An Ode To… is a bimonthly meme where I pick one of my favorite musicians / bands and share some of my favorite songs by them. Maybe you’ve heard of said musician / band before, or maybe you’re about to discover fantastic music to add to your library. So, sit back, listen, and relax – or, in some cases, headbang. *wink*
For this Ode, I’d like to introduce you to a Dutch band I’ve been a fan of for a long time. If you enjoy symphonic rock and metal bands like Evanescence and Nightwish, then you might already be familiar with this quintet. If you’re not familiar with any of those bands… Get ready for some orchestral and choir arrangements that will remind you of the Lord Of The Rings soundtracks, set over metal music with catchy melodies and an angel for a vocalist. 😉
Who Is Within Temptation?
Within Temptation is a symphonic rock/metal band and one of The Netherlands’ most popular musical exports in the past two decades. They started out with a more gothic, death metal tinged sound in the late 1990s before shedding the darkness for orchestras and choirs on their 2001 album Mother Earth, which became their breakthrough hit in Europe. Since then, Within Temptation’s music has gradually become dynamic and diverse, and is often praised for its soaring melodies and Sharon den Adel’s compelling, seraphic voice. And with increasing success all over the world, including the United States (their latest album Hydra debuted in the Top 20 of Billboard’s Albums Chart), Within Temptation’s comet is bound to continue shining brightly and rocketing higher.
Within Temptation Albums I Own:
- Mother Earth (2001)
- The Silent Force (2004)
- The Heart of Everything (2007)
- Black Symphony Live CD / DVD (2009) (my review at Sonic Cathedral)
- An Acoustic Night at the Theatre Live CD (2009) (my review at Sonic Cathedral)
- The Unforgiving (2011) (my review at Sonic Cathedral)
- Hydra (2014)
My Introduction to Within Temptation: “Stand My Ground”
Spring 2005, the end of my first year in college. Evanescence’s debut album Fallen was on constant repeat, and I had joined the band’s official messageboard. Shortly after that, I made a mind-blowing discovery: Europe was TEEMING with bands like Evanescence, bands who played symphonic rock or metal and had female vocalists. My reaction? “YES, MORE PLEASE!” So I dove in, starting with Within Temptation and the song “Stand My Ground” from The Silent Force. And my jaw dropped.
Despite the similarities between Evanescence’s music and Within Temptation’s, I noticed the differences right away: Sharon’s sweet yet powerful soprano, a metal approach in comparison to Evanescence’s alternative rock, and a greater emphasis on the symphonic elements. The latter took my breath away. Between the majestic strings and ethereal choirs, I swore I’d found a hidden track on the Lord Of The Rings film score. The metal aspect also brings a dynamism that makes the song leap to life. And the melody. Ohhhh it was stuck in my head for days! No wonder this song prompted me to buy The Silent Force.
If you’re hesitant toward metal music because of the genre’s history of controversial lyrical content, I’ve got good news: Within Temptation’s songs don’t fall into that trap. “Stand My Ground” is a great example. It’s about holding firm to one’s beliefs in the face of adversity. It’s encouraging and self-assured – and something I think a lot of people would enjoy if they gave it a chance. 😉
You can also watch the music video for “Stand My Ground” here.
Favorite Song from Mother Earth: “Mother Earth”
Mother Earth wasn’t Within Temptation’s first album, but it marked their transition from melodic death / gothic metal to symphonic metal and became their breakthrough album in Europe. A decade-plus later, this lilting, Celtic-inspired anthem is still one of the most awesome tracks in WT’s repertoire. Swooping strings and hammering riffs give it a commanding, untamed beauty that suits Mother Nature perfectly. Sharon’s surreal vocals here are often compared to Kate Bush, and emphasizes the song’s feral nature. Not to mention “Mother Earth” is a BEAST when the band plays it in concert, and even more so when a live orchestra is present.
Favorite Song from The Silent Force & A Song with Special Meaning to Me: “Memories”
“Stand My Ground” may be my favorite song from The Silent Force, but “Memories” isn’t far behind. This lush yet simply arranged midtempo ballad is one of Within Temptation’s most accessible tracks, and one I always recommend despite the sadness in its lyrics. Yes, even I can attest to “Memories” bringing tears to my eyes. I listened to The Silent Force for the first time the night before my paternal grandmother passed away. I knew then that she wouldn’t be around much longer – yet I wasn’t expecting this song to bring me to my knees emotionally and remind me of what I’d have to do when Memere was gone. *shakes her head to stop herself from crying*
One bright spot in all this is that I had the chance to tell Sharon from WT about this when I interviewed her for Sonic Cathedral in 2011. It was one of those moments where, after being professional and whatnot for 20 minutes, I needed to let the fan in me take advantage of the couple minutes I had left with her. So, I did my best to sum up what her band’s music meant to me, sharing the bit about “Memories” and my grandmother. Sharon gave me a huge hug – and a package of maple candy that she’d received as a gift from fans in Montreal two nights earlier. The candy is still in my kitchen cabinet today – and I refuse to open it, let alone eat it. 🙂
Favorite Song from The Heart of Everything: “The Howling”
If “Mother Earth” is a beast, then “The Howling” is the apocalypse, or Mordor’s army marching on Minas Tirith. Snarling and vicious, with wraithlike choirs and grandiose strings, it decries the horrors of war and crimes against humanity with a desperate urgency – as if it may already be too late. This song never fails to send thrills up my spine or enchant me with its contrasts between the metal savagery and softer, forlorn sections. I plan on put “The Howling” on repeat when working on a future novel that will feature a massive one-sided battle that could result in catastrophic consequences for the protagonist. Just ’cause I’m evil like that. 😉
Favorite Song from The Unforgiving: “Faster”
For The Unforgiving, Within Temptation shed their cinematic skin for a dynamic, retro-inspired sound. The change took a little getting used to, but I couldn’t deny how it revitalized the band’s music. You can hear it in the riffs, synths, and Sharon’s vocals – and you can FEEL it, too. “Faster” in particular has this infectious exuberance that makes me want to jump out of my seat, dance along with Sharon, and sing at the top of my lungs. One of the band’s best uptempo tracks, IMO…
Favorite Song from Hydria: “Dangerous” (featuring Howard Jones)
… Along with this jackhammering duet. Hydra features several guest performers; and for “Dangerous,” Within Temptation invited former Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones to belt it out alongside Sharon. It’s one of those collaborations that, on paper, leaves you scratching your head, but totally blows you away when you listen to the finished product. Both singers have room to show off their unique talents without overpowering the other. As for the music – talk about heart-pounding! I always come away from this song feeling like I’m out of breath or coming down from an adrenaline rush.
Three Other Awesome Within Temptation Tracks:
A fan shouldn’t recommend Within Temptation’s music without mentioning “Ice Queen.” This was the band’s break-out hit in Europe during their Mother Earth era, and an encore staple for years. It’s similar to “Mother Earth” with its nature-centric themes and Sharon’s Kate-Bush-inspired vocals. Yet it’s more midtempo and atmospheric, and highlights the higher end of Sharon’s vocal range. I’d even go so far as to describe “Ice Queen” as “triumphant.”
Click here to watch Within Temptation’s official video for “Ice Queen.”
Enjoyed “Faster” or “Dangerous” but was hoping for more symphonics? “Hand of Sorrow” from The Heart of Everything should cure that craving. Exhilarating rhythms, sweeping string arrangements, a larger-than-life storyline – everything about this track cries “fantasy.” There’s a good reason why: Sharon said in an interview that the lyrics were inspired by Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy. Yay for music inspired by literature!
Recommending “The Cross” is a bit of a gample, since it’s one of Within Temptation’s most unusual tracks. This ballad from The Heart of Everything explores the lower depths of the band’s sound, both vocally and musically. It’s gritty and angst-ridden, with droning guitars and a deep, pervasive ambiance akin to a simmering anger on the verge of exploding. I can’t stand it when music artists repeat themselves album after album, churning out songs that sound like repackaged versions of previous hits. That’s why I loved “The Cross” the moment I first heard it – because it was so different from any other ballad Within Temptation had done up to that point (and that’s still the case today).
Are you a fan of Within Temptation’s music? If so, what are your favorite songs or albums by them? If you’re checking our their songs for the first time, what do you think? Let me know by commenting on this post.