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Within Temptation: Hydra

Sharon den Adel’s symphonic troops perfect their vision

Three years on from the brave but unmemorable concept album The Unforgiving, Holland’s symphonic champions stand second only to the world-conquering Nightwish in the female-fronted metal stakes. However, instead of continuing the more opulent, adventurous course they, and others, have been taking in recent years, Within Temptation have instead opted to simplify their sound and concentrate on the anthemic approach that launched them to a worldwide audience with 2005’s The Silent Force – with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

This isn’t immediately obvious from the opening ceremony of Let Us Burn, with the walls of orchestral majesty making their presence felt. However, as the chorus kicks in with the traditional elements of bass, guitar and drums coming to the fore alongside Sharon den Adel’s luscious, inimitable vocals, it’s apparent that at its heart this is a pure, rousing slab of pop metal. Covered By Roses continues in the same vein, with the sheen of the strings and choral backing vocals adding to the mix rather than overwhelming it, as Devin Townsend ably demonstrated with his sumptuous Epicloud album.

Edge Of The World’s ambient goth-pop opening and Celtic tones build gradually to a peak of dissonant strings and captivating atmosphere, while Silver Moonlight is arguably the most complete song the band have ever written, with a simple guitar motif and restrained operatics backing a hook-laden chorus, while guitarist Robert Westerholt unleashes his first guttural roars since their 1997 debut. Even though the ’1, 2, 3, 4, what are we waiting for?’ chorus of Dog Days is as clichéd as they come, it’s over a bed of ethereal piano that seamlessly sets up the chugging, guitar-driven lament of Tell Me Why.

That leaves us with the guest appearances. Ex-Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones lends his barrel-chested pipes to Dangerous, a double-bass drum stomper of stabbing synths and buoyant urgency that sees Sharon mix with the Howard’s melancholic tones for an arresting chorus, similar to KSE’s latter output. Unsurprisingly, Tarja Turunen’s turn on Paradise (What About Us?) is symphonic metal perfection, with the two singers’ dulcet and formidable styles complementing each other exquisitely.

The reflective balladry of Whole World Is Watching with Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner is a fine album closer, but it’s Xzibit’s turn on And We Run that will no doubt raise the most eyebrows. The melding of metal and hip hop has resulted in memorable results, but few would have anticipated a mix of ethereal Euro-bombast and belligerent rhymes could ever coexist.

Despite these reservations, it’s a welcome shock as delicate keys and strings give way to a glorious melody and a simple call to arms chant from Xzibit. His inclusion inexplicably works due in no small part to the album’s stripped-down, less-is-more approach. In doing so Within Temptation have not only created a career-defining landmark, but a work that can proudly hold its own above anything this distinctive corner of the metal world has produced.