Within Temptation, who hail from The Netherlands (for the uninitiated), hold a special place in my heart. They were the first of the European symphonic metal acts to truly catch my ear. Their 2007 album, “The Heart of Everything” stands as the band’s seminal album to date, but they are about to return with their sixth studio effort, “Hydra“ on February 4 through Nuclear Blast records.
Within Temptation‘s previous effort, “The Unforgiving” was something of a concept album, and musically the band dipped heavily into 80s pop and hard rock on the record. They followed this in 2013 with series of cover songs from today’s current pop artists such as Imagine Dragons and Bruno Mars. Die-hard Within Temptation fans were getting a bit itchy wondering what direction the band would head next, but the concerns have been allayed with “Hydra“. The new record takes the band back to its heavier and dramatic foundation, while still continuing to grow and expand its boundaries.
This growth is represented in part by the presence of four guest vocalists on the record. When you have one of rock’s most pure and formidable vocalists in Sharon den Adel it makes guest singers almost moot. But knowing that Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish), Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage), Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), and even hip hop rapper, Xzibit were going to be making cameos on the record certainly piques one’s interest.
“Hydra” opens with a classic Within Temptation sound on “Let Us Burn”. The song is packed with dramatic atmosphere, thick guitars, and den Adel’s soaring vocal delivery. The listener is immediately engulfed in an aura of rich, auditory and emotive textures.
The first track to feature a guest artist, is the album’s second song and second single, “Dangerous”, which features former Killswitch Engage frontman, Howard Jones. I was admittedly skeptical that he could add anything to a Within Temptation song, but his plaintive and angsty vocals blend remarkably well with den Adel’s. His presence adds depth to the track.
“And We Run” is arguably the most startling track on the record. While its base is a classic Within Temptation song, full of spiraling keyboards and guitar work, and rich choral vocals, it is the presence of Detroit hip hop artist, Xzibit which throws you for a loop. I would never have imagined Within Temptation crossing that genre with their own. I was prepared to be skeptical, but the song works incredibly well, and the track is quite enjoyable. Admittedly I am still not sold on the rapper’s lyrical input, but melodically it pulls together in an amazing way.
The album’s first single, “Paradise (What About Us?)” features the operatic flourishes of Tarja Turunen. This is a stunning Within Temptation song on its own merit, but Tarja and Sharon together take it over the top. It has all the crunch and presence of the band’s classic signature.
“Edge of the World” is a vintage Within Temptation style ballad. It is rich with atmospheric and symphonic elements. The vocals are outstanding, and Sharon, as always, takes it to an ethereal level.
The second half of the album is incredible as well, though admittedly not as impressive as the first half. It starts off with a brilliant, rhythmic chugger, “Silver Moonlight”. This is one of the album’s heavier tracks, and Westerholt adds some darkness and depth with his harsh background growls.
“Covered By Roses” is another powerful track which recalls classic Within Temptation songs like, “Memories” from 2004′s “Silent Force“. “Tell Me Why” is an energetic romp that blends “The Heart of Everything” with “The Unforgiving” in style and sound.
If there is a weak track on the record it is “Dog Days”, which is not a bad song, but the repetitive nature of the lyrics weigh it down.
The album closes out with another track, “Whole World is Watching” that is decidedly out of the usual Within Temptation realm. It is a duet with Soul Asylum‘s Dave Pirner, and while it is a fantastic track, it takes the band down a new path stylistically, giving fans a taste of something different.
The Deluxe Edition of “Hydra” includes 18 songs overall including four cover tracks from their 2013 Q Sessions and four “evolution” versions of the “Hydra” tracks: “And We Run”, “Silver Moonlight”, “Covered By Roses”, and “Tell Me Why”.
Within Temptation have created another masterful record with “Hydra“. The album taps into the prototype elements that are the foundation of the band’s trademark sound while still managing to channel their collective talents into expanding the Within Temptation palette. “Hydra” is a behemoth–a dynamic specimen of sonic beauty and bombast filled with bold, aural flourishes and dark, compelling depths.