Album Review: Within Temptation – Hydra
‘Hydra’ is a fitting title for metal behemoths Within Temptation’s sixth studio album. Symphonic metal, it may be slotted into, but the sound the band create goes far beyond simplistic genre boundaries. We’re dealing with a record that collaborates with soprano and metal legend Tarja Turunen, Metalcore heavyweight Howard Jones and rapper Xzibit so fitting it into one shelf in the record store is becoming an increasingly difficult task (but let’s be honest, it’ll be shoved in the metal section along with everything else that has a guitar riff heavier than Avril Lavigne).
Metal is it’s foundation, though. The blistering pace of ‘Dangerous’ featuring the aforementioned Jones is a kick-in-the-teeth like Within Temptation have rarely struck before – it is far from the highlight of the record but as it’s lifted as second single, it’s clear to see that sometimes a good hook and a powerful riff is just as essential to a record like ‘Hydra’ as the career highlights that it also homes. ‘Covered By Roses’ may be one of them – time will tell whether it’s charm will remain on repeated plays but it’s Lana Del Rey inspired vocal delivery dances elegantly over the mid-tempo instrumental and conjures one of the most magical downbeat choruses the band have ever produced.
‘Whole World Is Watching’ is another single that was written for mass consumption – in honesty, it’s the least memorable track with it’s AOR inspired backdrop – perhaps overshadowed by the euphoric bittersweet nature of the earlier power-ballad ‘Dog Days’. Sticking at midtempo pace but firing the passion on the final rendition of it’s hook – the song is a grower but swells into a magical finale. The Enya feel to ‘Edge of the World’ sets it apart from your generic ballad – again, another grower but a nice breather in the bombast of the tracks that surround it.
That bombast is the sound that has defined Within Temptation and it’s still present on ‘Hydra’ – particularly on symphonic metal’s dream duet – ‘Paradise (What About Us’ featuring ex-Nightwish vocalist Tarja. It’s the perfect lead single – hype doesn’t get much better than the excitement that the track stirred up simply by inviting in Turunen and the track itself doesn’t disappoint in that it’s a by-the-numbers Within Temptation standard. A stark contrast to the usual sound, Xzibit’s much-discussed feature on ‘And We Run’ ends up being the highlight of the album. He has a force and defiance to his vocals that suit the crashing drums and sharp string sections – the often dark world of hip-hop isn’t a million miles away from the goth sensibilities that the band utilise in their soundscapes.
Approaching the record as a fan or a newcomer, ‘Hydra’ presents itself instantly as a mammoth record – it’s evident from the fine-tuned professionalism that Within Temptation are masters of their own trade. Comparisons in the world of female fronted metal are too easy but Within Temptation are one of those acts that stand above it all. The symphonics might occasionally ring up a Nightwish vibe and Sharon might channel Kate Bush once or twice, but as a band, they really have carved their own niche. It may not be experimentally extravagant but it’s theirs and is essentially Within Temptation. ‘Hydra’ is the perfect articulation of their growth and development as one of the biggest names in symphonic metal today and whilst the make-up of the band’s music might have changed over the years, their ability to craft their sound and passion into an undeniable record still has the enviable ability to leave you breathless.
Words: Simon McMurdo