“It’s a Crossover Hit!”
I’ll never understand the fanaticism that female-fronted symphonic metal gains. For those who aren’t aware of these obsessive fans, I dare you to search the name of any symphonic metal vocalist on facebook. Cue hordes of pages and fanpages and “come to brazil” pages and pages with sexually questionable fan art/slash fiction of these people. Some are fan pages, some legitimately pretend to be members of the band and all of them are incredibly strange considering the music they are fanatic over. They all appear to be teenage girls, too. It’s as if it’s not cool to idolize Justin Bieber, so Simone Simons and Sharon den Adel get it instead, to the same near-obsessious level.
Within Temptation have always had the possibility of being more than just a metal band. I mean, they have catchy melodies, they have a gorgeous singer, they have a celebrity power couple within the band and they have legions of obsessed fans. They’re just one step away from being mainstream. And on their last album, The Unforgiving, they really pushed it. It was a pop album through and through, with hooks and catchy riffs and accessible production, it just had strings and some distorted power chords thrown in to make it symphonic metal again. And actually, I loved The Unforgiving. It was insanely catchy, fun music, and I really think anyone who hated it needs to give themselves a decent look in the mirror and decide whether they’re really a fun person to be around.
But it wasn’t just me who was impressed by that album. My sister, who was 8 at the time of its release, also somehow happened to get hold of it, by my complete mistake of showing her, and having to suffer through months of a small child singing the same songs just to impress you is bloody annoying. But the point is that my sister, who thinks Lady Gaga is the best thing in the universe, loved The Unforgiving. And with radio play coming for “Faster” and “Sinead” (the latter of which I even saw the music video for on a TV in a Burger King, to one of my friends saying “she’s pretty hot”), Within Temptation could practically smell worldwide fandom and fame. All they needed to do was to follow with an even more accessible record…
The first thing you’re going to notice about Hydra are those horrible words “feat Xzibit”, followed by a gasp and “Oh jesus christ they’ve done it, haven’t they”. And yes, I would definitely expect to hear “And We Run” pouring out of radios with tweens singing it at the top of their lungs, and I honestly think the reason it hasn’t been picked for lead single is that it would cause an outrage amongst fans. But honestly, I hope I’m not the only one here who thinks it’s one of the more solid songs on the record, if not the best. It’s epic and grandiose, with a high and glorious chorus covered with a lovely little synth/string hook and pounding drums. And as much as I know that Xzibit is only here for money, promotion and recognisability purposes, I honestly think his contribution is fitting for the song. He raps in an epic and uplifting tone, even if his lyrics are pretty weak, and I do enjoy the flow he has for the bridge, jumping the bars and putting in a couple of nice rhythmic plays in there. I would honestly listen to a whole record of rapping over this sort of instrumentation, so I can’t complain about his feature here, although people certainly will.
But the big question should be – have Within Temptation completely sold out and gone towards pop music? And honestly, no, they haven’t. Sure, this is a lot closer than The Unforgiving, and there are certainly some tracks here that wouldn’t sound out of place on pop radio, particularly “And We Run” and “Roses”, but there’s still a hell of a lot of metal here that’s getting in the way of them rivaling Lady Gaga. There are even some rare harsh vocals from them during "Silver Moonlight", which easily has one of the catchier choruses here. In a way, I respect WT for keeping this element of their music, proving they’re not in this for the money, but in another way, I always love it when a band with pop tendencies that is also a good band compositionally gets the credit and popularity they deserve.
Another track that I should touch on is the lead single here, “Paradise” featuring Tarja Turunen, formerly of Nightwish, but as much as I enjoy the main part of “Paradise”, I can’t help but this that Tarja here is even more of a money grab than having Xzibit on “And We Run”. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, these vocalists have a massive following, and having Tarja as a feature is far more exciting to this group of people that Xzibit, although I can’t really say I enjoy her part at all. I’ve never been a fan of Tarja’s operatic take on symphonic metal, I’ve always felt that vocalists like Simone Simons, who can take both opera and pop singing, were so much better, and Tarja’s operatic warble over the bridge and chorus just comes across as corny and unnecessary, far more so than the rap in the previous track.
Hydra honestly just feels like a slightly more accessible version of The Unforgiving, but it most certainly won’t get Within Temptation the worldwide fame they’re capable of, simply because this just isn’t as strong. The bigger tracks on here can’t really rival the majority of The Unforgiving, there are no hooks as good as the ones on “Sinead” or “Shot In The Dark” or tracks as big and exciting as “Fire and Ice” or “Iron”. Hydra is a nice record, and aside from a couple of moments, spoiler: click to read there’s nothing actually bad about this album, but it just doesn’t push the exciting and uplifting symphonic pop metal of its predecessor as well.
Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog