By Tyler Hersko
Within Temptation is one of those rare mainstream rock bands that truly deserves the heaps of critical acclaim thrown their way.
The Dutch septet’s sig- nature blend of symphonic metal and goth rock has subtly shifted over the years to favor the latter genre’s cleaner, more accessible style.
All the while, the band’s unerring quality has rocketed them head and shoulders above similar bands such as Evanesence and Lacuna Coil.
As a result, expectations for the band’s sixth album, “Hydra,” were understandably high. “Hydra” was designed to encompass all of Within Temptation’s various influences, from their earlier heavy metal roots to the band’s more contemporary mainstream rock style.
While “Hydra” most certainly delivers on this promise, diverse arrays of musical influences are no substitute for passionate, engaging songwriting.
That said, at first glance, “Hydra” is the quintessential Within Temptation record.
The guitars and drums are suitably meaty, but firmly planted in the realms of melodic accessibility. The keyboards and symphonic elements perfectly accentuate the hard rocking core and are never overbearing.
And, of course, Within Temptation front-woman Sharon den Adel’s vocals are as beautiful as always.
Unfortunately, “Hydra” plays out like a mystifying case of one step forward and two steps back.
While Within Temptation’s myriad influences are cleanly tied together, “Hydra” is undoubtedly the band’s most uninspired record yet. On the surface, it’s more of the same. Considering the band’s impressive discography, this shouldn’t be an issue. While tracks such as opener “Let Us Burn” and “Covered By Roses” are hardly objectionable, their flat delivery and meandering pace would have relegated them to little more than B-side status on the band’s previous records.
And that’s really the overarching issue with “Hydra.” The record is never anything worse than average, but with unfortunately few exceptions, it’s just so wholly uninspired and painfully average that it’s a chore to listen to. Considering the band’s past records, that’s a damn shame.
For better or worse, the smattering of guest appearances that constitute nearly half of the record fare better than the tracks solely fronted by den Adel. The dual-female melodies on “Paradise (What About Us?),” courtesy of Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen’s, are quite pleasing, while former-Killswitch Engage vocalist Howard Jones’s energetic, if slightly strained, singing on “Dangerous” makes for fast-paced enjoyment. Perhaps the record’s most mystifying case, “And We Run,” features guest vocals from hip-hop artist Xzibit.
Once you get past the fact that it’s a Within Temptation song that features a rapper belting out lines like “I crush every motherfucking thing I touch,” it’s actually a pretty great song. It’s just a shame that the rest of the record couldn’t have followed suit. In most other cases, “Hydra” just makes you wish you were listening to “The Silent Force” or “The Heart of Everything” instead.
There are some strong moments — needless harsh vocals aside, “Silver Moonlight” is another remarkably strong track, and the aforementioned “Dangerous” is suitably entertaining.
Unfortunately, even “Hydra’s” strongest tracks tend to sound like the poor man’s version of hit songs of yonder such as “The Howling” or “What Have You Done?” The record’s lighter pieces suffer a similar fate. “Paradise (What About Us?)” and parts of “Tell Me Why” may have their strong points, but they can’t hold a candle to the incredible melodies of “Angels” or “Stand My Ground.”
For diehard fans, “Hydra” has plenty to offer. All of the band’s signature traits are on display, and even at its worst, the record is never actively bad. It’s a minor tragedy, because the “Hydra’s” amalgamation of influences could’ve resulted in so much more. Better luck next time.
Tyler Hersko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org