After the ambitious new direction Within Temptation took in 2011 with The Unforgiving, the latest release Hydra unfortunately doesn’t stand up to its predecessor.
In an interesting turn of events Within Temptation put some restraint on the symphonic side of their metal, and added a few doses of ’80s rock. The symphonic and orchestral elements were still present, they were just toned down and in turn the album was exciting, new and interesting.
Three years later and Hydra feels like the band is trying to return to who they were pre-2011, and add a certain amount of shock (having Xzibit feature on a track) to put them back on the map, but they weren’t ever really off it.
“Let Us Burn” opens the album with a strong The Silent Force vibe. Going back to the sound we heard in The Silent Force is not a bad thing, it is probably the band’s strongest album, it’s the disappointment from hearing something so new in The Unforgiving and then returning to a sound now 10 years old.
Hydra brings in a range of guest vocalists the first being ex-Killswitch Engage’s Howard Jones on “Dangerous”. Following some cues from The Unforgiving is the best collaboration on the record, with the two vocalists thankfully not adopting the tired guttural/orchestral cliché. From there the collaborations fall flat. “And We Run” could have been an album highlight if Xzibit wasn’t on there. What could have been a huge symphonic, theatrical track fails with the additional “street cred” of Xzibit. The two bands don’t mix, and when the rapping comes in, it just sounds messy.
Ex-Nightwish Tarja Turunen makes an appearance on “Paradise (What About Us)”, which is one of the better tracks on the record, and who hasn’t imagined Sharon and Tarja singing together? Sadly, in reality it’s a little boring. Their vocal styling is extremely similar, so the addition of Tarja’s vocals doesn’t really add that much to the track.
While it seems like I have nothing good to say about Hydra, I actually do. It wouldn’t be a Within Temptation record without a ballad track, and “Edge of The World” fills that quota perfectly with no outside contributions. However, album closer “Whole World is Watching” features Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner, and probably could have been left off the record. Ballad tracks are fine, until they enter cheesy territory which is exactly where “Whole World is Watching” goes.
The best tracks are easily the ones without any collaborators. It’s evident in “Silver Moonlight” that guest vocalists aren’t necessary. Guitarist Robert Westerholt is all the rough male vocals needed sitting (as always) nicely next to Sharon’s.
Their signature sound is of course symphonic metal, so faulting them for returning after the brief departure heard in The Unforgiving perhaps isn’t entirely fair, and “Let Us Burn”, “Silver Moonlight” and “Tell Me Why” prove they’ve still got it, with “Dog Days” adding some pop into the mix.
While a lot of the tracks may not be great, they are still listenable. Take away Xzibit’s efforts and forget “Whole World is Watching”, and Hydra can still be considered a decent album.