Within Temptation: Hydra review

Dutch symphonic metal masters Within Temptation have long been one of the Netherlands’ best kept secrets. Dispite a very impressive back catalog that includes five studio albums, several EP’s, a couple of live albums, a handful of DVD’s and the ability to sell out massive arenas in their homeland, these musical geniuses are all but unknown here in the states. This travesty shall soon be remedied, as their newest offering, Hydra, for Nuclear Blast, is bound to thrust them onto the global stage and finally garner them the attention and respect they so richly desreve. For those of you not yet framiliar with this enigmatic band, let’s get you caught up. The band was started by vocalist Sharon Den Adel and her longtime partner, guitarist Robert Westerholt in 1996. Outside of Bassist Jeroen Van Veen, they are the only other constant members. From day one, the duo has been and still remains the musical masterminds and creative and driving force behind the band. The band released Enter in 1997 and Mother Earth in 2000, both of which, are more straight forward metal and a far cry from their current sound of today. It wasn’t until 2004’s Silent Force that the band started to give clues of the major upcoming change in direction that was showcased on 2007’s The Heart Of Everything. In 2011 the band released their most ambitious and elegant album to date called The Unforgiving, a concept album that told a twisted tale of good and evil. It also saw the band exploring an almost pop side of themselves, that when balanced with their heavier side, somehow, not just worked, but escaped the drugery of expectation and kicked the proverbial door down as to what these titans could accomplish. Hydra finds them further pushing their boundries, exploring new elements and influences, while at the same time revisiting their heavier metal roots. The songs on Hydra are longer and have a more complex structure like those on the Mother Earth and Silent Force albums while maintaining the pop sensibilities that permeated The Heart Of Everything and The Unforgiving. The title itself was specifically chosen to represent the many sides of this versitile band and to reflect the fact that like the mythical beast known as the Hydra, the monster that Within Temptation has become can not and will not be stopped. Opener “Let Us Burn” picks up right where The Unforgiving left off musically minus the concept theme. It sucks you in from the very first note and is so immediately intoxicating you will find yourself pounding the repeat button into submission. “Dangerous” is a resplendent duet with former Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones that is driven to a breakneck pace by copious amounts of double kick. It is reminiscent of what they did with Life of Agony frontman Keith Caputo, on “What Have You Done” and Jones’ voice is the perfect complement to Den Adel’. The familiar build of “And We Run” would have fit right in on The Unforgiving musically. The harsh rasp of Xzibit’s guest vocal gives the song layers, depth and an overall Linkin Park kind of vibe. It also further proves there is nothing this band can’t do and do well. “Dog Days” is a straight up melodic rocker that veers into the mainstream rock territory of heavyweights like Halestorm or Adele and closer “The Whole World Is Watching” is positive proof that sometimes they save the very best for last. It is a duet with Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum and if you liked “What Have You Done” even a little then you’re gonna lose your mind over “The Whole World Is Watching.” It is destined for musical immortality and is one hell of a way to end the album. Here’s the bottom line- If you like the raw melodic power of Lacuna Coil, the epic symphonic sound and unrestrained vocals of Nightwish and the pure rock swagger of Halestorm, then you gotta give Within Temptation a try. They are the best at what they do and, although it is very early in the year, Hydra is already on my short list for top 10 of 2014. Rating: 9.5 out of 10. -Eric Hunker