Some bands get a bad rep when they release discs that sound overly commercial, and appeal to a mainstream audience more than their previous releases. Accusations of selling out are never far from a band's grasp in Metal, especially if the band has some quality to boot. Who knows" You may just sell more than the next Britney Spears record, and maybe top Shakira, too!
Within Temptation has that same problem. Over in their native homeland, they soon got mainstream airplay when the succesful singles Ice Queen and Mother Earth were released, and when The Silent Force came out, the floodgates were opened. Unstoppable, the band just rolled over the country like a steamroller, playing gigs everywhere and playing for huge crowds. Commercially speaking, The Silent Force was a huge success, while musically for the standards of the band it was a major letdown. Where Mother Earth had been riddled with Celtic influences and other touches, The Silent Force was a mainstream metal affair in the vein of Evanescence. But we are forgetting a part of the history of this band. There was an album before Mother Earth, a gracious disc called Enter. And guess what; if you liked Mother Earth, you will absolutely love this.
This disc is completely the opposite of The Silent Force. It is rooted not within symphonics but within gothic and doom metal, more akin to The Gathering, After Forever and such acts rather than Evanescence. There are harsh grunts on this album. There are beautiful instruments on here. Sharon's voice is a pearl of light in a restless blooded sea. The guitars are crunchy, pack a punch, are deep and slow and moving and overall just blast you out of the window. If you compare these two discs, there is no way of telling this is the same band, apart from Sharon's immediately recognisable voice.
And hence, it's also the best thing they ever released. Although they shred the chrysalis of their gothic origins and lost the death metal vocals, they give a nice edge to this album, giving it somewhat more of a "Beauty And The Beast" type of sound that would later come more to the forefront, but Sharon's ethereal voice still gets room to shine. Few vocalists match the intense power of her voice, apart from Tarja maybe (although the singing styles are markedly different). She seems to chant more and make her voice more ethereal, using it as an instrument to enhance the songs rather than Tarja who has to drag them on for Nightwish. Sometimes, the guitarist will occasionally chime in with a grunt to combine and harmonise, or take the lead spot for a while, but always leaving room for Sharon to come back in. The best example of this interplay is the gorgeous song "Candles." I hail this as their best track ever. The grunts and soaring female vocals intertwine seamlessly, complementing each other perfectly. The atmospheric keyboards give the ending a very climactic feel, with the deep guitar riffs underneath just enhancing it. It is an excellent track, and worth the price of admission of this album; but there is more!
Within Temptation has only scarcely done an instrumental (not counting Intro), and Blooded is a magnificent piece of work. Featuring no vocals at all, it is one dark, moody, symphonic monster, with some goth keyboard tinges to top it all off. This is plainly put, great songwriting, great music, just overall excellent stuff.
Deep Within is a bit of an odd affair, Jeroen Westerholt and George Oosthoek (of Orphanage) take the reins on this song, allowing Sharon a day off and grunting away. Somehow, despite the riffs and the music working well, part of the charm of this band is Sharon's voice contrasting. I feel that these grunts cannot carry the weight of a song, however well-executed. Enter however displays the potent harmonizing of two voices, female and male. It is just another perfect example of what this band can do, and all the more saddening to see from what podium they have fallen.
Overall, as a debut album, this one held a lot of promise for the future. While Mother Earth was a decent followup, albeit with some unqualified disasters (Caged most notably), and allowed Sharon to shine while adding some fantasy touches and celtic notions, this album still outstrips it far and wide. If you're willing to look past the facade of money and commercality this band has geared up over the last couple of years, pick this up. It's well worth a buy, and despite being markedly different from later releases, one that is simply worth it. As bad as a rap I can give this band for the Silent Force, that's just how good this is, folks. Recommended.