There are a handful of bands, such as AC/DC, who have successfully built a lengthy career making the same record over and over again. Sometimes the formula is effective enough that a fresh coat of paint looks and feels fresh enough initially to be satisfying, but give it time to dry and you can’t help but recognize that the newest addition has blended right in with the previous layers—it’s just more of the same.
Sometimes a personnel change forces a shakeup, and sometimes that change in approach or sound is not terribly well received. Iron Maiden’s altered course with Blaze Bailey merely paved the way for a very welcome return in sound and style upon Bruce Dickinson’s long awaited return. Maiden fans know what they want to hear and they’ve rewarded the band with fierce loyalty since returning to a previously established consistent mold.
For Dutch symphonic metal band Within Temptation, this simply was not an option. After spending about two decades establishing themselves as one of the leaders of the female fronted genre, the band felt the need for evolution. And while they have demonstrated some directional diversity from release to release, Resist is a more dramatic shift than their previous track record might have projected.
In hindsight, it was perhaps not too hard to see a change was coming. Their previous studio offering, 2014’s Hydra, included guest vocalist appearances by Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage), Xzibit (a rap artist), Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish) and Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum). The second disc contained the Q-Music covers with the band putting their spin on pop hits from Imagine Dragons, Bruno Mars, Enrique Iglesias and more. The choices are both unexpected and demonstrative of the band’s interest in reaching out beyond their genre for new shades, structures and tones. At the end of that tour, the siren of Within Temptation, Sharon den Adel, found herself experiencing writer’s block, burnout and personal turmoil. She wasn’t inspired to write more in the vein of Within Temptation’s mold, and the pathway out of the fog led to writing a solo record, My Indigo, which was not originally slated for public release but found its way out in 2018.
The personal process eventually broke the creative dam down and what followed was a more dystopian, futuristic version of Within Temptation that borrows from modern pop production techniques and even cinematic structures to deliver a very bombastic sound that doesn’t rely heavily on their orchestral past. According to den Adel, “We were done with orchestras and classic metal riffs. We’ve done it a thousand times before! This time we’ve expanded our horizon and started listening to powerful artists from other genres that implement bombastic sounds and huge basses into their tracks. All of a sudden we thought: we need these new exciting sounds too—but not the slick artificial feel that so often is connected to it. We started finding ways to roughen up these modern sounds, resulting in a surprisingly new musical world that is heavier, dirtier and more futuristic than we’ve ever created before.”
When I read that, my heart sank, and I braced myself for a pop collection that sounded like an identity crisis. But that’s not what Resist is. Perhaps the iconic, instantly recognizable sound of den Adel’s remarkable voice and emotional inflections are strong enough to harness the new production and sounds and bend the entire thing into the body suit of Within Temptation. In fact, “Supernova,” which contains synth lines that made me think of the Tron 2 soundtrack, is far more pop than metal. But it was also the song that stuck with me from first listen, and burrowed in as an earworm on future listens. It’s got a lush, condensed, digital feel with a deep bass line and sprinkles of a men’s choir that hint of a movie scene where a space traveling hero crash lands in a church and stares at the hole in the sky as he awaits his likely death as delivered by a fast approaching alien foe.
I was expecting something closer to Amaranthe, but Resist does in fact resist the temptation to get shiny or sweet. There’s a brooding darkness to the entire recording with an underlying defiant streak, almost as if the protagonist of the story knows that he/she is going to his/her death, but will stand unyielding until his/her light is fully snuffed out. Sharon sounds fantastic as always, demonstrating a broad range of fragility and power. There’s not a lot of upbeat or fast paced tracks. In fact, many of the songs instantly felt like they could be the ending song while the closing credits roll on the big screen of a sci-fi flick. I’ve opted to focus on the overall cohesive vibe because this record feels more about that than an individual collections of songs that have a lot of individual identity.
“The Reckoning” is a strategic opener that opens with a call to war sounding bugle tone and throaty vocals by Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix that starkly contrast den Adel’s vulnerable tone. The anthemic chorus backed by a matrix-like bass tone sets the vibe for the record well. “Endless War” maintains a plodding, bleak feeling with a dense, metallic keys mix and “unmetal” like drums. It’s sort of the sound of a genre collision without the song itself losing consistency in style.
“Raise Your Banner” grows with repeated listens, and features some welcome dynamics floating in front of the wall of sound in the chorus. A guitar solo is given some space, followed by a delicate string that’s shattered by a raging vocal. The male vocals by In Flames’ Anders Friden provide a gritty edge that’s tamed by Sharon’s floating lines. “Supernova,” as previously mentioned, is catchy, fat and another good example of what works with this new direction for Within Temptation. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly a daring step that doesn’t stumble.
“Holy Ground” is a track that grows more likable on repeated listens, with some unexpected rhythm production, but I suspect it would not work as well if sung by another vocalist. “In Vain” is one of the more mediocre moments of the record that fails to elevate any parts above the overall dark mood for me. “Firelight” elicits a Hunger Games mood with a droning “Woah-oo” dirge beneath a soaring chorus. The repeated vocal line gets a bit repetitive but the big chorus keeps it moving forward. Again, the cinematic vibe calls to mind a large group of shackled rebels being marched down the street at night in the rain to be thrown in a pit of fire. Belgian Jasper Steverlinck adds his alternative vocals for more diversity.
“Mad World” is the least appealing track to me due to its overt pop tone, though I can see how it would work well in a live setting with a choreographed light show. They pushed a bit too far on the pop vein of this one for my tastes. “Mercy Mirror” is a less futuristic ballad that benefits from some breathing space. It’s pretty, which among this collection stands out a bit awkwardly, albeit welcomed. “Trophy Hunter” opens with an angular, marching mood and melds into another big chorus that feels more like a familiar Within Temptation track that has been shaped to fit the vibe of this record but wasn’t built that way.
In my first few listens of Resist, the record sort of blended together without a lot of highlights or distinctiveness between the tracks. Over time, however, it loosened up, and Sharon has once again made her distinctive mark in another batch of singable recorded tracks. Lyrically, there are themes of fighting against the endless onslaught of propaganda and programming. To avoid the control of algorithms and rise up to think for one’s self and avoid succumbing to the mind-waves of the masses. It’s exactly what the band is asking of its audience as they take in this new direction.
There will be Within Temptation fans that don’t appreciate this shift. And others who welcome it. You can’t please everyone. But the band seems to have decided to please themselves first and foremost and embrace something different. While I can’t imagine it being as polarizing as Dream Theater’s The Astonishing, it will be interesting to see how the band’s faithful responds to this less metallic move that the band considers to be a milestone.
Personally, I am eager to see the production that accompanies the live show, as the cinematic feel of the music seems to cry out for a visual component to elevate the presentation in a live setting. Many will get their chance, as the band opens its U.S leg of the tour on Feb. 28 and will hit a number of European festivals this summer. Highly recommended.
Released By: Spinefarm / Vertigo
Release Date: Fabruary 1st, 2019
Genre: Symphonic Metal
- Sharon den Adel / lead vocals
- Ruud Jolie / guitars
- Robert Westerholt / guitars
- Stefan Helleblad / guitars
- Martijn Spierenburg / keyboards
- Jeroen van Veen / bass guitar
- Mike Coolen / drums
1. The Reckoning (featuring Jacoby Shaddix)
2. Endless War
3. Raise Your Banner (featuring Anders Fridén)
5. Holy Ground
6. In Vain
7. Firelight (featuring Jasper Steverlinck)
8. Mad World
9. Mercy Mirror
10. Trophy Hunter
A bold shift that pairs Sharon den Adel’s angelic voice with a futuristic soundtrack that borrows some things from pop and hiphop to create a more cinematic, less symphonic metal recording that is likely to be somewhat polarizing, while energizing to the band itself.