ALBUM REVIEW – “Hydra” by Within Temptation

Anybody with even a passing interest in Greek mythology will know that the Hydra was a multi-headed reptilian monster. The legendary beast is the namesake for the new Within Temptation record, allegedly as they feel it represents the many different aspects of their music. They are indeed a band that have seen steady evolution over their near two decades together, growing from a distinctly European goth metal proposition into something more multi-faceted – though retaining their trademark symphonic leanings that have long been the calling card of their dramatic sound.

2011’s ambitious concept record The Unforgiving saw probably the biggest changes for the band thus far, taking on a much more streamlined pop-rock modus operandi that resulted in some of the biggest and best tunes they’ve have crafted yet. It’s therefore a shame that Hydra lacks both the ambition and songwriting brilliance that its predecessor had in spades, and instead settles to be simply another Within Temptation release. The title would suggest a myriad of different approaches but instead the band simply rolls out their usual clichés with no real attempts at doing something exciting.

Opener ‘Let Us Burn’ initially impresses with its dramatic orchestral backing and grandiose chorus, but it overstretches itself with an overlong running time – common for the songs on ‘Hydra’, many of which would have been far better had the stopwatch been punched slightly sooner. Vocalist Sharon den Adel is undoubtedly the band’s best weapon, her soaring, crystalline voice always a pleasure to listen to, but she sometimes fails to deliver compelling hooks, ‘Dog Days’ in particular sounding almost amateur – surprising for such a veteran band.

A number of high profile guest vocal spots attempt to add colour to the songs, but not one of them really stands out. Howard Jones is disappointingly underused on ‘Dangerous’ (though not nearly as badly employed as on the recent Asking Alexandria record), as is Tarja Turunen on the admittedly strong ‘Paradise (What About Us?)’. While the guitar chug and massive hook are gripping, her appearance is disappointingly unexciting and a waste. Surprisingly the best guest performance comes from Xzibit on ‘And We Run’, adding some much needed menace to an otherwise dull tune.

Surprisingly monotone considering its namesake, Hydra is a tiring listen – aside from the gorgeous, stripped back first half of ‘Edge of the World’, it simply rolls out one overlong symphonic wall of noise after another. Every song relies on Den Adel’s vocal talents to carry it, the obscenely polished instrumental barrage becoming tiresome by the album’s end, and despite her excellent voice she can’t save the record as a whole. Hydra then is a disappointing step down from its predecessor that has some good ideas and strong (if overlong) songs, but relies too heavily on the usual Within Temptation formulas and wastes several opportunities to stand as something truly seminal.

Rating: 5/10

[Michael Bird]

‘Paradise (What About Us?)’



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