Rating: 3 / 5
Boy did I have to wrack my brain to figure out how I felt about this album. And anyone who knows my taste in music well enough knows that Within Temptation has been one of my favorite bands for nearly a decade. So, naturally, I was excited for the Dutch symphonic metal band’s sixth studio album, Hydra. This is WT’s most sprawling set to date, with songs that draw from every possible corner of their sound. Thunderously heavy, dreamy and pop-tinged, bombastic and cinematic, airy and melancholy – you truly get it all here. Hydra also features four guest vocalists with equally unique sounds: metalcore titan Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage), soprano star Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish, now solo), Soul Asylum frontman David Pirner, and – bet you didn’t see this coming – rapper Xhibit.
The overall opinions on Hydra have been as varied as the sounds WT explores on Hydra: Some people love it, others don’t, and still others are torn by it. I’m in that third category – which has turned this from a normal CD-reviewing experience into hair-yanking agony.
Truthfully, I enjoy a number of songs from Hydra. “Dangerous” absolutely rocks, with palpable tension, stormy rhythms, and one of the most unexpectedly awesome vocal collaborations I’ve ever heard. Other dramatic uptempo numbers (“Tell Me Why,” “Silver Moonlight”) whisk you away to metal fantasyland, while the strongest ballads (particularly “Edge Of The World”) envelop you with evocative melodies and arrangements. Some tracks also hearken back to older WT records; “Covered By Roses,” for example, would have fit The Heart Of Everything as well as Hydra. Then then are songs that either I’ve remained indifferent toward after several listens or that fall short of WT’s usual high standards of lyrics (“Dog Days,” particularly the chorus) and overall impact (“Let Us Burn” lacks that special “kick-off” spark). Finally, four is an annoying high number of guest collaborations on a rock or metal albums. It’s nice to see and hear WT in that kind of spirit, but it’s overkill. They’re who I really want to listen to when I play a WT album.
My best advice when it comes to Hydra is to listen with an open mind. You might love everything you hear, or you might not. Or you might seesaw back and forth, like I did. And you’ll find this rift in opinions in the reviews you’ll read on Hydra on Amazon as well as webzine and print reviews. Personally, I like Hydra, but it’s inconsistent. I skip over a few tracks because they don’t appeal to me, and one or two others get little more than a shrug as my reaction. This doesn’t mean I’m jumping off the WT bandwagon. It just means this album leaves me dissatisfied, and it’s hard to hide it when one of your all-time favorite artists leaves you feeling that way.
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Coming Soon: Next week’s Mini-Review Monday will feature another Dutch band: gothic symphonic metallers Kowai, and their debut album Dissonance.