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There is a certain malleability to metal, appropriate primarily since many metal substances carry this trait in a material sense, but often taken for granted and often times dismissed as being too heavily bent towards eclectic influences. But regardless of dueling orthodoxies, it is pretty well established that the limits of the genre are drawn less by any conventional wisdom, but more so by those in the mind of the creator. Within Temptation sought to expand their own boundaries while walking a clear tightrope musically, trying to balance a fairly different direction with the symphonic underpinnings of their established sound.
"The Unforgiving" is an original venture, which in and of itself brings it into some prominence, but the lengths it goes to become apparent even before sampling the first song. Born out of a desire to create something programmatic, it is a concept album that is both a film and comic series soundtrack with a somewhat cryptic yet enticing storyline. But even more captivating to this commentator is the dismissive attitude the endeavor takes towards pop outlets such as MTV (which demand a certain simplicity and formulaic presentation) while embracing the songwriting brevity and order that tends to bring in the popular crowd. And if nothing else, it exposed the uselessness of Kerrang and other so-called rock media in analyzing something that doesn't model itself after the latest flavor of the month.
But the underlying question is, did Within Temptation throw caution to the wind and completely abandon their root? The answer being no, as the usual foray of symphonic trappings and middle of the road beats that dominated "The Silent Force" and "The Heart Of Everything" endures. But the melancholy fatalism and depressive goth tendencies are quite downplayed, leaving in their stead a much more animated creature that could all but be danced to. Even taking the most rudimentary rockers in "Shot In The Dark", "Faster" and "Sinead" grab the ears and implant fond, tuneful memories that are difficult to shake, underscored by Sharon Den Adel's versatile voice and ability to display emotional angst and solace with unfettered mastery. At times she reminds of voices from similar bands like Christina Scabbia, while at others she captures the angelic character of Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos, though surrounding them with something much more inviting to the refined metal ear.
While the straightforward character of the musical presentation is noteworthy, equally as auspicious is the stronger edge to the overall scheme of things. "Iron" shows off the band's still present ability to put the guitars at the forefront and slam down a decent riff or two, while "In The Middle Of The Night" brings a halfway speed metal element into the equation, meshing together a crunchy Judas Priest/Primal Fear feel with the band's bombastic concert backdrop and Sharon's powerful pipes. Furthermore, Robert Westerholt takes an occasion on almost every song to step out of the shadows and pipe in a solid lead break, keeping things interesting and animated without becoming overly fancy.
It is pretty well established that like the 2 previous albums, this will not play as well for those looking for a return to this band's early Celtic/folksy roots, but all other attendees at the Within Temptation theater who either enjoyed both eras or the current one will be very pleased. This is not quite the charming display of brilliance that "Mother Earth" was, but it gives it a real run for its money, and in some ways is even more ambitious. The only thing that really holds this thing back is how ambitious it is, as many may not bother with the accompanying comic series that elucidates the story being told in the lyrics. It's a forgivable flaw for a band that dared to do something other than write the same album over again, a common practice for many.