[Symphonic Metal] Within Temptation – The Heart of Everything 10th Anniversary

Today marks the 10th release of “The Heart Of Everything”, the fourth album from the Dutch Symphonic Metal band Within Temptation. It is a 11-track album (with two extra tracks in the North American version) totaling over a bit more than 57 mins.
This album has a special place in my heart because it marks a turning point in the band discography by several aspects.
First, I found that Sharon Den Adel, aka “Angel Voice”, reached her full potential in her vocals making it a delight to listen to her soprano voice. That settles for me Sharon with one of the most gracious voice in female-fronted metal bands. Second, the band at this point have successfully transitioned into full symphonic metal and have done a remarkable sound engineering work with the orchestral arrangements and the melodics, making always a 100% hit in my cerebral hedonistic center. In other words, it gives me an acoustic orgasm, each time i hear this album. Third, the lyrics of several tracks are just resonating so well with the tumultuous of this century and still resonate very well ten years after its release.

Let’s go through the album quickly through the track. First, we get introduced to it with “The Howling”, setting up the symphonic gunnery upfront, setting the tone for the album with a well-designed combination between the gracious symphonic elements and the guitar bass shredding.

“What Have You Done Now”, the second track is in my opinion is a weak element but plays straight into the Evanescence playlist and can be considered as a gateway vector for an audience not accustomed to listening metal bands. “Frozen” is a beautiful song and surprisingly would have been a perfect match for the movie “Frozen”, giving it a much darker tone.
“Our Solemn Hour” is one my favorite, opening on with a radio announcement of Wilson Churchill on the declaration of war, decrying the folly and insanity of human mind to war and destruction. “The Heart of Everything”, “Hand of Sorrow” and “The Cross” continues on the magic formula giving us a very strong middle section in the album.
The album then enters into less enjoying tracks (in my opinion) such as “Final Destination”,  “All I Need”. Then came the final act of this serendipitous album with two major favorites: “Stand My Ground”, “The Truth Beneath The Rose” and “Forgiven” bringing on the magic formula once again.

However if I have to pick one song that would be “The Truth Beneath The Rose” nicely orchestrated and dynamic, that is very engaging. The lyrics are straight into fighting the religious zealotry and extremism, calling on rejecting those who praise on killing in the name of the religion as a key to Heaven.

In my personal discography, this is the pinnacle album in Within Temptation’s discography (excluding the Black Symphony that is the live orchestral performance of their discography up to this album). After this album, the band decided to engage into softer stance and into something more accessible for the lay audience. Despite I don’t find the same appeal in their following releases, the band still keep a special place in my heart by being in the front of the gothic/symphonic metal first wave, with the unique voice of Sharon Den Adel.

[Metal] My top 2014 Symphonic (Death) Metal albums

2014 is taking its last breath and as usual it is time when folks bring their compilations and ranking of best cultural experiences of this year. I can tell that this year was very prolific, thanks to iTunes Radio that introduced to a lots of different metal bands and sub-genre. I thought to share some of the albums that marked my mind this year. All of them were published this year and evolve around metal/symphonic metal/death metal. There is no particular order and I listed them as alphabetical order. I also give my rating of the album “a la Metal-Archives”. Here we go….

(NOTE: I will progressively update the page, consider it as a 12 days of Christmas and come check it out on regular basis)

Arch Enemy – War Eternal (80%)

This is my introductory album to the group so I am maybe immune to the fight between Alissa White-Gluz and Angela Gossow. What I like about this band is  the presence of harmonics in their style, that strikes from other death metal band that are more frugal. The other surprise I had was to get introduced to female growls, especially when you have been raised in soprano voices of Tarja, Sharon or Simone. Thats was a bit of a shocker at the beginning but I quickly adapted to Alissa vocals. Overall, I liked it, even if it got some bad reps in Metal-Archives. It was a good experience and the band has a very good musical outcome. Two tracks brought my attention” “War Eternal” that is very dynamic and heavy, a great way to start a day and “Avalanche” that has very good melodic components. If you want to get introduced to death metal and wonders how a girl would growl, well this is a great introductory way to get into it.

Deathtiny – In Creep Clothing (80%)

Deathtiny……a band that appeared in my Facebook feed. And a good surprise. It is a very small symphonic gothic metal band from Germany, from the Black Forest area (Karlsruhe, Baden-Wurttenberg) so I consider them as neighbors in terms of my hometown. I consider them as the micro-brewers of metal. A small band, that is touring in the local scene and try to get a reputation. “In Creeps Clothing” is their second album, that can be purchased from iTunes (great if you are oversea but if you are in Europe you can directly buy their album from their Facebook page).

Delain – The Human Contradiction (85%)

Some followers asked about my thoughts on Delain for a couple of times and I thought this can be a quick take before I write a dedicated blog on the band (waiting for the 10th anniversary of their first album “Lucidity”.  Delain is one of this young generation band rising and after exploring their own style got what I think in this one their best shot and maybe are holding the magic formula. Its loud, its heavy (much heavier than their previous album) and an enjoying experience. Charlotte Wessels give this nice “candy” taste to the band style that is not bad. I really liked their first albums “Lucidity” and “April Rain” but got lost with the album “We Are The Others” (altought some of their songs had this 80’s new-wave flavor that was not bad at all). In her songs, Charlotte talks about deluded love, heartbreaks and how it hurts badly. Even any tough headbanger remains a child at heart and you really feel miserable when you set back on your feet after a too-long crush. I consider this album as the natural evolution of “April Rain” with a much more darker and engaged content. Just listen to “Your Body is A Battleground”, “My Masquerade” or “The Tragedy of The Commons”. It is also noteworthy to note the featuring artists in this album just as Marco from Nightwish or Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy. And what is make it a great album. The good news is Delain is coming to North America next year with Nightwish (with Floor as front singer!) and Sabaton. All three in the same concert venue? Thats a deal breaker.

Eluveitie – Origins (80%)

Ever heard about Celtic Metal? Never heard about….until I got my hands on Eluveitie “Origins”. That was a nice moment to listen, as the mix of celtic instruments with guitar riffs and growls as fusing so well. As a French, the closest region that comes to Celtic heritage is certainly Britain or “Breizh”. At the antipode of my hometown (I am from Elsass, at the eastern tip of France), “Breizh” has two meanings for me: my first love (I was a 4th grader, she was from Britain) and Cedric Labrousse, one of the best talented freelance chronicler on the Syrian conflict. The most surprising part was to learn that Eluveitie is far from being Celtic at its root. They are from Winterthur, Switzerland, the second most populous town in Zurich canton, just after Zurich-town. Nevertheless they are fairly amazing. I have not yet compared their latest album to the previous work but I really like this album with the exception of a couple of tracks that I would consider more aimed as “FM radio hooks”. If you are fond of folk-metal and are deep into the Celtic culture, I strongly recommend to discover this group.

Enemy of Reality – Rejected Gods (80%)

Another discovery of this year. Enemy of Reality is a Greek band, joining Elysion and Septicflesh in the few Greek metal bands I can cite. Their most recent album “Rejected Gods” is fairly unique as a symphonic metal as several of its tracks sounds like classical with a touch of metal, rather than having the classic metal riffs and drumbeats with a touch of classical. Iliana has a very powerful voice and deserve to gain some more public attention. I would give this band a software metal tone, almost a gothic aspect. If you need louder and faster pace albums, you may try to reach “Arch Enemy” or “The White Empress”. But if you are like nostalgic of the Nightwish “Oceanborn” era, then it can be a good tryout for this holidays. Favorite track: “Needle Bites” note the feature of Aylin from Sirenia in this track. “Sirenia” Veland and Aylin, looking for your next album!

Epica  – The Quantum Enigma (90%)

If there is a symphonic metal to be considered as a flagship one of the genre, it is certainly Epica. Simone Simons and Mark Jansen can be resumed into one sentence: a constant and great track record. 10 years, 5 albums, but always a consistent delivery of good albums (although the Requiem for Indifferent is the weakest link in my own opinion). Simone and Mark just keep refining their trademark and just ages as wine: just get better as it gets old. It is loud, powerful, the chorals are not too much abused and the symphonic arrangement is great. It certainly faster than their last album and maybe comparable to “Design Your Universe” in a faster pace. If you are looking for something stronger than Evanescence or Within Temptation, but not nihilist as death metal (because you appreciate classical music), this is the one. And if you like it, I strongly recommend to explore their discography.
I wanted to attend their concert in Dallas last fall, however a last minute cancellation from Children of Bodom vanished their USA tour. In the same time, it was heartbreaking that they came to my hometown (Strasbourg) last November with Dragonforce. So close….Really looking for their coming here in the Lone Star State.

Leaves Eyes – Symphony of The Night (85%)

 Leaves Eyes….A band that gives me some troubles because I find their music quality inconsistent to my ears or fails to make the chemistry. Its not because of Liv Kristin, she has a beautiful voice, its maybe the style that some qualify as “folk metal” or I would call it “Scandinavian metal” because it touches a lot of the Nordic mythology. The problem that I have with Leaves Eyes is that for most of their albums I would like a couple of their songs but despise the rest. For instance, “Njord” has a couple of songs that really trip me up like “Ragnarok”, “Northbound”, “The Holy Bond” or “Emerald Band” that have this magic in my brain. Maybe is their lack of heaviness int their sound that was missing. Their latest album seems to have solved that. It starts very loud with “Hell to The Heavens” with the pristine voice of Liv followed by heavy bass guitars and very aggressive growls. Its like Leaves Eyes went on steroids and thats good enough for me.

The only problem I have with this album is its cover. And the graphic designer in general. It seems that someone there has some “photoboobs” issues. I have nothing against generous breasts, i like big beautiful women indeed. Liv has surely a great set of vocal chords, but not a big pairs of boobs, even with a corset. And it seems such “boob job” just keep getting bigger with which new album. Want a proof look at “Njord” and “Symphonies of the Nights” cover albums. Guys, please stop that, it just getting ridiculous and not giving justice to Liv talent: her voice.

White Empress – Rise of The Empress (90%)

The White Empress is a brand new band, formed by ex-Cradle of Filth Paul Allender and ex-Ottoman Empire Mary Zimmer. It also has a special place in my heart as a good chance of the group is coming from the Twin Cities (Minnesota) and Madcity (Madison, Wisconsin). The style of the band is symphonic death metal, with Mary as the lead female growls. Their first album is very energetic, very aggressive and very cathartic for me when I have a bad day or when a band I liked just went “Gaga” with their latest release (Maria, do you hear me?). It has some rage that can be found in old punk bands and thats not bad. Just got infuriated the band played in Madison last Halloween, just wished they performed six months earlier when I was still there.

Whitin Temptation – Hydra (80%)

Within Temptation is the prototypical love-hate relationship you can have. Someone you liked for a long time and just decided to cut bonds for some artistic divergence. You have to know the discography of the band to feel the pain. I highly appreciate the “Heart of Everything” as their best album and of course “Black Symphony” that is the live version of it with a whole philarmonic orchestra. “Hydra” their latest album was for me feeling fighting a hydra. I severed my ties to the band a long time ago but seems one grew back enough to attract my attention. And in my personal, it is not bad, if you cut some non-sense duets. But it was a pleasure to hear a heavy sound, the energy of Sharon in several of their songs. There are songs with features such “Paradise” with Tarja, “Dangerous”, “Let it Burn”. They even were capable to make Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” that was some FM quality into something heavy and well designed.

My expectations for 2015?

A lot of expectations. Floor just joined Nightwish and I am seeing her as “the last hope” to bond again with the band. Annette Olzon is maybe a good singer but her vocals cannot sustain the soprano voice of Tarja. And Floor has the vocal range similar to Tarja that can really be a deal breaker. Floor reached artistic hell and came back, stronger than ever. Really looking for their concert in Dallas next May with Sabaton and Delain (one of the best lineup in one concert). The second is the new album from Sirenia. Aylin and Veland are on their way to finish their latest album and I hope they are leaving the abysmal depths of the Northern Sea. Up until today, “The Enigma of Life” still remains an enigmatic bust. For those who discovered Xandria with Manuella Kraller as front singer, I really wish her good luck in 2015 as a year for her to join a band. Manuella is extremely talented (at first I thought Tarja was singing, to give you an idea of her talent) and really she deserve to join a Symphonic Metal band and have her place among Simone, Sharon, Tarja, Liv and other metal divas. Viel Glueck Manuella! Finally it seems the French Symphonic metal band “Whyzdom” is on the way to release a new album in early 2015. Bonne chance les amis!

The other event I am looking for is seeing Serj getting back with SOAD for commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and thats for me some tragic events of my genome coming back to haunt.

And you? What was your discoveries and top albums? Feel free to leave your feedback.

[Metal Review] Within Temptation – Hydra

Hydra-Within-Temptation

Following my recent posts on my blog about my love for metal, I thought to share my review on recent listenings on iTunes Radio. To inaugurate this series of posts, I decided to share my thoughts on the latest Within Temptation album: “Hydra”.

For those who know me, Within Temptation (or WT for the fans) is one of these metal bands I have a love-hate relationship. They had some great potential in their first albums and then decided to experiment their own tracks. Now that this is something that many fans will tell you: they either accept it or they just break here and stand alone. The loss of Tarja from Nightwish, the break of After Forever (however Floor Jansen really propelled the group and still do well as ReVamp)…..that was some depressing time for me, as you loose your only love.
Since their first album, Shannon and her band took what I would call a mainstream pathway, very similar to Christina’s Lacuna Coil. And I fully understand if you want to live. But in same time, you don’t have to go mainstream to sustain fair success. See Simone Simons and Mark Jansen’s Epica band. 10 years out of stream but a remarkable upkeep in music quality.
There are sometimes some really good songs from WT and even a full album that really enjoyed my hears. Just listen to their orchestral performance in their “Black Symphony” album. It is magistral, in particular “The Other Half of Me” performance that really show when Shannon outperforms herself, it can really blow your mind. And this is where I enjoy WT.
The latest album was indeed a good surprise. Like an hydra, WT showed one of their best heads. Many of the songs are very good and enjoyable to listen. “Paradise” with Tarja was of course one of my favorite (as a postnuke wastelander too, hats off the videoclip). WT were able to really blow the original Imagine Dragons “Radioactive” with their cover. But like the Hydra, there is also this weaker head and some discutable artistic choice. What the heck was Xzbit doing in the album? I mean this guy had already some discutable musical records (if you end up presenting MTV Pimp My Ride, that means you are not earning enough money from your songs).
I feel this album brought me closer from the original WT group but yet not enough, but if it can bring the average Joe to see that the metal scene is not dominated by devil worshippers let it be. There will be always some purists or headbangers that considers themselves entitled to decide the good from the bad metal (my personal sour note to Metal Archives admins) but what is great about metal is the variety of flavors it can take. And one aspect of my love of sciences and evolution is diversity. Diversity is the key to adaptation. Get rid of it and you end up fossilized like the dinosaurs.