So apparently Within Temptation is now a nu metal band. No, no I’m just kidding. Did I fool you? This is not true, but this was my first thought when I heard that one of the tracks on the album featured rapper Xzibit. The last time most of us heard from Xzibit he was doing songs with Limp Bizkit and was a constant fixture on the Anger Management tour during the nu metal heyday of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Naturally I was very skeptical of this collaboration given rap metal’s sordid past, but surprisingly the combination of Within Temptation’s symphonic metal and Xzibit’s rap vocals works really well. In fact his track “And We Run” is one of the more solid tunes on the album, but we’ll talk more about that later.
Within Temptation’s newest album Hydra isripe with collaborations. These include songs with former Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen and former Killswitch Engage and current Devil You Know vocalist Howard Jones. For those of you looking for 1990’s rock nostalgia, there is also a very interesting song featuring former Winona Ryder boyfriend and Soul Asylum singer Dave Pirner. For the most part this is not your typical symphonic, power and Gothic metal album. Hence the name Hydra as the album encompasses all of Within Temptation’s various sounds and influences. Now the question becomes, does this work or is there just way too much going on? We’ll take a closer look to see if we can come up with an answer.
Things begin on a heavy, less symphonic note with the song “Let Us Burn”. Here we get heavy riffs, great vocals from long time lead singer Sharon den Adel and a very nice short guitar solo. Although the song is one of the heavier ones, it can be hard to tell because, as with many operatic female fronted metal bands, the vocals are featured at a much louder volume than the music. Nonetheless this is a great opening track.
Next we begin to jump into some of the collaborations. First comes “Dangerous” featuring Howard Jones. This song has a faster thrash style to it with some definite NWOBHM and power metal guitar work. Jones’ vocals fit perfectly with den Adel’s making for a fairly solid metal song. Once again the musical composition takes a back seat to the vocals. Up next is the aforementioned “And We Run” with Xzibit. This song works well on so many levels. The music coasts easily from subtle with den Adel’s vocals to very heavy when Xzibit jumps in. He even has a long rap portion that surprisingly fits seamlessly into the the great symphonic metal arrangement. He also does some raspy vocals that breath new life into the term “Beauty and the Beast” metal vocals. This song is different and adds some new wrinkles while still maintaining the ability to stay true to the traditional symphonic metal sound.
“Paradise (What About Us?)” finishes out the collaborations on the first half of the album. This one features Tarja and is easily one of the top three tracks on the album. We will discuss the others shortly. Fans of Nightwish will absolutely love the song’s heavy riffs and great symphonic aspects. The only thing here is that Tarja’s vocals largely outshine those of den Adel, but when they harmonize it is near perfection. Man I wish Tarja’s last album Colours In The Dark had sounded more like this song, but that’s another discussion.
Here comes the part of the album where we get some songs with just the band on their own. Even though the collaborations are really great, this is where the album really shines. The vocals on the second half of the album are turned down and meld better with the music than on the first few tracks. On “Edge Of The World” we get del Adel’s first other worldly vocal performance on the record met with a more keyboard/symphonic driven arrangement. There is even a nice thrashy guitar bridge to satisfy those looking for some heaviness. “Silver Moonlight” is the second of my picks for the album’s three top tracks. Here we get the first appearance of guitarist Robert Westerholt’s harsh vocals along with thrash guitars and a solid solo. If you want to check out one song before diving into the whole album, this should be the one. “Covered by Roses” is more of a typical symphonic metal style track, but it is extremely catchy and features a nice opening riff and excellent guitar solo. “Dog Days” is a slightly slower song that is just alright.
Now come the last two tracks. “Tell Me Why” is the third of my choices for the can’t miss album tracks. Once again it features some harsh vocals. The song also boasts the album’s best riffs, Mike Coolen’s best drum work and the best guitar solo featuring an amazing vocal overlay from den Adel. This song has everything making it the album’s best mix of heavy and symphonic elements. Finally we get to the last collaboration “Whole World Is Watching” with Dave Pirner. This one is just too slow and hard rock driven. Don’t get me wrong Pirner and den Adel’s vocal contrasts sound amazing and the lyrics are amongst the best on the Hydra. If Within Temptation put out a 90’s style grunge/hard rock album featuring collaborations and covers, this song proves that it would sound great. It is just unfortunately out of place on Hydra.
I guess all of this gives a positive answer to my initial question. Hydra works and does so on a number of levels. It is not really anything innovative that will have you jumping out of your seat asking, “where did they come up with that?”. Everything here has been done before either by Within Temptation or by other bands. However, it is very well written with solid musicianship, vocals and musical arrangements. The various collaborations work for the most part, with the exception of Pirner’s, and somehow they mix well together on the album despite their diverse influences. I do however wish that the album offered more than ten tracks (Grab the special edition. It contains 18 songs featuring excellent metal covers of popular pop tracks from Imagine Dragons and Passenger.) and that the vocals on the first few songs didn’t overshadow the music. With all this said, trust me when I say that you will not be disappointed by this album. It brings just enough of new and old elements to help create a very solid symphonic metal record. With the release of Hydra, Within Temptation adds another great album to their repertoire (there are certainly no stinkers in their catalog) and remain one of the most consistent and entertaining symphonic metal bands around. Despite what you may think regarding the strange collaborations, do not be afraid to give this one a chance. It will not disappoint.