Dutch gothic symphonic metallers Within Temptation doesn’t really need a closer introduction, but for those who don’t know, they were formed back in 1996 by singer Sharon den Adel and her now hubby Robert Westerholt. They released their debut album Enter in 1997 and back then their music did include growl and death grunts by Westerholt combined with the soprano vocals of den Adel. But their breakthrough came with the album Mother Earth (2000) and its single “Ice Queen”. Within Temptation were by that point still quite uncommercial but they got some attention in the wake of the success of Finnish band Nightwish that performed a similar style and at that point, the whole “symphonic metal with a female fronted band” was kind of the big thing. Or at least it was growing. Today, not so much and Nightwish and Within Temptation are the only really big bands left in the genre, even though bands like Epica and Lacuna Coil are still going strong. It took them four years to complete the follow up, The Silent Force (2004), but when it came out it was a big success and a hit in “Stand Your Ground” was in their hands. But it was clear that Within Temptation had gone for a more mainstream sound without losing their identity. But gone was the death metal influences and the songs were much more catchy and accessible. The stayed on that path for The Heart Of Everything (2007) and the big hit “What Have You Done” which featured a duet between Sharon and Keith Caputo (Life Of Agony). It was here that the band had found their soft spot for including guests on their albums, but it was also here that the band had taken the commercial steps a bit too far. It was a really good album, but it felt like they were erasing their metal roots in favor of pop influences and mainstream melodies. To me, that took its toll with their last album, The Unforgiving (2011). The album was the bands weakest so far and even though not bad, nothing really left an impression on me either. The single “Faster” even sounded like a re-write of Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game”. That’s taking things a little too far, in my opinion.
So without berate the band and gush them with criticism about that, I must say that when the news about their new release hit me, I wasn’t exactly aroused. However, knowing that the band had some really good music under their belts, it would be unfair not to give them a second chance. Still in doubt, I let the opening track “Let Us Burn” rinse all over me – and I’ll be damned, that song really caught my ear. It’s a great opener, catchy as hell with a big sound – very promising for the rest of the album. I was talking about Without Temptation and guests before and with this album, maybe they went a bit over the top with that. No less than four guest vocalists appears on this album. The first one, Howard Jones (the Killswitch Engage singer, not the synth jerk off from the 80’s…) appears already on track # 2, “Dangerous”. It’s a brilliant song on the more commercial side with big hit potential and Jones does a great job here. The next guest shows up right in the next song, but this time it’s not a good thing. In fact, “And We Run” just might be a Within Temptation all time low. This time rapper Xzibit shows up, doing his best to ruin the song. Sure, it has a catchy chorus that might keep you humming for a while, but the verses with the rap section really is nothing but a derision and it makes the whole tune crumble. But I won’t sulk anymore about that as it seems to be the only big mistake on this album. So when song # 4 shows up, they seem to have reasoned “let’s just bring in another one while we’re at it”. Enter: Tarja Turunen. To have Sharon den Adel and the former Nightwish singer in duet is nothing more than a strike of genius, if you ask me. Even though the two of them never put any fuel that fire, we all know that the they have always been seen as rivals and now, with the song “Paradise” they can put that one to rest. If nothing else, the song makes them amicable without being mawkish. The song itself is a real killer and probably the best track Tarja ever sang on. I have always prefered Den Adel to Tarja, but here Tarja really has an enjoyable tone. In “Edge Of The World”, Within Temptation just might have created one of their best ballads ever. I’m not sure, but certainly feels that way.
The whole “more pop, less metal” is one of the things that this album suffers from, but in “Tell Me Why” they have at least one metal track, well, at least it’s the most metal on this album. And it is a very good song. The last song on this album also holds the last guest – the return of one Dave Pirner, the voice of grunge poprockers Soul Asylum, the ones with the “Runaway Train” if anyone remembers them. It’s a really good song, an uptempo and poppy, but dark ballad that sounds like a hit to these ears. Pirner and den Adel fits very well together and their different voices makes for a really cool contrast. A very good way to end this album! I’m glad to say that with Hydra, Within Temptation has released their best album since The Silent Force. They still move down their mainstream and modern poppy path, but this time they have written songs good enough. I would still like them to move more outside their comfort zone and take some risks, there are too many guests on here as well which makes it a bit overkill and I would like the production to be more fat, hard and in your face and so commercial. But other than that and the fact that they have the odd filler here, I have no complaints and I really think this is a step forward for the band.
Jon Wilmenius (7/10)
1. Let Us Burn
2. Dangerous (feat. Howard Jones)
3. And We Run (feat. Xzibit)
4. Paradise (What About Us?) (feat. Tarja)
5. Edge Of The World
6. Silver Moonlight
7. Covered By Roses
8. Dog Days
9. Tell Me Why
10. Whole World Is Watching (feat. Dave Pirner)