I rather enjoyed Within Temptation's 2011 album, The Unforgiving. It had a fresh feel to it, perhaps a touch more 'rock' than some of the band's previous albums. (Not that I don't enjoy their other works as well. I think they have actually been rather growing on me over the last couple years.)
But now the band's new album, Hydra, is out. I pre-ordered it already last year, and it finally arrived yesterday. So, let's dive in!
First of all, I really love the case. I have the two disc mediabook version of the album. The cover image is simple but quite elegant, greyscale with silvery lettering. It features a 100 page booklet! OK, so most of it is just tour photos that, honestly, don't really add that much value for me. But still. I'm sure I've mentioned before how much I love albums as physical objects, and this one is certainly right up my proverbial alley.
But on to the music itself. The Unforgiving was, in some ways, perhaps the most focused work Within Temptation had made. This was probably largely because it was sort of a concept album, with a tie-in comic book series. Hydra is perhaps a little more varied (which is apparently where the album's name comes from, as well), and one immediately noticeable element is that it features guest vocalists on several tracks. Previously the album The Heart of Everything had featured a guest appearance by Keith Caputo on 'What Have You Done', but Hydra obviously takes this aspect to a whole new level. Some of the guests are more obvious than others...
When female fronted 'symphonic metal' began to gain popularity in the late 90s, two bands in the forefront of the movement were Within Temptation and Nightwish. So it seems kinda fitting that ex-Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen appears on the track 'Paradise (What About Us?)'. Howard Jones and Dave Pirner, appearing on 'Dangerous' and 'Whole World Is Watching', respectively, are less familiar to me, but they perform their parts well enough and the songs are pretty good. The most surprising and experimental guest is probably rapper Xzibit on 'And We Run'. Now, I'm not a fan of rap music or hip hop, but, strangely enough, I quite like that song.
What with the variety of guests and the apparent lack of focus compared to the previous album, I really didn't know what to expect when first listening to the album. But, as it turned out, I was fairly pleased with what I heard, and I've now listened to the album several times over the last couple days. I'm not too good at analysing musical style, or comparing it to an artist's other works. There seems to be a little of the freshness and drive of The Unforgiving, but the symphonic metal background is strongly present, as well. Interestingly, the album also features a little bit of grunting on one or two tracks, something Within Temptation hasn't done much since their debut album. There are catchy fast numbers, and pretty slow numbers. Sharon's vocals are as good as ever. A nice and entertaining mix, overall, I think.
Lyrically, there seems to be an overall theme of living in the moment and taking chances. To be honest, the lyrics have never been the main attraction of Within Temptation for me, and I don't necessarily always pay them all that much heed. But I have no complaints.
The bonus CD features four covers from artists I don't really know, somewhat more pop-oriented and unexpected choices (like an Enrique Iglesias number), but they're fairly entertaining. It also features several 'evolution tracks' that contain experts from different stages of a particular song's development. This, honestly, seems pretty pointless to me. I might listen to them once, but that's it; there's no reason I'd want to listen to little excerpts from songs over and over again. A full alternate version of a song might have been marginally more interesting, but much rather I'd just have all new material.
So, bottom line, I liked Hydra, and I'm glad to have pre-ordered it. That's pretty much the only thing that really needs to be said.