Thursday, June 9, 2011

Within Temptation: The Unforgiving

     First off, despite being labelled as such, I don't consider Within Temptation to be a metal band. This Dutch sextet lead by Sharon den Adel have always in my mind conformed to symphonic rock, steering further and further away from Gothic and metal in general, as their discography progressed. An exception would have to be made on this latest release though, which is wrapped in hard rock and 80's metal; a concept album lathered in pop infectiousness. The Unforgiving is story-driven, centering around 'Mother Maiden', who seeks to raise the dead in an effort to defeat evil. Written as a counterpart to a comic book, the album is accompanied by three short films. 
     Before we really get stuck into the review, this isn't for everyone. This is a soundtrack, filled with predictable riffs and bring guitar solos. The impressive with this album however, is very impressive. Sharon's voice is powerful, and the eighties influenced arena rock lyrics get stuck in your head. This is no subtle, quiet pop-rock album. These twelve tracks are anthems, intended to be played loud and rocked along to. Symphonic, immersive soundscapes are supported by the story, introduced in the first track through a dramatic monologue. Surprisingly conventional in regards to the level of experimentation, the amount of adrenaline and power that pumps through your heart definitely makes up for it.
     The very noticeable eighties influence is slightly overwhelming in parts, even threatening to throw the record into the abyss of cheesy pop. 'A Shot in the Dark' is the main offender, with a smothering, overdone chorus that would drag the song down if the rest of the track wasn't so catchy! All of the songs have this factor to be honest, in that they all have fantastic hooks and melodies that are very hard to sniff at. 'Faster' is another, with Sharon's voice singing fairly bland and uninteresting subject matter in a song that's rescued by the sheer passion and anthem like power these guys emit.
     'Fire and Ice' has to be one of my favourites. It starts with an ominously dark and incredibly cinematic build up that changes to accommodate more hopeful sounds that are sprinkled in tinkling piano plinks, for lack of a better word. The dynamics on this song are also brilliant, with the piano suddenly drowned out by the climactic drums. Vocal-wise, also inspiring, with Sharon's voice switching between the saddening and the angry in a fantastic emotional journey highlighted by the wailing backing track and beautiful ending.
     The metal elements to this album reveal themselves prominently in tracks like 'Iron', a mid-record stomper that carries the story and keeps it flowing. Another song that feels more Metal than other tracks is 'Murder', with it's reverb heavy vocal effects and yet again, catchy lyricism and infectious hooks. The atmosphere surrounding this track in particular however, is one of dark regret and revenge, with words like 'I'm about to hunt you down' and 'I'm about to cut your wings away'. Great spine-tinkling power and emotion!
     Ending on a spellbinding high with the adrenaline fueled 'A Demon's Fate' and the vulnerable 'Stairway To The Skies', this album is one of the best of it's kind. An ending emulating forgiveness and a pleading death rounds the record off in a way one would expect a concept album to, leaving the listener's heart pounding and breath shaking. For at least another day, the hooks are stuck in your head, leaving your mouth to send them out in the form of hums and whistles. A twelve track symphonic masterpiece, it's anthems bursting at the seams with guitar, drums and powerful rock vocals, this record deserves it's place in history as the conventional album that managed to capture your mind and keep it. Music lovers, the purchase of Within Temptation's The Unforgiving is a must.