Within Temptation are one of the hottest female fronted gothic rock groups on the planet, and they've just released a new album 'The Unforgiving'.
Check out my review here.
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.
My review of one of the best rock albums of recent years, by one of my favourite bands of all time.
The Heart Of Everything
Within Temptation are a Dutch symphonic rock band who are the musical equivalent of marmite. If you are fan of the gothic metal genre or female fronted rock bands then this group will most definately be part of your music collection. If you hate the idea of a beautiful goddess that sings like an angel fronting a band then go seek help!
Sharon Den Adel is arguably the best singer on the planet bar none! Quite a bold statement maybe, but there are very few singers who are able to hit the operatic heights of symphonic rock and stll be capable of delivering a convincing pop song. I'm not a fan of operatic vocals, so bands like Nightwish have never been top of my list. Sharon does this so effortlessly without the ear pearcing harshness of many vocalists, and with a rich soothing tonal quality which has won the hearts of many die hard fans. Sharon is also one of the few singers that deliver the same quality of vocals during the bands live perforance as she does on album, whilst been an incredibly charismatic and engaging front for the band. Oh and did I mention... she's fit too!
Saying that, there has been a big shift in musical style with this album being heavier and less symphonic that previous offerings. The operatic vocals only play a minor part in songs like 'The Cross' and 'Our Solemn Hour' which have become firm fan favourites. This album was met with mixed feelings by long standing fans of previous albums such as 'Mother Earth' and more recently 'The Silent Force'. For me this album was a step in the right direction as it was 'The Heart Of Everything' that open me up to the bands previous offerings. I'm now a massive follower of this band and I've come to appreciate all their music style and the way their sound has evolved over the years.
And so to this album, 'The Heart Of Everything', which was responsible for turning me on to this band. Although I was a big fan of songs like 'Ice Queen', 'It's The Fear' and 'Angels', I always thought their albums had too many fillers. With such a great vocalist, and such obviously tallented musicians, if only they could focus on a harder hitting, less symphonic sound with catchier choruses this band could be huge. Well, the good news is they certainly delivered with this album. There isn't a bad song on the entire album, and for me this album represents a more commercially, more accessible album for the masses. I truly believe that this album should be in every rock / metal lovers collection, and once hooked you will be trawling through their back catalog and appreciating their quieter moments as there are some truly breathtaking songs to be discovered.
On first listening, it was songs like the single 'What Have You Done', 'The Cross' and 'The Howling' that stood out as pure anthemic rock classics. Contrast that with the lighter moments in songs like 'Forgiven' and 'All I Needed' and 'Frozen' and you have an album which just draws you in. I defy anyone to listen to 'Forgiven' and not feel emotional, either by the shear beauty of the vocals or by the heart felt content of the lyrics. In contrast, listen to 'The Cross' and tell me that isn't a masterpiece, both in terms of the unusual vocal arrangements and the raw power of the music.
If I had to pick a favourite track it would probably be 'The Cross'. The song starts with an incredibly high pitched operatic vocal line which I thought until I saw the group live was sampled. In fact the whole song is a contrast of overlayed vocals arangements and chanting over a very heavy guitar driven multi-layered chorus with a tasteful addition of orchestral backing. The song is a classic that just burries itself in your head, and is one of my all time favourite rock songs.
It would be impossible for me to review this album and not to single out the vocals on 'Forgiven'. For anyone that has an emotional bone in their body this song will bring it's own personal meaning when you listen to it. The song eplores the subject of unconditional love, with nothing more than Sharon's faultlessly delievered vocals, a piano, and the slow introduction of a full orchestra. This song could melt the hearts of the most hardened rock fan, lighters at the ready!
Whereas on previous albums I felt there were certain songs that carried the album, I really don't feel this is the case with 'The Heart Of Eveything', as the songs are so varied. One of the fans favourites 'Our Solumn Hour' is a mixture of gothic and operatic chanting over a catchy anthemic guitar driven chorus with recordings of Winsen Churchill playing in the background. The title track although not being one of the stand out tracks is a very well crafted song, with yet another ususual vocal style. Accentuating Sharon's ability to deliver a rich cutting low gravelly vocal line which contrasts the souring chorus this really shows her vocal range and abilities as a singer. The 'Final Destination' is another similar sounding track which sees Sharon showing off the lower register. Lots of heavy riffing and vocal filters present here, with an almost eiry gothic quality to the harmonies.
Probably the two weakest tracks for me are 'Hand Of Sorrow' (which is a song about sacrificing your own ambitions and dreams for a higher goal in life) and 'The Truth Beneath The Rose' (which explores the idea that belief is used to justify our sins), both of which focus too heavily on delivering a message which can be offputting at times.
So, who will this band appeal to? Certainly anyone into female fronted rock / metal bands and anyone with a passion for gothic rock. There have been may comparrisons to "dare I say it"... Evanescence, with fans constanly arguing over wether Amy Lee has a better voice than Sharon Den Adel. Now, I'm not here to preach but come on guys, Evenescence have some nice tunes, but there is only one stand out vocalist here. Saying that, there is defainately a cross over, as Within Temptations quieter moments could almost be written by Amy Lee. So if you are patiently waiting for the reformed Evanescence to realease a 3rd album, why not check out this album in the mean time.
Finally, this band are one of the best live bands I have whitnessed, and I've seen some of the best. The band are currently travelling the globe, seeking out a new audiences and new fans. If you ever get chance to see this band live you will understand why I hold this band in such high esteem.