(2011) Within Temptation – The Unforgiving: Anniversary Special

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On March 25th, 2011, Dutch symphonic metal band WITHIN TEMPTATION released an album accompanied by three short films (below) and a comic book. Since 10 years have passed since its release, “The Unforgiving” has received fairly wide acclaim despite the band’s somewhat drastic change in sound. Today, on the album’s 10th anniversary, we’re having a look back on the “The Unforgiving.”

Yours truly is/was a massive fan of WITHIN TEMPTATION back in the 2000s, but “The Unforgiving” was such a step away from their sound that I ultimately found myself a bit jaded by the album on the whole. While the music remained quite catchy, it took a big step towards the mainstream and away from the big Celtic symphonic sound that was what made them great. However, it wouldn’t be the first time a band has gone a little mainstream and done a great job of it, so I thought this was as good a time as any to have another look into the album and decide if it’s really as bad as I thought it was back in 2011.

Short answer: no, it’s not that bad. This is actually a very good album on the whole, if you ignore the fact that it has a more lackluster rhythm section than usual; if this had been an album by another band, it might have even been amazing. They still incorporate the symphonics, but perhaps with less bombast, and the songs are, if nothing else, catchy as absolute hell. Sharon den Adel‘s vocals are on point throughout, solidifying her into the status as one of the best symphonic metal vocalists around, and this album certainly helped bust the band through to the mainstream, as can be seen by the need for their shows to be hosted by the terrible-but-high-capacity Kaapelitehdas and, more recently, the Espoo Metro Areena.

The album tells the story of Mother Maiden, a crone-like woman who recruits sinners to be her servants in the fight against evil. This particular story follows Sínead Harkin, though without the comic it’s hard to really understand what the story is about, as the lyrics are written quite eloquently and poetically around the story. Without knowing the story, it’s hard to really get the full depth of the album. Nevertheless, they did a great job of capturing it musically.

After the intro, the album begins with a huge punch, offering hard hitters in the infectious “Shot in the Dark,” “In the Middle of the Night” with its live-fabulous chorus, and rocking first single “Faster.” Each of these songs is melodic, danceable, notably lacks a lot of WITHIN TEMPTATION‘s earlier Celtic symphonic stylishness, but honestly makes up for it with an earnest passion and a lot of good energy. I mean really, can you listen to “Faster” and scoff because it’s too poppy? Really? I just can’t do it… it’s so much fun!

Things slow down a bit, with an ambient movie-like feel when “Fire and Ice” opens, before pianos lead into the main melody. The album takes a necessary breather energy-wise here, letting Sharon den Adel show off a more tender side of her legendarily beautiful voice. Oh, the power though! The dynamic build-up is fabulous in this track and den Adel really puts it all out there. The energy kicks right back up for “Iron” though, as a riff that’s vaguely reminiscent of – of all things! – MOONSORROW‘s “Jumalten kaupunki,” this song had a terrific empowering vibe and a key change that doesn’t feel cliché. The album then goes to the hard-hitting and melodic “Where is the Edge,” which allows for a darker side of den Adel‘s voice to show through.

“Lost” hangs out in ballad territory, but also acts as an interesting reflection of “Shot in the Dark,” with an almost reprise-like feel to it, as well as one of den Adel‘s great powerful moments with “help me I’m buried alive!” The album takes a turn for the dramatic with “Murder,” with another strong build-up to an awesome chorus. This song simplÿ rocks. There must be some interesting story to “A Demon’s Fate,” one of the more straightforward songs that pushes both the story and album forward, but isn’t quite as catchy as some of the other material. “Stairway to the Skies” is another slower piece, driven by pianos and strings in the beginning as it builds up to a piece that feels very pre-climactic in its soundscape.

There’s some really interesting vocal soloing in the beginning of and interspersed throughout “The Last Dance,” with a very ambient soundscape created by echoey percussion and subtle use of atmospherics. The album does feel a little over-long at this point it reaches “I Don’t Wanna,” which doesn’t leave a huge impact in its place as the penultimate track, though “Empty Eyes” ends up being surprisingly rocking and groovy compared to the rest of the album, leaving the final track as a surprise, and while it’s not a highlight for me personally, I could see this song leaving an impact on others quite nicely. I feel like this is a track that I need to spend a lot more time with, and this one in particular might blossom even further upon knowing the story behind it!

Ultimately, I think it was foolish of me to turn my nose up at a perfectly good album, simply because it was poppier than earlier material. That genre purist snobbery robbed me of the opportunity to enjoy this album for a decade, and that’s on me. If you don’t mind poppier melodies in your music, then this is actually a pretty terrific album that does an artful job of depicting a story, particularly as part of a metamedia project. It’s unfortunate that the comics can’t be found for sale these days, as there’s still more to be gotten from these albums upon reading those as well. Perhaps it’s time for an anniversary reprint?

Tracklist

  1. Why Not Me
  2. Shot in the Dark
  3. In the Middle of the Night
  4. Faster
  5. Fire and Ice
  6. Iron
  7. Where is the Edge
  8. Sinéad
  9. Lost
  10. Murder
  11. A Demon’s Fate
  12. Stairway to the Skies

Lineup

  • Sharon den Adel – vocals
  • Robert Westerholt – guitars
  • Ruud Jolie – guitars
  • Martijn Spierenburg – keyboards
  • Jeroen van Veen – bass guitar

Additional musicians

  • Nicka Hellenberg – drums
  • Stefan Helleblad – additional guitars
  • Dawn Mastin – spoken words on tracks 1 and 6
  • Franck van der Heijden – choir and orchestral arrangements

Label

Roadrunner Records

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