Symphony is a great story-telling medium and when the classical components of the orchestral tone are infused with metal muscle, the narrative conveyed by the composition is imbued with the charisma of fierce fortitude, which commands the attention of listeners. Or at least that’s the theory…
Within Temptation’s fifth studio album is a concept album based upon a simultaneously released comic book of the same name. The Unforgiving, penned by Steven O’Connell (BloodRayne and Dark 48) and inked by Romano Molenaar (Witchblade, Darkness and X-Men), tells the story of Sinéad; a freshly risen corpse who awakens in the midst of a battle for her soul. The theme of second life forms the crux of the album’s message and accompanying artwork.
Sinéad’s journey is melodramatic – it is permeated with mystery, murder, penitence and punishment – and Within Temptation’s musical interpretation of a killer zombie facing an existential crisis, although imaginative in concept, is prosaic in impression. In The Middle Of The Night and Iron are the album’s greatest successes, with fast, heavy riffs bringing to life the thrilling horror of Sinéad’s dark destiny – the choir chants and the vocal narratives are eerie, and the impassioned intensity inherent in the two songs encourages listeners to invest in the album’s adventure. The remaining track list is mostly humdrum. Faster is annoying; there are only so many times that a single word should be repeated in consecutive order in one song – luckily a glorious guitar solo in A Demon’s Fate compensates for the vexation incited by the broken record effect six songs previous. Murder, in spite of its bloodthirsty title, is popishly catchy, and also breathes some of Ardel’s best vocal work on the album. The Unforgiving’s metal ballads, which are what Within Temptation does best, rather than indulgent, are legitimised by the album’s story-telling tone; Fire & Ice is mournful, Lost is lamenting and Stairway To The Skies is bewitching – as fans would envisage.
Bearing an audible 80s pop/rock influence, The Unforgiving hails the heroes of two decades ago without skimping on the band’s love of cinematic grandiosity; the album boasts a ‘big sound’ comprising the Dutch metallers’ characteristic penchant for hefty harmony and mammoth melody. The songs on the album are diverse in pace and volume, and yet, perhaps disappointingly, never deviant from the Within Temptation’s typical style. Sharon den Adel’s voice is undeniably gorgeous but lacks the necessary clout to wow, and often seems incongruous with the aggressive impact intrinsic to the essence of O’Connell’s storyline.
The Unforgiving is exactly what you’d expect from a Within Temptation album; nothing more, nothing less.