I must admit that after 2007’s The Heart Of Everything, my interest in Within Temptation faded in an almost worrying speed. I got hooked on the band with their second album Mother Earth (2000) and my interest in the band increased with the releases of the follow-up’s The Silent Force (2004) and the mentioned record above (I still haven’t gotten around to listen to their 1997 debut Enter), but after that, I felt that their music became more and more mainstream. Today, I hardly ever get around to listen to The Unforgiving (2011) and Hydra (2014), but when I do, I always feel that I gave those albums too high points in my reviews (6/10 and 7/10) respectively – a five or maybe a six for both albums feels more accurate today). Maybe that’s why the news of a new Within Temptation release was for me merely a shrug of my shoulder.
Still, there was talk of the band having a new-found spark and that the new album would be their best in quite some time so I couldn’t help feeling somewhat curious to hear what they had created. That said, the first time I heard first single “The Reckoning” on the radio in my car, I can’t say i was that intrigued. To my ears, it was the same not bad but pretty dull kind of single they had preceded their albums with the last times. The fact, that the single showed a band stuck in their rut, not sounding the least exciting had me thinking that the album would go in that direction. However, that mattered little – I had to give the record a shot any way.
Noticing that said single “The Reckoning” opens the album, I had to focus on not making the first listen an impression since I didn’t listen that closely to it then (had the family in the car) – and lo and behold, I really dug it this time around. It’s a mid-tempo, bouncy and symphonic piece with a dark twist. Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach) guests the song and his somewhat robust voice marries surprisingly well with Sharon Del Adel’s more fragile voice here – very dynamic. The refrain is catchy albeit not especially hit-friendly which contrasts well with the darkness that lies over the song. “Endless War” is slow-paced, heavy yet somewhat poppy, punchy and quite direct with a big refrain that really sticks. It’s dark but also very memorable with an almost soothing atmosphere. Very good. Second single “Raise Your Banner” features Anders Fridén of In Flames fame guesting on vocals. The contrast between his and Del Adel’s voices creates a dynamic that surely lifts this song but it is a good song within itself – punchy,bouncy, tough and in-your-face with a very effective refrain. Good stuff!
Third single “Supernova” begins with a synth intro but soon turns symphonic and holds a big groove where the sound-scape brings sci-fi movie soundtrack to mind, something that really contrasts to the mediaeval sounding voices in the backing vocals. It’s a pretty heavy piece that holds a ballad-like arrangement. Great. The mid-paced “Holy Ground” is also a quite groovy number that’s pompous with a symphonic outlook and another big refrain that hits right off the bat. There’s also an intermission with a big Celtic vibe which works wonders for the song’s dynamics – very good. “In Vain” is heavy yet smooth, very melody-driven but with a punch. Delicate melodies, lots of hooks and a big refrain with the keyboards almost taking over makes it a pretty obvious single-choice. It’s a good song but I’m getting a too big Eurovision Song Contest vibe from it – and ESC isn’t really my bag.
“Firelight” is laid-back and even quite stripped at first with a slick main-melody but as it goes on it turns bombastic and big. It’s a ballad for sure but I wouldn’t call it a power ballad despite the big refrain. It’s a mellow tune that features the album’s third duet, this time with Belgian guitarist and singer Jasper Steverlink. The tune do not hold a big hit-refrain but it’s still quite memorable. I like it. “Mad World” is more upbeat and straight-forward, very direct and up-front. The refrain is hook-laden but the Pop vibe is a bit too obvious here – an ok tune but my least favorite. “Mercy Mirror” is a mid-paced number that holds a more contemporary Pop outlook and song-wise it could have been any chart-pop act out there if it wasn’t for them bringing on the Within Temptation sounding structures. It’s an extremely catchy tune that could very well be a crossover hit. Closing track “Trophy Hunter” is a heavy, bouncy and dark track that’s softer in the verses but heavies up with riff-happiness and a beefy rhythm section. the main-melody is quite slick, though and the refrain is direct and catchy. It sure does its job as a closer. Good one.
At first listen, this album passed my by quite unnoticed but it has grown on me since then. It sure is a quite smooth and very melodic record but it sports a kind of darkness that lies over all of the tracks and the production as a whole. The heavy music combined with more pop-laden melodies works really well and the fact that the keyboards are so prominent here really don’t bother me at all. It’s pompous and orchestrated which makes the record somewhat overblown but on the other hand, Within Temptation have always been a bombastic band and a bit over the top. But what’s more important, they have some really good songs here and this time, I get the feeling that those songs will linger in a way the stuff on their last two record hasn’t. This is Within Temptation’s best album since The Heart Of Everything and hopefully they can better this in the future. Welcome back.
More Within Temptation reviews:
1. The Reckoning
2. Endless War
3. Raise Your Banner
5. Holy Ground
6. In Vain
8. Mad World
9. Mercy Mirror
10. Trophy Hunter