Review Summary: Within Temptation do well to prove they can shed the 'goth' tag the press has laden them with, as well as evolving above and beyond their previous fantasy based sound as they deliver a long player that is as intensely chilling as it is captivating.
Female fronted European symphonic metal; for such an autistically specific sub genre it's remarkable that it's become so established, although not without negative connotations. Despite constant comparisons with seemingly 'similar' artists, Within Temptation break free from such limitations, the Dutch sextet proving they are far more than the sum of their parts as they utilise whatever elements of pop, rock, extreme metal and symphonic music to serve their emotionally driven epics.
Sharon den Adel, whose soothing mezzo-soprano is usually borderline-maternal in nature renders opener 'The Howling' positively chilling, as in parts the Netherlands native switches up her comforting vocal tone for something far more menacing, and it's this shocking departure that lends this symphonic metal maelstrom a truly sinister edge. Lyrically it deals with war and the darker side of human nature and den Adel's cold cries of 'When we start killing/It's all coming down right now' really strike home, backed by racks of heavy guitars, orchestra and choir, taking WT's unique brand of melody driven metal to a truly cinematic level.
Electronic effects and strings herald follow-up track 'What Have You Done', an intense symphonic rocker that features Life of Agony's Keith Caputo. 'Frozen' follows, continuing the theme of metal guitars juxtaposed with strings, piano and slick production. Lyrically it deals with child abuse, and den Adel's shrill vulnerability is truly haunting, producing a track that is as memorably catchy as it is intense. Utilising choirs, death-growls and even Winston Churchill's sampled voice on 'Our Solemn Hour', Within Temptation again prove that whilst their music may appear melodramatic, it is anything but light, both sonically and thematically. The macabre and disquietingly emotive 'Heart of Everything' follows, and whilst the guitar playing is hardly imaginative, every instrument featured does well to serve as an elaborate backdrop for den Adel's impressive high notes. Whilst just as monolithically epic as the other tracks on the LP, the (relatively) softer 'Hand of Sorrow' provides some levity amongst the relentless darkness, although only comparatively. 'The Cross' and 'Final Destination', whilst imaginative enough not to qualify as filler, aren't nearly half as memorable as any of the other tracks featured, but they've none-the-less earned their place on the album.
Next we come to 'All I Need', a power-ballad that showcases den Adel's winning combination of vulnerability and power. 'Make my heart a better place' den Adel cries as the song develops into a crushing and passionate crescendo. The penultimate 'The Truth Beneath The Rose' could set the standard for symphonic metal, such is its grandiosity. The real highlight of the album, however, is the solemn and bittersweet closer 'Forgiven', and den Adel's effortless ability to tug one's heartstrings on this piano led number has to be heard to be believed.
All in all, an engrossing listen, although one is hard pressed to find too much differentiation between the tracks as the album progresses, and if it weren't for den Adel's inspired delivery 'The Heart of Everything' wouldn't sound half as effectually stirring. That being said Within Temptation do well to prove they can shed the 'goth' tag the press has laden them with, as well as evolving above and beyond their previous fantasy based sound as they deliver a long player that is as intensely chilling as it is captivating.
Stand out tracks; 'The Howling', 'Frozen', 'Hand of Sorrow', 'Forgiven'