gripping. However; 2011's 'The Unforgiving' saw the band strip their sound down and ultimately sounded more like pop than any sort of Metal. The fact it was a rather wish-washy concept album didn't help with the overall dullness.
This album struck me as a possible return to their old style, due to the title 'Hydra'. It brings many obvious connotations; eight heads signifying different characteristics of their musical style, a reference to the various guest musicians, and even the idea of the album as a huge entity, perhaps giving the idea that this will turn Within Temptation into a larger band yet. Also, the idea of the mythical, the imaginative, the larger-than-life, which leans more towards the idea of their Gothic musical roots.
Whilst it turns out that this album does present different takes on the Within Temptation sound, the fact is that it is still very stripped down. Possibly more-so than the previous album! The opening song 'Let Us Burn' is about as close as the whole album gets, but the issue lies in the overly polished finish that the album has. Any edge is erased and replaced with pop music sensibilities. Predictability is also a factor, when it comes to the song structure.
In comes the first of the guest appearances; former Killswitch Engage and current The Devil You Know singer Howard Jones' voice does work well alongside Sharon Den Adel's classical tones on 'Dangerous', but it's just a shame that the song lacks everything other than a decent hook that the most ardent of Within Temptation fans will appreciate. It's a forgettable song, unfortunately. 'And We Run' sees the American rapper Xzibit make an appearance. Whilst the song does go well, in that the orchestra becomes more prevalent with a marching drum beat. It's when Xzibit starts rapping that things spiral down like a spitfire. Big note for the future: the word 'Motherfucker' just sounds weird and laughable in the context of Within Temptation's balladry, however you deliver it. Couldn't help but both laugh and cringe at that.
Hearing both Den Adel and former Nightwish front woman Tarja Turunen on one song is something that had the potential to make Symphonic Metal fans the world over froth at the mouth, but this song suffers from the under-utilisation of the guest in question, especially at the chorus where Tarja might as well have just sang amongst a backing choir. In my personal opinion, Tarja is the better singer anyway, and the song underlines that since Den Adel seems to be singing more like an accomplished pop singer than anyone with operatic capabilities.
'Edge Of The World' is really just a standard Within Temptation song in the vein of popular single 'Memories', but hey; the fans are going to like more of the same thing, so fair enough. To me, it's another demonstration that, with the exception of the occasional guitar solo (none of which are massively impressive) the band's sound has been redirected to focus upon the voice. Nothing else stands out, be it due to the mix or as a showcase of skill. Where are the riffs? Or the drum fills, or anything else for that matter? The charisma and vocal skill of Sharon Den Adel may be apparent, but it's not that impressive that the whole weight of the band's sound can be transferred to the vocal lines. Within Temptation, or the Sharon Den Adel band?
'Silver Moonlight' carries the only real surprise on the album; the return of guttural vocals. Apparently this was included due to popular demand, so at least the band show that they listen to their fanbase, and it's actually one of the more memorable songs on the album due to this addition to the sonic palette. Then 'Roses' comes in, sounding like another pop-rock anthem for a female audience. It can be shrugged off pretty easily, unlike 'Dog Days' which is the most annoying misfire that the band have ever put to record. The lyric "1, 2, 3, 4; What are you waiting for?" is so derivatively lazy as song writing goes that I genuinely never want to hear the damn song again.
There's a bit of a decent riff to be heard in the verses of 'Tell Me Why'. Compared to the rest of the album, it's a decent enough riff that you can try to overlook the fact that it's smothered under the bloody vocals in the mix, but even then; just as you're getting into the swing of the song, the generic structure and background chords come back in at the chorus, once again designed only to showcase Sharon's singing. It's actually noticeable that the vocal range used through the album seems to be a very limited cross-section of her full range, give or take the odd moment. Doesn't help with the overall blandness.
'The Whole World Is Watching' gives a guest spot to Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, whose ever-so-slightly gritty vocal tones manage to lend themselves well to the Pop Rock sound of the album. (Let's not kid anymore, this isn't a Symphonic Metal album by a long shot!). The song reminds me slightly of the song 'What Have You Done?' from The Heart Of Everything. It's just not as good, unfortunately. This is the overall problem with the album; it doesn't match up to anything in Within Temptation's back catalogue in my opinion. Which is a shame. I doubt I'll be putting a lot of thought towards future albums. It's a good thing I've still got 'The Heart Of Everything' and 'The Silent Force' to listen to.