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For all those unlucky people out there that don't know the band Within Temptation well that's all about to change. Formed in 1996, this Dutch band started their days with more spiritual / Celtic roots before evolving over the years to be a symphonic / Gothic metal band. Made up of Sharon den Adel (vocals), Robert Westerholt (rhythm guitar), Ruud Adrianus Jolie (lead guitar), Jeroen van Veen (bass), Martijn Spierenburg (keyboards) and Mike Coolen (drums) the band have released 4 albums prior to The Unforgiving each gaining the group more success and recognition than the last.
For me, their previous offering of "The Heart of Everything" back in 2007 highlighted a giant leap in their evolutionary chain as they had fine tuned their sound almost to perfection. It's always a worry when a band produces something so sublime that their next album will disappoint - well let me reassure you that even if I could sing without sounding like I was attempting to summon the Hounds of Hell, I still wouldn't be able to sing their praises highly enough for the new album "The Unforgiving" (2011).
First things first, this is no ordinary album and I may even be so bold as to say no ordinary concept album. The band, always wanting to write the music to a movie but not wanting to wait around for one to naturally come along, teamed up alongside comic book writer Steven O'Connell (author of Bloodrayne and Dark 48) to produce a 6 story comic book series also entitled "The Unforgiving" and have incorporated the themes from these stories into their songs and into three short films of their own which were released before the album itself. This album can be purchased just as the CD (currently at £7.99 from Amazon), but I think if you're going to unlock the full potential of this album you need to buy the special edition including a DVD with their movies and music videos for only £1 more (currently at £8.93 from Amazon). Each song works perfectly well as a standalone, but I think they take on a whole new meaning once you've gotten on board with the concept so I would also advise watching the DVD first.
I wanted to make a special mention of the artwork on the album casing as it is illustrated in the style of a graphic novel, and has a very dark feel to it which exudes a brooding sense of style. The album insert is also beautifully designed again resembling a graphic novel with some rough sketches and the lyrics written out in dialogue boxes which I think looks pretty classy. Also included is a poster of the album cover and on the back are the names (you will need a magnifying device) of all the Facebook fans that signed up to their special competition to appear on the album. It's the nice little touches like these that show how much the band appreciate their fans and have spent a lot of time and effort producing something purely for them which is great to see.
The DVD is a fantastic bonus to have with the CD. On it you get the three movies they made each followed by a music video, a making of featurette, two bonus videos, and a sneak peak at the prequel comic to be released which does run through at super speed making it hard to read everything. The first option on the menu lets you play the movies and music videos which you can play one at a time or all at once (if you play all this will skip out the making of featurette).
Here you get the first movie - "Mother Maiden". It is an atmospheric and dark piece which perfectly sets the scene. The character of Mother Maiden is suitably creepy with freaky black eyes and a frightening voice and we learn that she has a supernatural ability to resurrect the souls of the damned, which she then uses as her servants to fight evil. The movie is filmed effectively in black and white and is set to a chilling background piano melody, and has a genuinely scary narrative with some unsettling scenes and disturbing teasers for stories to come - excellent stuff. This then bursts into the music video for their first single "Faster" focusing solely on the band with very few gimmicks, but I will say den Adel looks very stylish. It's a good, but not particularly inspiring video.
Next up we have the story of Sinéad's downfall into damnation and Mother Maiden claiming another servant. Again this is a beautifully shot film, following the same black and white theme and set to a similarly haunting piano tune as the first movie. There are some intriguing styles here with slow motion and reversals, and again this is a dark and intense film with some adult themes running through it. The music video for "Sinéad" then follows and this is an improvement on "Faster" as a story is woven into this video. Once again den Adel looks very classy with the rest of the band just lurking in the background.
===Shot in The Dark===
"Triplets" - this is by far the most disturbing film of the three with the contrast of a child's innocence through a sad narrative and evocative imagery of toys played against acts of evil. The story is clever and very unsettling as Mother Maiden swoops in to claim another servant and again is just as stylish as the first two with the stunning black and white effect and again the reversal technique. This is then followed by the video for "Shot in the Dark" which perhaps a little unimaginatively just focuses on the static performance from the band, but is interestingly shot in black and white and uses a light display and sweeping camera techniques to add a little atmosphere.
===The Making Of...===
This takes a look behind the scenes at the filming of the movies as well as their music videos. Sharon den Adel and her infectious enthusiasm starts the tour which gives us some insightful interviews with some of the crew and cast, and we also are given some technical expertise on how it is all put together. I'm not normally a fan of this type of extra, but this one is actually quite interesting as it is well balanced and not too long at only around 20 minutes.
The band also includes a video to "Where is the Edge" which is set to random scenes from an up and coming Netherlands movie called "Me and Mr. Jones". I guess they're giving it some great publicity and the song actually works really well with the emotions and events from the movie scenes. It looks like an intriguing movie but I doubt it'll ever hit the mainstream.
Finally we also get the video to "Utopia (feat. Chris Jones) first heard on their "An Acoustic Night at the Theatre" album. This is a departure from their normal style, but a very beautiful and melodic song with the rare male/female dual vocals that harmonise wonderfully in this song. There's also a bit of a story going on in the video which is much more in fitting with the normal quality of their videos.
As of their last album, I would describe Within Temptation's music as being passionate, wonderfully melodic and often hauntingly beautiful, supported by the equally stunning, powerful and emotional vocals of Sharon del Adel. Thankfully in The Unforgiving they have lost none of these awesome attributes and have conjured up yet another magical album. Out of any of their albums, The Unforgiving definitely most resembles the heavier album The Heart of Everything, perhaps differing only slightly with a slightly lower level of intensity and heaviness, but to absolutely no detriment.
All the songs on the album are beautifully constructed with a fantastic mixture of orchestral tones against biting guitar riffs, each bubbling away with sometimes powerful and sometimes quiet passion, often with dark undertones and killer intros but all capable of completely hooking you in. The first intro track "Why Not Me" is an intriguing piece even without any context with haunting violins and the slightly unnerving monologue from Mother Maiden but is particularly cool when you've seen the first movie. When I heard this I knew I was going to be in for a treat.
One of the styles Within Temptation expertly delivers is one of passion from heavy, catchy guitar orientated tracks. "Shot In The Dark" is the perfect example starting off with subtle gothic and orchestral tones before picking up the pace into a boisterous chorus which raises the intensity for the remainder of the song, not to mention some superbly passionate and emotional vocals this is a stellar first song. Naturally there is also the storytelling element to this song as part of the whole concept which adds another level of complexity to it:
"Your soul is on fire, a shot in the dark, what did they aim for when they missed your heart?"
The other tracks which echo this style include firstly "In The Middle of the Night", again with a pleasing orchestral sound but with more emphasis on blistering guitars and which easily has the best chorus on the album with a brilliant guitar riff. Here den Adel shows off a greater vocal range which all adds up to another powerful song. "Faster", the first single released, is definitely the most instantly catchy song and follows pretty much in the same vein with some seriously awesome guitars and just a splash of violins to ramp up the intensity - a good choice for the first single. "A Demon's Fate" takes on slightly darker tones and finds a more equal balance between the orchestral side of things and the so previously dominant guitars. This is a song which threatens to fly off into the stratosphere but somehow keeps itself reigned in and again is extremely catchy and brimming with restrained passion, enhanced again by a potent vocal performance. Once again, there is the wonderful storytelling element to these songs that pull you into this dark world:
"Only vengeance will make me feel better. There's no rest till I know it's done."
"I can't live in a fairytale of lies."
"From the ashes of fate, it's a cruel demon's fate."
Whilst "A Demon's Fate" began to take on a darker tone, "Murder" usurps the throne as the darkest on the album. Bordering on slightly disturbing, den Adel's vocals take on surprisingly harsh tones which fit in perfectly with the grungy, angry sounds to the song. There are some compelling gothic passages in this song which fit in with the almost manic quality to the violins and again another story is expertly told through this song:
"There is no rope you're running out of time. So where will you go when I murder your soul?"
Keeping up the balance of the album Within Temptation also have songs with a much more symphonic emphasis, one of the best being "Where is the Edge". This is a brilliantly atmospheric and gothic song with a fantastically catchy chorus. The pace is slower, but the passion remains the same especially with the moving vocal display from den Adel. Likewise "Sinéad", another quietly passionate song and "Iron", more up tempo and actually reminding me of Nightwish, have a much greater emphasis on an orchestral sound which are incredibly expressive, particularly Iron which includes some dramatic quotes from their movies, both again making for a well spun yarn:
"Are you looking for saviours, chasing a dream, love turned to hate."
"'Cause you're born to live and fight it all away, you can't hide what lies inside you."
But, never fear, the variety and balance of the album are maintained with a haunting collection of ballads to stir up your emotions. "Fire & Ice" has a creepy atmosphere and for the first time is a piano based song with a haunting melody. This is a beautifully building song heading towards an epic finish - den Adel's vocals are simply incredible on this track, overwhelming in their emotion. "Lost" is in my opinion one of the best constructed songs from the entire album. Made up of acoustic guitars and a subtle symphonic sound, this is another slow and atmospheric song, but catches you completely unaware with a rather dramatic emotional outpouring which stops you in your tracks. Vocally...once again sublime. Finally we have "Stairway to the Skies" which is a culmination of all their styles. Atmospheric, orchestral, gothic and dark this is the perfect way to finish off the album.
"And I still wonder why heaven has died. The skies are all falling, I'm breathing but why? "
"I'm still around here, screaming her name, she's haunting my dreamworld, trying to survive. "
"I dream of a stairway to the skies, my angel is coming down from heaven to take me"
=== Track Listing ===
1. Why Not Me - 8/10
2. Shot in the Dark - 9/10
3. In the Middle of the Night - 10/10
4. Faster - 10/10
5. Fire and Ice - 8/10
6. Iron - 8/10
7. Where Is the Edge - 9/10
8. Sinéad - 8/10
9. Lost - 10/10
10. Murder - 8/10
11. A Demon's Fate - 8/10
12. Stairway to the Skies - 9/10
If you download the special edition (iTunes etc) you can get three bonus tracks. "I Don't Wanna" is a fairly up tempo offering with their familiar mixture of the orchestral and heavy guitars, "Empty Eyes" is an intriguing one with some pure sounding guitars and an angry edge to it and "The Last Dance" has an almost tribal feel to it and would feel a bit out of place on the main album, but it is a very gentle and soothing song to listen to.
This is an album full of astounding creativity with the fantastic creation of Mother Maiden and a dark and twisted world brought to life through their stylish movies, stunningly beautiful and passionate songs and comic books. Frankly, although I've never been one to buy comics (not since the Ewoks back in 1989), I have a great urge to buy these to further immerse myself into this world. The songs are reminiscent of their "Heart of Everything" album so if you loved that you will love "The Unforgiving" and anyone that loves dark graphic novels and / or stories will probably also find this concept intriguing.
The only downside I can find to this album in its entirety is the fact that the music videos felt very rushed as if they were meeting a deadline and as a result didn't particularly inspire, but hey, that's not the end of the world. The disturbing and compelling nature of the short movies more than enough made up for this in my opinion and the entire concept is a work of art. The time and effort Within Temptation have taken to produce such an entertaining collection for their fans is admirable - they rock! This is a must have for any Goth rock fans out there and at the price of only £8.93 that I paid, this album laughs at the word bargain.