Within Temptation // The Unforgiving
Rating: 4.5/5.0 —A new beginning?
Label: Roadrunner | Columbia (SE)
Websites: within-temptation.com | myspace.com/withintemptation
Release Dates: EU: 2011.03.25 | US: 03.29.2011

Within-Temptation-The-Unforgiving-2011As one of the elevated culprits who took guilty pleasure in bringing the so-called “female fronted” symphonic metal genre to fame, Within Temptation has often been right next to the milestone names of Tristania, Theatre of Tragedy, Nightwish, After Forever and the like from this infamous subgenre [Also known as “Chick Metal” by this member of The PatriarchyAMG]. This is often accompanied by blunt comparisons, senseless “expert” statements and, of course, rabid hate from people who just can’t appreciate chicks in metal [Example: my earlier comment.AMG]. But hey, life goes on and so does the music industry. Whatever the case, unlike their colleagues who have gone through hard time line-up changes that have proven catastrophic at times, Within Temptation has continued to add new chapters to their own story. Through times of war between legions of Tarja and Anette die-hards, crazy Vibeke rumors in the air, Floor & Sander drama break-ups, the flame of Within Temptation continued to burn ever brighter, offering fascinating music with each release.

The last couple of years were far from being easy for their fans because of slow productivity, postponed tours postponed, the vocalist’s one… two,  wait, three pregnancies? OK, so it’s been slow and they’ve been “productive” elsewhere, but over a decade after the symbolic Mother Earth album that granted them a ticket to the worldwide scene and 15 years after the start, Within Temptation remain true to themselves to their very bones. The strategy has been successful, if Enter and The Dance walked over a sharp goth/doom edge, Mother Earth brought together symphonic metal and celtic folk/ambient while The Silent Force escalated the symphonic aspects and turned it into a trademark which gained one final, darker shade in The Heart of Everything. But every story has its ending. The climax came with a recent acoustic live album and the theatrical “Black Symphony” DVD  that marked the end of yet another of the band’s eras. Being devoted experimenters, however, in 2011 they finally offered us the long-awaited fifth album, The Unforgiving, with which they bid the past a final farewell and take first steps in new, uncharted territories.

Within Temptation lookin' GothyThe ideas are innovative, the result is surprising, the signs, literally everywhere: starting from the controversial (kinda horrid) Buffy the Vampire Slayer lookin’ artwork, their first-ever concept record and the strict comic commitment of the plot with a movie campaign, all the way down to the music itself,  which is, to say the least, far different from everything we’ve heard. Casting aside the refined sound of its predecessors, The Unforgiving preserves the bombastic side from Black Symphony thanks to musicians from the same Metropole Orchestra. Despite being blurred at times, the symphonic parts score many effective points and allow the album to finally get to that “guitar” driven opus status we’ve all been waiting for. This can also be said for the rhythm section, which is new for Within Temptation‘s sound, thanks to a session Swedish musician who took responsibility filling in for the ex-drummer Stephen van Haestregt.

Being their first concept album, The Unforgiving shares a successful mix of mid-80s retro elements combined with modern sound. All that is combined into an energetic soundtrack of a dark thriller, born of the sick fantasy of Steven O’Connell (BloodRayne) and brought to life by the lustrous, creative illustrations of Romano Molenaar (Witchblade, X-Men). The lyrics are strictly bound with the privilege (or the curse) of getting a second chance in life, or death, as is our case here, along with everything that goes hand in hand with the “post mortem” issue. Tired of the “good vs. evil” cliche? Within Temptation instead decided to rely on a twisted vision to exceed the limit of its frame, while presenting the protagonist Sinead as a freshly risen corpse right in the middle of a violent bloodbath,  in the very eye of one last battle for the soul, possessed by both external and personal demons.

Having the concept deliciously [Mmmm, fresh corpse…AMG] wrapped up, the music itself is the most diverse and uptempo product ever released by the band.  This lies in the dynamics of the songs, the record has enough of symphonic music, heavy, power, rock, pop, disco and even alternative, so you can take your pick and enjoy it freely. Yet as rich as it sounds, it’s carefully thought out in order to not sound obtrusive. To break it down, we have a challenging “metal + disco” scheme, dividing the tracks in several sections. Aside from the narrative cinematic intro “Why Not Me,” there are three straight-narrow dance singles – “Faster,” “Sinead,” “Shot in the Dark” inspired by Roxette, Chris Isaak, Billy Idol & co, so don’t be surprised to stumble upon those on the radio. Within Temptation lookin' poppy...The other side of the record, however, is filled with fast, heavy riffs and upbeat tempo concert hits (“In the Middle of the Night”, “Iron”, “A Demon’s Fate”) which often look back to Metallica or Iron Maiden. It’s in such songs that it becomes clear why a band like Within Temptation needs two guitarists, something that’s personally been haunting my mind here for quite some time. It gets even more intriguing with melodious solos, brief choir chants and ballad-like symphonic arrangements, obligatory for all die-hards. Sharon is at her best, practicing the low-pitched singing style of the past few records in contrast with the Mother Earth banshee-screaming era,  she uses her full potential without the help of overproduced filtered vocals of the previous album (with the sick exception “Murder,” reminiscent of “The Cross” and “The Heart of Everything”).

Despite its direct, straightforward (but positively fresh) sound, or maybe right because of it, the record goes through numerous engaging metamorphoses and beautiful details which won’t leave even the most pretentious listeners indifferent [It may, however, leave them irateAMG]. The Unforgiving is more evidence that the band isn’t resting on their laurels, and that they tried to come up with something new, an admirable quality given the genre. Whether they rock on with metal songs or climb the charts thanks to radio hits, Within Temptation are true masters of their art and their place is on the very top.

  • Chase

    they always have been my favorite, still cant get into Tristania, Sirenia or nightwish.

  • sorteal

    Never liked most of their stuff but I’ll be giving them another try thanks to this review! Great job as always guys!

  • Ernesto

    Nice review! I too think it’s a pretty good album, incredibly addictive, but IMO “The Heart of Everything” was way better as it refined all the elemnts that made “The Silent Force” a weak and lame album.
    BTW, how I hate when people that listen to WT for the first time says “Oh, this is like Evanescence”…..grrrrrrr, you fool, this guys have been around way before Amy Lee’s boys, and their musical background is a hundred times better

  • Tomas

    Too bad you either have a deaf ear, a lousy stereo or just plainly refuse to take it into account; the production of this album is horrible.

    There are NO dynamics, it’s completely compressed and the album even has clipping and distortion. Truly a shame because the songs are really good.

  • Within Darkness

    @Tomas: I suggest hearing it in good quality when it turns up instead of whining about that leaked said-to-be-320 kbs transcode which is halfway diluted from Sony’s web-stream. Nothing wrong with the physical promo’s sound ;)

  • Nok

    I know that the answer to the question “how the music sounds” is really a matter of personal taste . So , after listening to heavy music for 25 years , I admit that this is one the most quolified shit that I’ve ever heard . And not in positive meaning of expression . Everything seems fine , the mastering , the quolity of orchestral arrangements . But , everything is made of such a lack of passion . Why for christ sake are all this WALL of symphony , when you have such a great vocalist girl ? Usually such a wall can be used in order to hide the lack of voice and vocalist technique . But in the case of Within Temptation .. Why is this needed ? The guitars are just a backround to this stuppid wall of symphonies and the vocal is just lost somewhere behind . On some tracks the vocalist doesn’t sing , she screems in order to get on top of all this tzunami . Maybe on the next album better to remove the guitars at all . I think it will have a better effect . Where is the passion from “Enter” ? Where all the epic feeling ? Gone for ages . All that we have on this album is a club music for the Him-loving crowd . Within Temptation , please , don’t follow the steps of Lacrimas Profunder . Be a little bit less bestselling , but more proffesional and passionate .

  • Within Darkness

    The passion from “Enter”? Left some 15 years back in time and what bothers me is that for all that time people still expect “Enter Pt.2” while they made it clear they’ll never come back to that. So either call them “dead” for the lack (or presence) for good or get a time machine, dunno. People say that fans are “demanding” when bands “develop” in some way, looks like it’s high time to switch places.

    • Nok

      I don’t talk about the music style that was on “Enter” . I only talk about the passion with wich the music is made . Because today it totaly lacks it . Making sypmphonic orchestro is not called “a piece of art” today , because now every second band tries to do it . And you know why ? Because it sells and it talks to a bigger audience . Do you want to know a good recipy for making money ? Bring the orchestra (semi-orchstral synth) , some heavy guitars , good looking girl thinger – oppppa , you have 20000 cds sold . In order to be a real artist , you have to bring something special . WT have a very special singer , Sharon . But her voice doesn’t contribute much on this album , because the tzunami of sound just overtakes her abilities .I am not against the bands evolving . We have really good examples on healthy evolving . Like Anathema , Ulver etc . But there are some bands that transform their unique sound and talent into something , that look like a lack of taste . I am not against bad taste , it is better then a lack of it . What I’ve heard on the last WT cd is total mix of everything with a lack of taste . Please , somebody , remove the guitars . It sounds much better without them . It is not “symphonic metal” , it is “metal symphony” . And in this case the “metal” just ruins the “symphony”

      • Nok

        BTW , I really liked the DVD with the orchestra . It was a great show . But I think , there is a big difference between the sound on stage and the same sound on cd . There were a lot of visuals , special effects etc during this show , that may colour the music itself in different colours .
        And I am not the one that expects “Enter nm.2” . I saw a lot of bands developing from mid 80s , when I started to listen to heavy music . There are tooooons of examples . Amorphis , Moonspell , Tiamat , Crematory , After Forever , Moonlight , Emperor , Enslaved , Dimmu Borgir , Tristania and many many more . There are highs and lows , and listeners (and fans) understand this . But in case of WT it is always emotional regress (for me at least) . Each time they come up with a new album , I give it a chance . Not one time listen , but 3-4-5 even more times . I can find one-two tracks here and there . But in general it always average . And in the age when there are so many metal bands around , being average is not a big deal …

  • Ernesto

    WT can no longer be seen as a doom-goth band like they were back in thetimes of “Enter”. Hell, they haven´t sounded like that since “Mother Earth” already. WT music nowadays should only be listened to If you are not bothered by pop choruses or pop structures. I believe they have become a “comercial” band in the sense that their music is suitable for radio difusion, but I respect them for still trying to make loathable music.

  • Ben

    Ofcourse Within Temptation Sounds more commercial and more poppy than before, so yes, you need not to be bothered by pop choruses. Guess what? People grow up, bands grow up. Guess what, pop music can also be high quality. It doesn’t have to be experimental/underground/avant garde to be quality.

    When I was 16 years old I listened to Metallica, Slayer etc. and I found Within Temptation for sissies. Now I’m 25 and more open to most music, including pop music. I can appreciate The Unforgiving very much.

    In the end, listening to music is about enjoyment, I enjoyed it, even though it’s very accesible, cheesy and poppy at times. I’ve had absolutely no problem with the mixing/ compression etc. on this album. In fact, when you pay too much attention to 1 aspect of an album, you’re suffering from the audiophile/musician syndrome of not being able to listen to the song as a whole, the way it’s meant to be listened to.

    Again, sure it’s poppy, I’m not bothered. I listen to Morbid Angel, Gojira, grindcore you name it, I’ve had a great time with the Unforgiving. In fact, I think this album is more experimental than their last 3 albums, as it has more mixing of styles, more melody progressions you don’t expect from them etc. It’s fresh enough, yet not so fresh that they lose their identity. Great album. I’ve had a great time listening to it sofar. A fat 4.5/5 from me. They still are the top of the crop in symphonic rock imo.

  • To me, this is worst Within Temptation album so far and probably one of the greatest disappointments of the year. Sounds like A-Ha meets C C Catch, HIM and a bunch of other pop acts from the 1980s with just a bit of what WT was once. Something easy to listen and easy to forget. I am really sorry to say it, but this can get a 2/5 from me, in the best case scenario.

  • Jon H

    One of the worst female-fronted ‘metal’ albums yet. Period. Some bands do well to follow their own muse, but WT is better off listening to the people around them.

    I recall my initial impressions at Heart of Everything. ‘Hmmmm, a lot more radio friendly, but that’s ok. Can’t blame a band for wanting to make a living. The original elements are still there,’ etc, etc. But THIS?? This is pure SHITE.

    I always get a bad feeling when I hear the phrase ‘concept album.’ It indicates self-indulgence, detachment from a band’s ‘core.’ I’m all for experimentation, but honestly, leave concept albums to bands like Symphony X and Porcupine Tree. Concept albums are meant for prog rock/metal. When I listen to bands like WT, I want to ROCK. WT’s quality of ‘concept’ is weak and sophomoric. They should leave off with that crap.

    And yes, the album art is horrendous. Worst I’ve ever seen. I agree with the general consensus on that.

  • What more can I say, WT are still the leaders of Symphonic Metal, they never lose the WT sound. I thought The Heart Of Everything was the best they can do. But I was wrong. THANK GOD I WAS WRONG!!!

  • Protoss SCII

    I never liked Within Temptation albums, but i had to surrender to The Unforgiving. For me, the album is perfect, the songs are a blast, the chorus stuck in my brain… Since the first time i heard (2012) at least one time per week and never get tired. Best 2011 album. 10/10