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Within Temptation - Hydra

Within Temptation - CD Review


CD Info
Nuclear Blast
10 tracks
English lyrics

Within Temptation has reinvented itself yet again. And in doing so they have released another album full of awesomeness.

Sharon den Adel has said they are not interested in releasing the same album over and over like AC/DC (no disrespect intended, AC/DC rocks). And they have not. Enter’s doom metal is vastly different from Mother Earth’s fantasy folk metal, which in turn is completely unlike The Silent Force’s ethereal beauty, The Heart of Everything’s bombast, and The Unforgiving’s 80’s hard rock. The only real constants in WT’s music have been the beauty, power, and emotion of Sharon’s voice, and the creativity of the music.

Hydra is harder to classify. It is probably Within Temptation’s most diverse and experimental album. To be sure, WT has not abandoned its past. In fact, I think they have deliberately injected signatures from their previous albums. In addition, having changed labels to Nuclear Blast, I see WT is now officially classified as “female fronted metal” -- gone is the “symphonic rock” label of The Unforgiving era. Genres don’t really matter of course, but since I’m a metalhead, I’m happy to have the metal label back. I’m also hopeful that Nuclear Blast will give Within Temptation a great platform to be as creative as they want and to find an audience who appreciates it.

Beyond the label and the diversity and the experimentation, three things stand out about Hydra. One is that Sharon’s voice is more beautiful and emotional than ever. I think she has made the effort in the last few years to take her natural abilities to an even higher level; this was also apparent on The Q-Music Sessions, the covers album that WT released last year. Hydra also gives us much more of Sharon’s exceptionally beautiful high voice than The Unforgiving did. It’s not like The Silent Force, where she used that voice almost all the time, but she does use it a lot and to great effect.

Second, the guitars on Hydra are more complex and more prominent. I’ve seen Ruud Jolie post that this material will be the most challenging he’s played live with WT, and I understand why. Within Temptation has often used guitars more as a rhythm instrument, relying on an orchestra to add complexity. Here the symphony has been dialed back, and the guitars take center stage.

Third, Hydra has some really interesting guests. The first is well known to everyone in the genre: Tarja Turunen, who appeared on the album’s first single last year, “Paradise.” As I wrote in my review of the Paradise EP, the long-awaited collaboration between Sharon and Tarja is sure to please fans of both. “Paradise” is probably also the most traditional symphonic metal song on Hydra (and it hasn’t changed since the EP).

The other collaborations are more experimental. The next single, “Dangerous,” features American vocalist Howard Jones, formerly of Killswitch Engage. Despite Jones’ background in metalcore, he sings clean vocals here. And he compliments the song and Sharon perfectly. I especially like how WT overlaid Sharon’s ultra-high vocalizations on top of his lines. The music is also driving and energetic, with some of Mike Coolen’s best double bass drums to date. It reminds me a bit of Amaranthe. Overall, the song has a very fresh and modern feel, and is a great choice for a single. I also quite like the video, which does a great job matching the “dangerous” feel of the music.

The next collaboration is probably the most surprising: “And We Run” features rapping by Xzibit (pronounced “exhibit”). The way the song begins, the listener may expect a beautiful ballad but then the music gathers intensity and Xzibit starts rapping. It doesn’t surprise me that a little rapping works in metal music -- I like early Linkin Park, and I’ve seen Sharon mention Run-D.M.C. with Aerosmith -- and the combination works very well here. The force of the rapping fits the metal mood, and Sharon’s high vocals blend very well with Xzibit’s voice (as they did with Howard Jones’).

The last collaboration is a duet ballad, “The Whole World Is Watching,” with Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum (or Piotr Rogucki of Coma on the Polish edition). I love WT’s ballads (such as “Pale,” “Somewhere,” and “Forgiven”) -- mostly because of Sharon’s exquisite voice -- but unfortunately this song doesn’t work for me with the male vocals. I simply find the chorus too mushy. Or maybe there’s just too much of the male vocals, rather than Sharon’s. Even so, I do like the acoustic guitar, the violin, Sharon’s voice, and even Pirner’s voice on the verses, and I have seen positive reaction online to the Polish radio single, so clearly it does work for others.

Beyond the collaborations, it is also interesting to see what has happened to the demos from the Paradise EP on the final album. I really like how Within Temptation is sharing the song development process with us this time. They are going to have even more “evolution” tracks on the deluxe version of the album, which I have pre-ordered. (As a reviewer, I got a free download copy of the album, but I am really looking forward to all the extras, including these additional demos and a book.)

The first of the EP songs, “Let Us Burn,” now serves as the perfect opening for Hydra. It is much the same as the EP, but has been polished to perfection, and grabs your attention much like “Shot in the Dark” did on The Unforgiving. “Let Us Burn” now also evokes The Silent Force with some samples and with the use of Sharon’s beautiful high voice in parts. The song also gives notice that the album will contain more guitars.

Next up is “Silver Moonlight.” When I reviewed the EP, I was excited by the return of Robert Westerholt’s growls, and they are still here, though they have become less prominent in the mix. I suppose this makes the song (and album) more accessible, but I’m still glad they are present. By the way, have you ever noticed that Robert also growls on “Our Solemn Hour” (during the chorus)? I can hear this only with headphones. On “Silver Moonlight,” he is much more noticeable, adding to the intensity of the music.

“Dog Days” is the last of the Paradise demos. I loved the demo because it felt like a song off of Enter. It has now become less raw and more polished, sort of like Enter meets The Silent Force. Although Sharon no longer uses her Enter voice as much, her vocals are still very intense and emotional. I also really like Martijn Spierenburg’s piano.

That leaves three more new songs. “Edge of the World” is a beautiful ballad, the first third of which would fit comfortably on The Silent Force, and even reminds me of “Somewhere.” But it becomes much heavier toward the middle and in the last third becomes heavier still, with galloping bass, before looping back to an ethereal finish. By comparison, “Tell Me Why” starts heavy and doesn’t let up. It features an angry riff, thunderous bass, and some of Sharon’s most aggressive vocals. It’s also the longest song on the album, running over six minutes. I quite like both songs, and they offer nice contrast.

I like “Roses” even more. It is heavy and catchy at the same time, and has lyrics that make me wonder whether this might be a concept album of sorts. I recall that “Let Us Burn” starts with the line “The darkness has come to the roses.” I then realize that “Let Us Burn” also ties into “Paradise,” which begins “There’s no sense, the fire burns.” Perhaps a major theme of Hydra is that life is “dangerous” but we should be “embracing the world on the edge.” “No, it’s not our Paradise. But it’s all we want. And it’s all that we’re fighting for.” I look forward to giving these lyrics more thought in the months and years to come.

Now we come to the rating. This is an album that I love with one song that doesn’t work for me. How should I handle that? I’ve decided to ignore that song. If it doesn’t grow on me, I will just uncheck it from iTunes.

Final rating for a brilliant, modern, experimental Within Temptation album: 10 / 10.