Released: 2014, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
The Hydra of mythology is a many-headed beast with poisonous breath and blood so venomous its very footprints were lethal. And it's a fairly apt title for the sixth studio release from Dutch symphonic metallers Within Temptation, which shows – or in this case showcases - many different faces, some of which are uglier and more foul than the others.
After the conceptualizing and theatrical ambitions of 2011's The Unforgiven, Hydra brings the band back to their more typical rousing, grandiose metal built around fist-pumping riffs, lush keyboards and orchestration, and the soaring vocals of Sharon den Adel. Indeed, the album is somewhat surprising in its overall muscle and sometimes quite up-tempo pace, with tracks like “Dangerous” offering what one could describe as symphonic speed metal, while still maintaining an anthemic air and “bigness.”
“Dangerous” also brings one of the many new faces into the mix, with ex-Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones providing a beefier masculine accompaniment to den Adel – though thankfully steering clear of the “bad cop” metal/deathcore cliché. On the flip, ex-Nightwish chanteuse Tarja Turunen is den Adel's duet partner on “Paradise,” giving it something of a subdued operatic flair that here works quite well as Turunen keeps her signature warble largely in check.
What doesn't is the rapping of ex-”Pimp My Ride” host Xzibit on the otherwise solid, propulsive rocker “And We Run.” As if it weren't out of character enough for Within Temptation, the rap is also lame and uninspired, as if Xzibit voice-mailed in his “crush every muthafucking thing I touch” and “Yeah, we outta hear” pearls of street wisdom at the last minute.
Dave Pirner from alt-rockers Soul Asylum - anyone remember them? - guests on the, well, Soul Asylumy closer “The Whole World Is Watching” with less dubious results. But the string and acoustic guitar-tinged number really doesn't gain a whole lot from Pirner's earnest vocal accompaniment and is a bit of a wet blanket as a grand finale.
And therein lies the rub with all the guest appearances here. Within Temptation obviously are trying to shake things up – or, in Xzibit's case, perhaps provide some kind of shock value - when things really don't need to be shook a whole lot to begin with. The thundering “Silver Midnight” gets all the gruff vocal accompaniment it needs from guitarist Robert Westerholt. And “Edge Of The World,” which bears a remarkable resemblance to “World Is Watching,” is just fine without any outside contributions.
The buoyant pomp rockers “Let Us Burn” and “Tell Me Why” or more dramatic power ballady “Roses” and “Dog Days” stand on pretty solid ground as well, ringing true to the personalized sound Within Temptation have built over an almost 20-year career. And there's no shame in that - certainly not enough to warrant something that smacks of an act of desperation, like a hip-hop mashup.