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
As 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 Patriarchy – AMG]. 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.
The 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. 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 irate – AMG]. 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.