Within the annals of female-fronted symphonic metal, the name Within Temptation is among the oldest and most immediately recognizable, though also one of the hardest to truly pin down. Having arisen from the mid-1990s when Gothic rock-tinged melancholy with some remnants of the earlier death/doom craze was all the rage, they forged a smoother and more anthem-based approach that dovetailed with the evolutionary strides of Finnish trailblazers Nightwish, though generally with less of an overtly operatic presentation. However, as the 2000s progressed, so did this Dutch outfit’s stylistic pallet, moving closer to a modern alternative rock/metal-tinged approach in response to the success of Evanescence with their third LP “The Silent Force,” and subsequently making some inroads in pop/rock circles with a number of auspicious collaborative efforts with notable artists such as Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach and Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum fame.
While never really abandoning the subtle Gothic trappings of their early years, lately this fold has displayed a clear preference to the modern stylings of their most recent offerings, and it is reflected within the set list of their latest concert event dubbed The Aftermath. The presentation of this live streaming event was one of sheer extravagance, relying heavily upon a CGI-steeped stage set that gave the appearance of the band performing in a parallel universe or at some point in the distant future. The twelve songs that spanned the hour’s length of the performance, of which only three went back further than their 2014 foray into their current stylistic niche “Hydra” and nothing from the their first two albums was included, were separated into four trilogies with its own unique scenery. A cybernetic narrator provided the segue points for each new setting: which included a decaying dystopian metropolis, a massive religious temple of Greco-Roman influence, a launching station and a platform wreathed in the cosmos; each one a veritable feast for the eyes.
The performances turned in by all involved, in spite of the visual splendor surrounding them, would ultimately be what made the event. Front woman and spellbinding soprano Sharon Den Adel would steal most of the show with an otherworldly execution, aided at times by some pre-recorded backing tracks, but cutting through the massive backdrop of orchestration and metallic bluster effortlessly to deliver the poignant lyrics of each anthem. The opening one-two-three punch of two earlier offerings in “Forsaken”, “Solemn Hour” and duet with Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen “Paradise (What About Us?)” would start things on the highest note, as Sharon matched her more dramatic foil on the third song in terms of sheer power, and the two preceding anthems saw her flying in the proverbial stratosphere with each successive high note. The execution of the groovy metallic punch behind the voice was no less extravagant, painting a brilliant template that would easily win over any modern symphonic metal trustee not already familiar with this early entry into said sub-genre.
The rest of the concert would see a slight ebbing in the metallic character of the music given the mostly newer song selection, but the energy level would mostly remain in place. Generally vocalist-centered duets such as “The Reckoning” and “Firelight” tended towards a more humble presentation, while the song featuring rapper Xzibit “And We Run” had a tad more riff-based pizzazz to go with the more aggressive tone that said artist tends to bring to the table. A few tastefully short guitar solos would surface courtesy of Stefan Helleblad and Robert Westerholt, with the two of them cutting heads in a manner reminiscent of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray on the heavy metallic pounder “Raise Your Banner” being their respective high point. But the lion’s share of the blaring handiwork tapped from “Hydra”, “Resist” and the most recent EP “Shed Your Skin” would prove wall of sound feats where no one contributor really stood out too much apart from Sharon and whoever happened to be sharing vocal duties with her.
Of all the elaborate shows that have been put on via live stream since the pandemic brought the live concert market to a standstill, what Within Temptation has served up here is arguably the most extravagant, if not the most overtly cinematic in character. The heavy exploitation of CGI effects gives things a more fantastical character when compared against the practical stage effects and carnival extras employed by fellow Dutch symphonic metal adherents Epica recently, yet the performance itself proved to be equally organic in character and explosive in nature. The only real drawback was that the lack of spoken interaction with the online audience out of Sharon or any of the other members of the band gave the performance a bit more of an extended music video character rather than a concerting event. Nevertheless, the musical execution was on point all but to a fault, and those who crave symphonic bombast with infectious hooks and streamlined songwriting could certainly not have asked for more.
WITHIN TEMPTATION Setlist:
Forsaken / Our Solemn Hour / Paradise (What About Us?) (with Tarja Turunen) / The Purge / Entertain You / Raise Your Banner / And We Run / Shed My Skin / Firelight / The Reckoning / Supernova / Stairway to the Skies