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I don't want to enter any portals today no thanks - 36%

Nightsward, December 13th, 2019

Around a little more than eleven years ago, I wrote my first Metal-Archives review on an album I was irritated was getting more praise than I thought it deserved (this one, as should hopefully be obvious). Now preteen Nightsward was a bit crude in articulating her points (protip, calling a growler an “illiterate” just because he has an accent is more than a little impolite), and much too combative (an understatement if anything, really), but when it came to her general perceptions of the album she was pretty much right on the money. Now, armed with temperance, more powers of articulation, and perhaps a little more worldliness, I’m going to try to tackle this album once again.

So unlike many of their contemporaries, who primarily used the guitarists in their bands to play, you know, gothic metal riffs, Within Temptation decided to take the easy way out and use keyboards to drive most of these songs. Fortunately for them, the keyboards are probably the best part of this album; the band is clearly going for a dark, mystical fantasy atmosphere on here and the keys are the main reason this ever gets somewhat achieved in the first place. The keys’ sound itself consists of most of the usual gothic metal fare sound-wise (fake orchestrations, piano, the whole shebang), but can be pretty artificial-sounding at times, the orchestrations in particular sounding a lot like something off the soundtrack of Ultima VII or something (“Pearls of Light” being probably the worst offender). The end result is that the songs that have more keys in them tend to devolve from moodiness into outright cheesiness. That said, they do tend to maintain the dark atmosphere they’re trying to go for to at least some degree, and have some genuinely great moments at times, some highlights being the almost hypnotically repetitive piano bars on “Restless” and an oddly catchy (and regrettably short) piano segment on “Candles” that’s my favorite part of the album. So massive kudos to Martijn Westerholt on this one; he pretty much singlehandedly saves this album from sliding into the shit abyss.

To their credits, the guitars do try to put on something of a metal veneer; they are relatively high in the mix for a Within Temptation album (I actually just listened to some of their songs to confirm this, and the difference between the loudness of the guitars on Enter and on, say, Mother Earth is so blatantly obvious it’s laughable) and get to actually riff a little bit on songs like “Enter” (which actually has a pretty cool main riff) and “Deep Within”. The band never really lets them have their time in the spotlight, though, and it’s baffling as to why at times; I mean, does that keyboard part floating around “Deep Within” really have to be given to the keyboards? You have two guitarists playing in your band, maybe you could actually, I don’t know, utilize both of them to their full potential instead of having the second guitarist mindlessly ape the first one the whole time? Just a thought, guys.

Unfortunately, other aspects of the album can’t be viewed so charitably. Many of the songs are quite overlong for the dearth of ideas actually present; “Enter” is pretty much two identical three-and-a-half-minute songs smushed together to create one seven minute song, for example. They just kind of plod along repetitively, and while the keys do a serviceable job of conveying atmosphere, they saturate the songs so much they inevitably stray into cheese-filled territory. Nor do the songs themselves go anywhere or develop on themselves in any way, and grow samey and tiring very quickly.

Sharon den Adel has always been the star of Within Temptation, and Enter is no exception in this respect. I never thought I’d say this, since I normally think she has a good, if not exceptional singing voice, but her vocals are actually one of the worst aspects of this album. Considering how heavily the keys dominate, to me these songs call for a softer voice with a bit of a higher register (someone like Liv Kristine, perhaps) to complement the delicacy of the piano and orchestrations. Sharon’s voice has neither of these qualities, and on top of that she sounds relatively inexperienced at singing in general on this album, so her voice lacks any real dynamics, power, or feeling. Her vocals kind of lie limply on top of the rest of the music like a wet blanket, and sound about as pleasant as lying under said blanket must feel, coming off as out of place at best and grating at worst. This is exacerbated even more when she tries to sing at higher registers; her untrained voice is clearly struggling to hit high notes, and take on a whiny, wailing quality during these moments that’s only slightly more pleasant than hearing nails scrape across a chalkboard. These are all taken to their logical extremes on “Grace”; she actively goes out of her way to sound as unpleasant as possible, choosing to only sing in the upper range of her voice, which she adds a irritating snarl to, and straight up goes off-key at a couple points; whether this last aspect was intentional or not is anyone’s guess, but the song ends up being straight up unlistenable as a result.

Robert Westerholt handles the growls for this album, and thankfully after The Dance he never growls again, because frankly he’s awful at his job. His delivery is lazy, flat, and disinterested, without an ounce of character to redeem it. To illustrate, my second-favorite parts of the album are when he does the gothic metal male growler thing and goes “raaahhhhh” at the end of verses; you can tell these are supposed to be “raaahhhhh”s with a lot of emotion behind them, be it anguish or gothicness or whatever, but because he growls with about much emotion as I read off the items on a shopping list, they come out with a monotonous flatness that’s side-splittingly hilarious. It’s like a depressed teenage Cookie Monster being told he has to do chores on a Thursday evening, “Dishes again, Mom? Really? Raaaahhhhhh.” The comedy practically writes itself. In all seriousness, though, it really does not make for good songs; “Deep Within” features only growled vocals and a neat riff or two, but the song is dragged down considerably by said vocals’ utter disinterestedness. I want to give the band some credit for trying to vary things up and not using Sharon’s vocals as a crutch all the time, but it’s really difficult to when said variation ends up being rather mediocre.

Enter reminds me of the experience of eating custard-filled donuts; sure, they taste pretty good at first, but there’s just too much cream and sugar in all of them and after around two donuts, even the thought of eating another one is quite daunting. On top of that, a couple of flies died in the custard in the baking process and ended up in your donuts, and someone is singing opera very loudly and very off-key right outside the donut shop you’re eating at. Later Within Temptation albums are equivalents to Big Donut buying out the donut shop (literally and figuratively, as it happens); sure, they start making the donuts with machines, and add even more sugar to the donuts as well as some kind of shitty overly sweet artificial cream, but at least the flies and the opera woman are no longer shitting up your donut consumption experience. In short, while there are some moments of interest in here (“Candles” in particular stands out a little among the pack, containing the aforementioned catchy piano line, some actual progression in the songwriting, and the shittier aspects of Sharon’s and Robert’s vocals mostly masked by the rest of the instruments), this remains a pretty forgettable album, perhaps rightfully buried as a footnote in Within Temptation’s wildly successful career.