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Listening to this album once turned out to be a daunting experience. Continuing to play it afterwards in hopes that perhaps I was missing some spark or hook during the first run wound up being an exercise in futility. Spinning it even a few more times so I could properly review this release made me question what the fuck I was doing with my free time.
During my initial listen, by the third track, "Frozen", I had a pretty clear idea of what Within Temptation were shooting for here, and they definitely weren't aiming for the same crowd that lapped up their early work. This is some bright glistening pop metal brandishing fantastic production values and a guitar heavy enough to earn a few fist-pumps. Symphonic elements are also highly present, layering the tunes with an almost movie score like quality, boosting the punchy choruses and providing texture to the mellow verses and ballads. Everything is well-played in a sterile, competent manner, and Sharon's choices are spot on depicting what each individual track calls for concerning vocal deliveries. Yippee.
It feels like souped-up modern country music adorning black nail polish. Granted, today's shit coming out of Nashville to me sounds 'harder' than what passes for straight-up rock music these days, but still, replace some of the lush synth crap with a pedal steel guitar and tack on a fiddle solo and Within Temptation would be breakin' plenty of hearts all over the southeastern USA, at least until it was discovered that the band is composed of foreign folk from sinful Europe. The simple verse chorus template is obviously the standard here, and to be honest I'm not averse to pop formats whatsoever, but for music like this to work, it needs strong hooks or a melody that's easy to cling to and absorb, and I wasn't getting that with this album. The chord patterns are so predictable and rote that they just pass me by due to sheer familiarity. The first time I heard these songs, it felt as if I've heard them hundreds of times, albeit in slightly less 'metal' and most likely more 'catchy' renditions.
As the focus and breadwinner of the band, Sharon lights up the room immediately during the opening track with the virtuosic gusto of Kelly Clarkson and the down-to-earth appeal of Carrie Underwood, announcing to the world that she's ready to give Simon Cowell an unwieldy boner. It’s a consummate performance for sure, and at times she even reverts to the more familiar quasi-operatic approach utilized by many in the symphonic metal genre with aplomb when the need arises. Still, while I respect her skills and dig brunettes, there are a lot of good talented singers involved with some seriously bland musical shit out there, and this case is not much of an exception.
There are little moments that I actually found myself humming to after enough repeated listens, most notably the chorus for "Hand Of Sorrow", which does possess a slight hook that works. Then there's material like the duet "What Have You Done", obnoxious enough to have made for quite a kickass Glee TV show moment involving that dark-haired chick with the square jaw and some asshole in a black leather jacket if the band had a stronger presence in the USA. Then there are tunes like the waltzy "All I Need" which just suck.
I'm not going to pretend that I somehow know the intentions behind this effort. Whether it's the product of upstairs corporate meetings or managerial pressure, I have no fucking idea. Maybe the band always liked this sort of music and just one day decided to grab their gear and start playing this shit. Why not? If nothing else, Sharon sounds like she's having a reasonable amount of fun. Unfortunately, it just didn't click with me at all, and I'm one of those clowns who actually listens to music similar in vein to this. I have no problem with this sort of thing; but it needs at least one unique quirk that I can attribute to the band, one aspect that gives them an identity. Instead, The Heart Of Everything comes across like an assortment of session players and an X Factor contestant pumping out recycled material composed by writing and production teams such as those bozos comprising 'The Matrix' even if that isn’t the case whatsoever. Clinical and precise, sanitized and forgettable, the album's strongest characteristic is that it seems to completely lack character.