- - - - - -

Within Temptation - Let Us Burn

Within Temptation - CD/DVD Review
Let Us Burn

Within Temptation



Nuclear Blast Records
English lyrics
32 tracks
2014 release
10 / 10


Written by: Justin Boyer; Additional Comments By: John Thornburgh

One of the inevitable curses Within Temptation incurred, when the Black Symphony live album (their first live concert with a full orchestra) was first released, was that every live concert, on the same scale, will be compared to it. When Elements was first announced, the initial response to news, from devout Within Temptation fans, was predictable high expectations, including speculation as to whether or not the concert to commemorate this noteworthy symphonic metal/rock band’s fifteenth anniversary will surpass the Black Symphony in terms of quality. Now, the band could have lazily resorted to trying to recreate the entire Black Symphony experience with the addition of tracks from The Unforgiving, in order to satisfy the high levels of fan expectations. Everyone that has watched their momentous Black Symphony performance has more than likely watched it enough times, to remember specific recognizable fans from the crowd, which the cameramen often featured recurrently throughout the whole recording of the concert. I have watched it enough times to recall specific things Sharon mentions to the crowd, and I even learned my first string of elementary-level Dutch words, including how to politely bid “thank you” to someone in Dutch all because Sharon often softly says “Thank You,” in Dutch to the crowd at the end of most of the live tracks on the Black Symphony.

As I write this review, I am proudly wearing my Black Symphony t-shirt, purchased early 2009, around the time that cool metal t-shirts were becoming disfavored by “Hot Topic.” The “Black Symphony” was my first foray into the highly complex, multifarious music world of symphonic metal, so my own experience with the Black Symphony holds seminal value in the history of my becoming a big fan of this specific niche of metal music. For that reason, I really had to try hard to repress the irrepressible urge to compare Elements with Black Symphony, which would doubtlessly be incredibly unfair. It is impossible to compare anything with something that already holds nostalgic appeal in your mind.

When first viewing the amateurishly-filmed videos from the concert, the cynical naysayer in me, couched in enthused nostalgia for all things Black Symphony-related, could only jeer at things I initially found either incredibly off-putting, or entirely silly. First off, the dancers, with their Hooter style, go-go girl attire was very disconcerting, especially since they appeared during an entire interim performance of three different performances of pop songs, which was something that had already been proving to be incredibly divisive for me as a longtime Within Temptation fan. Then, more elements (an apt term for a review about Elements), which were not as off-putting (and detestably non-Within Temptation), just seemed more campy than usual, including Sharon Den Adel’s Dalek dress, the one that she wears during the earlier tracks, where she wears a wire-caged hoop thing (a quasi-skirt), a yellow corset, along with something that looks like a Dalek’s sensor on her forehead, causing her to earn the outlandish dress the affectionate name “the “Dalek” dress” from fans. Sharon’s outfits, in Black Symphony, were equally as silly, including the proud, regal “red carpet” dress (seen at the beginning of “Jillian”) and the chimney sweeper dresser (because the accessory parts of the dress on her shoulder blades resembled the brush part of a chimney sweep). My non-threatening (and always affectionate) snark about her fun, campy outfits has been part of the fun of watching “Within Temptation” concerts. Yet, the Dalek dress just became part of my deprecating routine of displaying my growing disappointment with the videos being uploaded from Elements.

If you read this far, you are probably wondering “how the hell I could have given this a 10 out of 10?” Well, I have thankfully outgrown the phase of “sophomoric fan disappointment,” and have learned to embrace the deeper complexity and versatility of Within Temptation’s spectrum of different types of music being experimented with throughout their career. More importantly, being given the opportunity to finally watch a high-quality, professional recording of the concert has given me deep appreciation for a concert, which actually outdoes Black Symphony in many ways. It is a pity, after compulsively watching the ninety or so minute video of different (sadly segmented) highlights of different tracks performed at the long, though deeply engrossing Elements performance, that the whole concert is not included.

First of all, the instrumentals for this concert were incredible, and the sound quality of both the DVD and CD itself are top-notch, to the point where the orchestra, drums, guitars, bass, the choir, and Sharon- all the elements of this wide-ranging, complex bubble of sound-is easily differentiated and dissectible by the listener because of the great balance of the recording. Ruud, Stefan, and Robert’s guitar solos all sound excellent, and the live performances of the earlier Unforgiving tracks gave me new appreciation for that album because the guitar riffs or solos are much more complex, and the adept, standout skills of both Stefan and Rudd’s guitar-playing, in particular, is clearly exemplified, more-so than past Within Temptation concerts, in Elements, because of their addition. Also, the orchestra’s bits, written for Unforgiving, help disprove the notion that the orchestra or symphonic elements in The Unforgiving were too muted, or too discreet, compared to previous albums. Instead, the orchestra’s bold, rich sound brazenly explodes onto the scene of Element’s beginning track, Iron, which is a frenetic, infectiously energetic song. This rich energy of the tracks from The Unforgiving help set the bar of excellence high, from the outset of the Elements. Following this, we get songs that are stylistically similar to the contagious, unstoppable energy of The Unforgiving, including “Stand My Ground” and “Our Solemn Hour.” Contrary to fan concerns that Sharon’s voice is somehow becoming weakened by years of intensive use; her voice sounds strong and excellent all throughout this recording of Elements.

Magnificently, the different dimensions or elements of Within Temptation’s sound are shown, as the show almost progressives in a way that is regressive, going from tracks from The Unforgiving, moving onwards to poignant ballads like Say My Name, to more recognizable, signature tracks from Mother Earth, which even features Sharon’s classic white, draping Mother Earth gown, eliciting effusive applause from the audience, that went absolutely wild, when the vine props came onto the stage right along with Sharon. I had chills, coiling around my body, when Sharon came onto the stage during the Mother Earth set of Elements, with a dress that seems to ghostly slide across the stage, enfolding the fans’ minds in a nostalgic, psychedelic daze of Mother Earth bliss.

Returning to the supposed off-putting dancers, the dancers actually, weirdly enough, seemed to blend very well with the night-club party mood of the more pop-ridden tracks of Within Temptation’s albums, when I finally watched a higher quality of the concert. Originally, three of these tracks, besides “Sinead” (the only track featured on the DVD/CD from this controversial set) included three highly provocative pop song covers, including “Titanium,” Bruno Mar’s “Grenade,” and Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness,” much to the chagrin of a number of Within Temptation fans. Much to my surprise, the dancers really fit the party-like, disco-ball swinging-from-the-ceiling dance club atmosphere of this really fun set.

In my more sober mind (after years of letting the curmudgeon of a Black Symphony fan die for once), I really thought that this served, as an opportunity, for fans to remember that the most important task at a concert is to let loose, and have fun. I had fun, watching the “Sinead” track, and the dancers really seemed to be having the time of their lives, dancing to-and-fro around band members and Sharon herself on stage, who probably had more fun than the cynical fans, wallowing away in their “this isn’t Within Temptation” rage bubble via YouTube. Of course, I still have a minor criticism that the dancers were entirely unnecessary, and unsuited for “Candles,” which seemed to be a very problematic set, as it should have been performed closer to the end, versus after the two ballad tracks. I wonder, if the band had a hard time trying to figure out where to put “Candles.” Nevertheless, the performance itself preserves the high quality of the band’s live performances, showcased through most of the tracks on the Elements section of the DVD. It is a pity that the entire Elements concert was not included on the DVD because the concert was really good, from the segments that I am still grateful that I and other Within Temptation fans will be able to enjoy now for years to come.

Included on this DVD in addition to the segmented Elements concert, there is a full recorded Hydra concert, which I have to say was also excellent. This DVD and CD set is a great value, no doubt, for any self-described Within Temptation fans. The Hydra concert includes Sharon’s powerful vocals, along with the same excellent guitar, drum, and keyboard playing of the other members that make up Within Temptation. One of my favorite tracks on Hydra is the rap/rock/metal hybrid song, “And we Run,” which clearly shows off Sharon den Adel’s very strong vocals. Throughout the song, you can hear the unrelenting energy and power of her voice, while she sings the heart-pounding, impactful lyrics of the song that originally convinced me that “hey, maybe, rap isn’t so bad...” Other tracks on the Hydra section of the album (unfortunately, I only received the CD tracks, versus the video of the Hydra segment of the album) sound just as crisp and stellar, as to be expected from a band that is well-known and well-received by fans and other people alike for being an excellent live act. Their creative stamina is high on Hydra, as the album has a great experimental variety in sound, displaying a wonderful spectrum of different types of rock and metal tracks. With fiercer, angry tracks like Silver Moonlight on Hydra, there is no way that Hydra can be mistaken as a pop album.

Saying that Elements tops Black Symphony would be inaccurate. Rather, Within Temptation continues to keep listeners interested in seeing what different elements of sound they will try experimenting with in future albums. In a sense, Elements is the band’s way of celebrating the diversity of their music, which has always confounded listeners that preferred an older album over a newer album that introduces new types of elements into their established sound. All bands have an established sound, but Within Temptation’s established sound is much more subtly presented, and it is interwoven into different textures of music that is wonderfully dynamic and infinitely interesting.

As a whole, Let us Burn is one of the band’s best live albums, since Black Symphony, offering a live experience that stretches the border of safe conventionality. And, showing that the band has not, in any way, shrank the artistic potential of their sound, but they have instead widened the scope of the experimental potential of any band willing to explore the uncharted realms of their own music. It is the marked bravery and daring approach of the band, shown off so well in this excellent live album that maintains Within Temptation’s place as my favorite band, right up there with Epica.

As a way of comparing my experience of watching a segmented Elements on DVD with another staff writer, who had the enviable opportunity to attend the Elements concert, here is Within Temptation fan and SC writer John Thornburgh.

Additional Comments from John Thornburgh, who attended Elements live:

This is what I wrote immediately after the Elements show: “Within Temptation's Elements concert was beyond awesome. Afterwards, I was nearly voiceless and almost speechless, but it was the perfect anniversary show, capturing fifteen years of magic and the best of old and new. Sharon den Adel's voice was flawless; the band was on fire; and the orchestra was majestic. WT also played my favorite songs, including ‘Candles’ from the first album, and had perfect sound, the best fire and light show I've ever seen, and the most pumped up crowd (of maybe 21,000 from over 50 countries) I've ever been in. After standing and waiting for over seven hours and having nothing to eat or drink from noon to midnight, I managed to get a perfect spot near the stage, and it was worth every minute of waiting. When the show ended, I wished I could immediately go back to the beginning.”

To that end, I hoped a DVD would let me see the show again. But word on the street was that there would be none: there were problems, it would be too expensive, the band wanted to move onto new material, etc. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned (directly from Sharon herself, in an interview) that there would be an Elements DVD after all! She explained: “People were also asking so many times about Elements, please make a DVD out of it. We always said we’re never going to do it. And that’s why we put some [Elements] extras on [the Hydra DVD]. But then working on it, we were like it’s actually really good, damn, we should turn it around. It cost us a lot of money to turn that around again…It was a hard to make the DVD because so many things went wrong, but in the end now it’s perfect, the way it’s coming out, it just looks perfect, it sounds perfect. So I’m really happy about it.”

Judging by the promotional video, Within Temptation indeed solved the technical problems; it looks fabulous. I’m also happy to see that “Candles” made the DVD track list. The Lana Del Rey cover, “Summertime Sadness,” is sadly missing, but I understand this release should be about WT material. Bottom line, I’m really excited to see the concert again and to share it with friends and family.