Album Review: Within Temptation - "Hydra"

I'm not one to actively seek out so-called "symphonic metal" bands but if I were Holland is the first place I'd start looking. I am part Dutch on my maternal Grandfather's side but I've never been to Holland. My question is "what in the world is happening over there?". A word of warning to the rest of the world - If you're thinking about getting into the symphonic metal game, you've got your work cut out for you. The Dutch metal band Within Temptation has nailed it with their latest album "Hydra".

Last year I had the pleasure of hearing the second album from fellow Dutch metalists ReVamp and I was suitably impressed. I have no facts to back it up but I would not be shocked to discover that ReVamp was at least partially influenced by Within Temptation. Within Temptation is not new to the game. They've been around for about 17 years. "Hydra" is their sixth studio album and demonstrates that with time and practice comes power. On this latest endevour, all the pieces have again fallen into place.

To call them a "female fronted metal band" is a bit disingenuous and doesn't begin to cover the complexity that comes with their music. Sharon den Adel is more than just the female fronting the band. She is a tour de force with an unbelievable set of pipes. She is just one of the seven musicians who make up Within Temptation. They feature three, count 'em, three guitarists, bass, drums and keyboards as well as several guest vocalists on this latest project. Among them, Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum and rapper Xzibit, if you can believe that. What goes better with a Dutch symphonic metal band than an American rapper? After hearing the song "And We Run", nothing.

You may notice I keep using the phrase "symphonic metal" and that is how the band describes itself. Their earlier work was filed under the "gothic metal" or "doom metal" category but Within Temptation has clearly moved on from there. In fact, "Hydra" sounds like the opposite of gothic. It's upbeat and, at times, even inspiring. The sound has a pop sensibility and is masterfully produced. It's no wonder they have been at the top of the Dutch music scene for a number of years.

This isn't metal the way we usually think of metal. There are, of course, the required distorted guitars and an occasional metal growl but this is a more dynamic album than your typical metal fare. It is "poppier" than most and is more Florence and the Machine than Rage Against the Machine.

One thing that really excited me about "Hydra" is the way Within Temptation uses a variety of musical genres to punctuate their songs rather than define them. For example, the aforementioned "And We Run" starts as a nice, melodic song with keyboards, guitars and so on (the symphonic part of symphonic metal) and then, suddenly, there's Xzibit rapping. Putting those two elements together may not seem an obvious choice but it works really well on this song.

"Paradise", on the other hand, uses a more traditional metal structure with an awesome sounding guitar playing a really cool riff and then den Adel starts singing in a more operatic style. Not a metal, Geoff Tate, Queensryche kind of operatic. More like a Rigoletto style of operatic. The juxtaposition of sounds keeps you a bit off balance and makes the listening experience that much more pleasant.

By the way, if you have anything to do with creating promotions for the Olympics you may want to give the final cut, "The Whole World Is Watching", a listen. It is the perfect track to end any sporting event. Maybe the folks who produce the March Madness finale should think about replacing "One Shining Moment" with this song.

Musically, Within Temptation is one heluva good band and "Hydra" specifically is a terrific album. That being said, I feel it's an album full of singles. Each song is great on it's own but, for me, listening to the whole thing at once gave me a sort of sensory overload.

If you enjoy female fronted Dutch symphonic metal then this is an album for you. Get it, add it to your listening device of choice and put it on shuffle. Each time a Within Temptation song comes on you'll think, "Hell yeah". Spacing the songs out between other artists will make each cut that much more special. Try it. I think you'll like it. But that may just be the Dutch in me talking.

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