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Live albums are often difficult to review. On the one hand, the live setting can allow a band the opportunity to stretch out and be more adventurous than the studio can. After all, the majority of the average concert features songs which are already confirmed favourites (whether covers or originals), so there's no risk that a certain track won't sell. On the other, the concert setting can be very limiting, forcing the multitracked vocal to be performed by one voice, revealing that fantastic drum part to be unrepeatable on cue and of course to feature far too much audience noise in preference to the music on offer. The proverbial jury is still out here as to whether the old standard of having the punters sing along to all the big hits is a good idea.
Within Temptation's live album features all of these issues in droves. As a result, it's the kind of live album that fans of Sharon den Adel and her friends will lap up, while those of us for whom a bit of Within Temptation goes a long way will probably be thinking it's gone a bit too far by the end of the first disc.
To begin with, WT are slightly adventurous here, as the concert was recorded in conjunction with an orchestra. Metal and orchestras have had a somewhat conflicted relationship, as anyone who's ever listened to "S&M" will be able to vouch, but the orchestra seems to work in well here. After all, most of WT's songs do feature a quasi-orchestral atmosphere courtesy of a keyboard and some synthesising, and simply playing it that way live would sound a bit thin. Thus, the orchestra makes sense and in fact sounds rather sprightly playing along with the band. Everyone seems well-rehearsed, which I could imagine would be rather tricky to achieve in this sort of situation.
Similarly, the tracklist features no surprises at all. I can't claim an acquaintance with all of WT's catalogue, but every song I'm familiar with makes an appearance. The reactions from the audience - which is constantly cheering, clapping along and providing extra vocal accompaniment - suggests that the ones I'm not familiar with are probably just as well-known among the aficionados. The opportunity to pull out a cover or two is passed up, which may smack a bit of conservatism, but a concert is after all an opportunity to give the people what they want, and clearly this audience wants their favourites.
On the downside, however, is the length of proceedings here. I don't believe that there's been much in the way of additional solos added to any of the songs on offer here, but there's 2hrs+ of concert on offer. While there would be many champing at the bit to experience that and more, I find that the songs tend to blur into one pretty quickly. Even the duet of "What Have You Done Now?", featuring some new vocals courtesy of Keith Caputo, doesn't stand out well enough from the rest of the pack. Yes, Sharon's voice is quite pleasant to listen to - even if she's not one of the best in the field, she's far from the worst - but the melodies and lyrics tend to become the same in general. Gothic metal doesn't tend to promote solos by the band members, and as a result there's much less in any given song to "hang one's hat on", if I can put it that way.
There are live albums which serve as fantastic documents of a band's sound - and one or two I could name in other genres of music than metal which have made me a fan of the band in question - but this ultimately feels too generic for that. As I've said, I'm not the kind of person who'd pay to go and see Within Temptation in concert in the first place, so it may be that the album will always be a lost cause for me. Nonetheless, I can only review what I hear, and for me this is rather bland over its entire length. For those who would pay for the concert experience but haven't yet had that opportunity, I'm sure this is a great sample of what you'll hear when you get the chance.