Remarkably, 'Hydra' is only Within Temptation's sixth full-length release since their debut album, 'Enter', materialised seventeen years ago. With 3-4 year gaps between their studio output, they've been drip-feeding fans new material throughout their entire career. However, never in a rush to expand their discography, they've always delivered quality, despite the fact of commercialising their sound with each new release both in terms of songwriting, performance and production, and straying further and further from their roots; distancing the few who adored 'Enter' in favour of amassing a globally mammoth fanbase. So where do they sit musically in 2014? Well, press blurb will undoubtedly have whetted the appetites of long-time aficionados (at least those who have stuck with 'em over the years). Frontwoman Sharon den Adel has been quoted as saying: "It’s the best of old and new. ‘Hydra’ really shows the multiple personalities of Within Temptation. We looked back to our previous work and forward to our future, and we combined those things...."; while hubby/guitarist Robert Westerholt claims: "‘Hydra’ is a total reawakening for us – a reinvention." Bold assertions, but do they translate into actuality through the listening experience? Kind of... yes and no, I guess.
Robert also claims that 'Hydra' is "the most powerful album we’ve ever made." I'm sure many artists and bands fully believe it when they declare such; after all, they're hardly likely to admit it's their weakest or "not as good as this or that album" within the context of promo materials. It's almost as if it's ingrained within the press blurb template as a mandatory statement prior to an album's release. So pinch of salt and all that. Whether or not it's nostalgia blurring my judgement, I still hold a soft spot for 2000's 'Mother Earth' so, personally, I can't declare this their best ever work with any degree of sincerity, although it's most certainly their strongest release since 2004's 'The Silent Force'. And Sharon's claim of mixing up the old with the new holds true as sonic nods towards the band's past are discernible throughout; whether that be with the welcome return of Robert's death growls on 'Silver Moonlight' or, more subtly, the phrasing of Sharon's vocals over certain passages of music.
One of the album's strengths is in its anthemically grandiose melodies. I hasten to criticise 'Hydra' for its instant accessibility and longevity potential - while on the surface hooks, melodies and refrains are immediately likeable, repeated listens reveal greater depths in the richly layered instrumentations. It's testament to the band's songwriting capabilities and the execution of such that they've managed to make such an instantly accessible record that simultaneously works on a more profound level. Sharon's lush vocals predominantly carry the melodic impetus on the surface of each track but when redirecting your attention towards the actual instrumentations, there are latent melodies awaiting discovery, weaving a sonically majestic beauty.
Notably, too, nearly half the album's tracks feature guest vocalists. 'Paradise (What About Us)', featuring ex-Nightwish singer Tarja, has already been out there in single/EP form for a while, of course, although it's nice to digest the track within the context and flow of the album. Ex-Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones features on 'Dangerous' and Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner guests on 'Whole World is Watching' - both singers complement Sharon's vocals very well on each of the tracks. The biggest surprise, however, is the inclusion of American hip-hop artist Xzibit on 'And We Run' who interjects the track with his self-penned verse for a full-on rapping intrusion. Well, 'intrusion' is perhaps an unfair description as that was only my gut reaction on the first couple of listens; not a criticism of his rapping skills, rather its jarring effect. However, it's grown on me a lot and, dare I say, actually works a treat. I predict it'll prove divisive amongst Within Temptation's hardcore fans, though.
For long-time fans, and perhaps some who'll be rediscovering the band after losing interest over the previous couple of releases, 'Hydra' is undoubtedly the album they've been waiting Within Temptation to record for a number of years. I can vouch for this through my personal affinity with the band's studio output. It's by no means a masterpiece, although marks a return to their erstwhile aural grandeur and, ultimately, serves as a reminder just what made 'em so special in the first place.
Review by Mark Holmes
3rd Feb 2014
1) Let Us Burn
3) And We Run
4) Paradise (What About Us)
5) Edge of the World
6) Silver Moonlight
7) Covered by Roses
8) Dog Days
9) Tell Me Why
10) Whole World is Watching
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"It's testament to the band's songwriting capabilities and the execution of such that they've managed to make such an instantly accessible record that simultaneously works on a more profound level."