Review Summary: What would happen if Within Temptation ever stopped focusing on overblown pomp and started creating songs that showcased the entire band? The answer is the best album of their career, The Unforgiving.
When "Shot in the Dark" opened The Unforgiving
with a computerized dance beat and it didn't sound campy or overdone, it was obvious that this was going to be a departure for the band. You see, Within Temptation are known for being a bit over-the-top with their music and for not always knowing when enough is enough. When they decided to add a folk element to Mother Earth
back in 2000, they went with the most cheese-tastic fairy/fantasy style of folk that they possibly could. Moving forward a few years, the band decided to drop the folk and pick up a symphonic Evanescence
approach – a decision that saw them drowning everything in this new influence to the point that the orchestral elements dominated everything. Going with the old saying, "If the horse is already dead, why not kick it again," the band released a second album that basically mimicked its predecessor but with even more tunnel vision and less entertainment value. Basically, The Unforgiving
had the potential to be another exercise in campy, yet enjoyable, excess. Instead, it turned out to be the most musically adventurous album in their discography; an album that finally proves that the band never needed to hide behind a wall of keyboards.
That last statement actually reveals the biggest reason that this album is so enjoyable – the symphonic elements have been reduced dramatically and are finally done with a bit of class and style. Actually, there's a little more to it than that. The band have also expanded on every other aspect of their formula and have injected a huge arena rock influence, as well. Throughout The Unforgiving
's runtime you'll find the aforementioned occasional dance element, a more diverse collection of keyboard/synth sounds, and most importantly, a decent leap in guitar playing. For the first time in memory, there are actual memorable riffs to be found, as well as melodic leads and a handful of proficient guitar solos. Also, before anyone starts grumbling about the mention of 'arena rock' it should be made clear that the influence is mainly found in the huge choruses and an enhanced energy level that the band have never had before. "In the Middle of the Night" is probably the most rockin' song the band have written since "The Other Half (of Me)" back in 1998. It's heavy (for Within Temptation), fast paced, and features some excellent interplay between the riffs and keyboards – and the chorus simply kicks ass. Of course, no die-hard fan would be happy if the band discarded the mandatory ballads and they're still here.
Anyone familiar with Within Temptation knows that the ballads have always been very syrupy sweet and just a bit cheesy, but they've cut back on both this time. "Fire and Ice" is probably the closest thing to a stereotypical Within Temptation song on the album. It is a bit heavy on the symphonic elements and is the kind of emotionally charged bombast that fans expect from a Within Temptation ballad, but the other one, "Lost", more than makes up for it. "Lost" could definitely be considered a power ballad as it transitions from acoustic to distorted guitars throughout the song. It is a very haunting track that allows the riffs and Sharon to carry the weight with only minimal keyboard support – and it contains an excellent acoustic/electric guitar solo that is surprisingly well done, albeit brief. Other than those two songs, the band keeps the energy levels high. They also keep the quality levels high, as there isn't a single filler track on the album. That being said there are a few tracks that may initially throw people off such as the 80s-rock influenced "Sinead." That song makes more use of programmed beats, but doesn’t waste any time jumping straight into one of the catchiest, most upbeat choruses in the band's career (complete with a bit of 80s-style synth).
When Within Temptation decided to move in a much more accessible direction on The Silent Force
they released a very good album that suffered from a few excesses and some growing pains, but the potential was definitely there. The Heart of Everything
didn't capitalize on that potential in the slightest and it probably caused a few fans to worry about the band becoming complacent. The Unforgiving
is anything other than Within Temptation becoming complacent. It is an album that finally allows the guitar players to escape from the oppressive layer of synth and orchestral elements and they perform admirably. They belt out some respectable riffs, some surprising melodic harmonies, and even a handful of guitar solos. That's not to imply that the orchestral elements are gone, but they benefit from restraint and a touch of class that allows the other facets of the songs to breathe. The end result is that The Unforgiving
is easily Within Temptation's most ambitious record, an album that benefits from an increased energy level and strong songwriting in order to deliver a collection of the band's strongest songs to date.