Years ago, more than I care to admit, my first girlfriend was obsessed with the Within Temptation‘s song “Our Farewell”, from the Mother Earth album. Of course, being the wimpy asshole that I was during my first foray into relationships, the song became part of my post-breakup soundtrack, and even to this day brings back memories of the one that (thankfully) got away. In any case, as a result of this emotional relation that existed with Within Temptation, whenever I encounter their new material I have a more or less conscious desire to like it, perhaps in order to prevent seeing my memories raped like a baby boy at a Lostprophets concert. Sometimes, however, even your bias can’t save you.
Starting with 2011’s The Unforgiving, Within Temptation reached new levels of success, appealing to an increasingly diverse audience, albeit at the price of alienating the very fans that propped them up to their current status, with a dramatic shift in style and sound. In The Unforgiving (although some might say that this started in The Heart of Everything) Within Temptation abandoned the more gothy elements, opting for a more radio-friendly approach, although maintaining a semblance of symphonic metal; this trend continues with Hydra, although reaching new levels that, to be honest, I never expected to see.
The funny thing about Hydra is that it is not, per se, a bad album. The songs are catchy and the instrumental and vocal parts are of an excellent quality, enhanced by what can only be described as a flawless production; after all, nobody in their right mind can deny that Within Temptation feature some great musicians who, although not particularly technical, can really create good tunes. The issue, however, is that the album falls short of being metal (even if labels and magazines seem adamant to continue labeling it as “gothic” or “symphonic” metal) rather falling square into the pop-rock category that made Evanescence the tune of choice for the obese corset-wearing teenagers that still have the lyrics to “My Immortal” superimposed on their (poorly Photoshopped) pictures, together with quotes from A Nightmare Before Christmas.
Some of the problems also stem from the fact that Hydra appears to lack an identity, seeming more like a collection of songs that lack a unifying thread and were put together at random. Take, for instance, “Let Us Burn”, which sounds like something taken straight from Ravenheart-era Xandria, or “Paradise (What About Us?)” which was constructed so much around the collaboration of Tarja Turunen that it might as well have been written by Tuomas Holopainen as a b-side for Century Child. The abundance of “guest performers” also plays a role in my issues with Hydra, since having 40% of the album used up by guests made the whole thing look like a gimmick.
Still in the matter of collaborations, the band had the syphilitic idea of including a song with Xzibit, a b-list rapper whose musical career was only jump started after his MTV show devoted to pimpin‘ cars and his subsequent rise to the world of internet memes. If there was ever a song by a metal band that had a clear intention of crossing genres and appealing to even the douchiest of MTV fans, this would be it. Furthermore, concerned with keeping everything as radio friendly as possible, Within Temptation made a man known for lyrics like “Dangle a nigga by the ankle off the balcony”, “Nigga you don’t wanna fuck with this” and “Muthafuckas take cover when my .9 explode”, sing “this is love… I’ve never loved so much”. I almost want to believe that, following the idea of Xzibit as a meme, the band hired this guy just so that they could use “U mad bro?” as the backdrop for their 2014 tour.
While Hydra isn’t a bad album, it sure as hell isn’t what Within Temptation became famous for. While for a band like Evanescence Hydra would be their greatest work, for Within Temptation it seems too much like a gimmick to just let it slide as the band “experimenting”.
Should you give Hydra a try? It depends. If you want a symphonic metal album of the likes of Mother Earth or The Silent Force, then this is definitely not something that you’ll appreciate; if, on the other hand, you consider Evanescence to be metal then, by all means, give it a shot.