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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Within Temptation has reinvented itself yet again. And in doing so they have released another album full of awesomeness., February 4, 2014
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This review is from: Hydra (2-disc Digipak + bonus tracks) (Audio CD)
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 (What About Us?).” 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, “Whole World Is Watching,” with Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum (or Piotr Rogucki of Coma on the Polish edition). This song is the subject of a beautiful new video.

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.

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 heard 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 “Covered by 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.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 27, 2014 6:28:44 PM PDT
Nicole Taft says:
I do so love a thorough review where the author clearly has a wider knowledge of music and music genres rather than run screaming the second an album doesn't sound like what he/she is used to hearing from a band. Excellent job.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2014 10:42:06 AM PDT
Thank you! :-)

Posted on Apr 9, 2014 5:24:44 AM PDT
Joy says:
They are still a gothic/symphonic metal band and I'm tired of people saying they sound so different when they sound just as awesome as all their other albums. This album, along with The Silent Force, The Heart Of Everything, Mother Earth and The Unforgiving are their best.

Posted on Apr 21, 2014 10:08:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 21, 2014 10:08:55 PM PDT
A. Brady says:
A thorough, substantial review that also flows well. Great perspective! I like the comparisons you drew to the previous albums, and they've gotten me to pay more attention to this album's nuances. Adding to your last paragraph, I notice that "Silver Moonlight" and "Covered by Roses" have at least one vocal melody in common. Hydra's an intriguing work, and considering WT's whole discography, I think they're definitely one of the most remarkable metal bands out there.
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