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As a fan of this band's first four albums, I was honestly a little worried when Within Temptation previewed the first couple songs from The Unforgiving. Unlike most people, however, "Where Is The Edge?" didn't hit me as hard as "Faster" did— I thought the former fell somewhere along the lines of their earlier "Jillian (I'd Give My Heart)" in terms of sound, but "Faster" certainly sounded like different territory. Although Within Temptation managed to make both major aspects of their sound— metal and symphonic, that is— heavier and fuller, but still equal, for The Heart Of Everything; "Faster" seemed to indicate that The Unforgiving would choose a side. The symphonic elements were moved to the back and the song itself had more of a poppy beat to it, and it reminded me of something off of Lacuna Coil's Shallow Life... coincidentally, also the "new sound" fifth album by a band Within Temptation is often compared to.
Actually, as it turns out, the change of focus was a good thing. "Faster" continued to grow on me as a song while I listened to the other tracks, and although the orchestration was noticeably sparse compared to the earlier albums, it worked. It fit very well and was used very tastefully, even by Within Temptation's standards— as far as I'm concerned, they've always taken good care to make sure it's well incorporated, unlike bands like Nightwish who have lost their touch in the recent years. Songs like "Sinéad" and "Murder" are about as orchestra-heavy as the album gets, whereas most of the album is relatively reserved. But wherever the orchestra shows up, it has a distinctly epic and cinematic sound.
The other benefit from the sound change was more focus on the actual band members. On earlier albums, the band's actual presence (that is, without guest musicians for the symphonic parts) tended to focus almost exclusively on Sharon— not that she isn't a marvelous vocalist, of course, but the band consistent of six talents rather than just one. We actually have guitar solos now— in about half the songs on the album; in fact; including "Shot In The Dark," "Faster," "Iron," "Lost" and "A Demon's Fate"— where the only song with one before now was in "Dark Wings," by guest musician Arjen Lucassen. "A Demon's Fate" is probably the fastest song the band has ever written, and is both beautiful and complex, as well as instantly memorable. Chances are it's already replaced "Hand Of Sorrow" as my personal favorite.
And now, the best part: The songwriting itself has improved quite a bit for The Unforgiving. Going for a concept album was a smart choice, and each song seems to have its own story to tell rather than just a different angle of the same story. Within Temptation even took a few risks by breaking songwriting trends for this one, including both the aforementioned solos and the nature of the closer. The last three albums all ended on a Sharon-Martĳn-orchestra song, but The Unforgiving ends with "Stairway To The Skies," a power ballad which involves the entire band and manages to be more calming and uplifting rather than just a tender tear-jerker like "Forgiven" or "Somewhere." Sharon and the boys worked long and hard on this one, and managed to show that some change can be good. And with the band's newest album being their best-written and most enjoyable effort yet, Within Temptation is definitely in great shape.