Before I begin the review I have to confess that this band is without doubt my favourite band of all time. I wanted to give an unbiased review for those who are new to the band and those older followers that have struggled to come to terms with the bands new direction.
It is hard to pigeon hole Within Temptation as their sound has morphed over the years into something completely removed from their early days of doom/gothic metal. As their sound evolved, WT have attracted fans from all walks of life, dropping their early doom metal sound for a more sedate Celtic influenced symphonic rock with operatic overtones, and ultimately settling for a more commercially sounding gothic rock/metal.
I was initially introduced to this band by a friend who knows I have a soft spot for female fronted metal and rock bands. The album in question was their third album ‘The Silent Force’ which was released in 2004. Looking back the one striking recollection of this album was the voice, and what a voice, the voice of Sharon den Adel. I love music, all types of music, and I appreciate a good singer, even if I’m not a fan of a genre or musical style. But here was a singer with such a unique angelic voice, an incredible vocal range, but with great tone and control the likes of which I had not heard before. It is so rare to find a female singer capable of hitting those operatic heights and extreme growling lows, but with a pleasant ear soothing tone. To top this off Within Temptation were refreshingly different from traditional rock group, delivering a sophisticated almost bombastic symphonic assault on your senses.
Now, this album didn’t grab me straight away as I’d never previously
been interested in symphonic metal or operatic vocals, but a handful of songs
planted a seed that eventually grew into a love of all their music, both new
and old. The tracks in question were ‘It’s the Fear’ and ‘Angels’ both of which
are all out anthemic rock fests and ‘Pale’ a pretty stripped down ballad. This
has been typical of most Within Temptation albums, a careful mix of fast and
slow, but what I find most amazing is how accepting the most hardened metal
heads are to the slower songs. Anyone lucky enough to have witnessed WT live
would be hard pushed to find a bad word to say about them, even their slower
tracks. They are without doubt one of the best live bands I have seen and
Although their sound at this point didn’t have the mass appeal which was going to break the band into the big time, the more commercially sounding Evanescence proved their was definitely a love for this kind of music. Whilst I don’t like to draw comparisons, they will always be bracketed along side Evanescence and Lacuna Coil, in the gothic rock genre.
It was the release of their 2007 album, ‘The Heart Of Everything’ that cemented WT’s place as my favourite band of all time. Not only was this their best album to date, it was a solid album which had oodles of commercial appeal. Gone were the celtic influences, and the symphonic and operatic elements were very much toned down, which made this a better more palatable sound for the masses.
So four years later comes their 5th studio album, ‘The Unforgiving’, and with it another change in direction. This is essentially a concept album, so each track is essentially along the same theme, telling part of a bigger story. Again the album has lots of commercial appeal, some songs having a more poppy 80’s influence but yet this is arguably the heaviest album yet, with no ballads or slow songs to speak of.
It was always going to be a difficult album release, having to compete with ‘The Heart Of Everything’, but somehow they’ve managed to pull off the impossible. Sure, some fans will harp back to the ‘Mother Earth’ and ‘Enter’ era with great fondness, but with 3 studio albums all pointing the way to greater success, those early days are long gone.
Before writing this review I sat and listened to WT’s entire back catalogue in order to give this review a sense of perspective. My gut feeling is that the change was not only necessary but ultimately a good thing. The ‘Unforgiving’ is very much a progression from ‘The Heart Of Everything’, and if you loved their previous album, you’ll love this album too. On first listen, I felt a slow track or two would have given some light and shade to the flow of the album. But after a few more listens I dismissed my early thoughts and realised that WT have delivered an album which will finally win over fans who had previously been sat on the fence. There is nothing to dislike here, the tracks are strong, and of similar styles, so if you like one song, you will most likely love the whole album; something you couldn’t say about previous offerings.
The concept for the album comes from a comic book series written by Steven O’Connell and illustrated by Romano Molenaar (of Witchblade, Darknes and X-Men fame), which was released along side the album. It is also admirable that the group have (at their own expense) released a couple of short films which set the scene for two of the songs from the album, ‘Faster’ and ‘Sinead’. Both of these short films as well as the making of ‘Shot In The Dark’ appear on an accompanying DVD with the special edition of the album.
I find it hard to pick favourite tracks from this album, but
I guess ‘Shot In The Dark’, ‘Lost’ and ‘Stairway to The Skies’ are my picks of
what is ultimately a very good album.
This album is pretty full on, loud and up-tempo throughout, but
I couldn’t help noticing reviews of this album fell into two categories, those that love WT and gave glowing reviews of the album, and those who were hoping for WT to backtrack to distant days gone by, and ultimately offered up somewhat negative reviews. As a relative newcomer to this band I’ve embraced both new and old, but this albums harder edge might not sit well with those who loved ‘Mother Earth’. By the same token I’m sure fans of ‘Enter’ aren’t necessarily going to like ‘Mother Earth’. You can hardly accuse WT of standing still! If you are one of those who were sat on the fence, then I strongly recommend you check out their new material. If only I had a penny for every review that started ‘where did this band come from?’ or ‘how come I’ve never heard of this band?’
So to sum up, Within Temptation have come of age! No longer a band you’ve never heard of, but for many a new exciting discovery with many layers to uncover and explore. You need to experience their past catalogue in order to appreciate the diversity of this band and experience (in my personal opinion) the best female vocalist on this planet.
Be warned, once this band has its hooks in you, you will never let go!
P.S. If you are a fan of the band and have any comments positive or negative I’d love to hear from you.