LOUDER FEATURES: Within Temptation - The Unforgiving 10 Year Anniversary
Dutch symphonic metal sextet Within Temptation had already been around for 15 years when they released their fifth studio album 'The Unforgiving' in March 2011. At this stage of their career, they had made a solid name for themselves at the head of the symphonic metal genre, but with the exception of one or two big songs, their influence outside of this world remained limited. 'The Unforgiving' would change this, however. Following the success of 2007’s 'The Heart of Everything', Within Temptation embarked on their first ever world tour, which would sow the seeds of their future success. However, it took the band longer than expected to follow this up with a new record when vocalist Sharon den Adel had her second child with guitarist Robert Westerholt in 2009 and a year later drummer Stephen Van Haestregt left the band, leaving Nicka Hellenberg to fill in.
Although 'The Unforgiving' would mark something of a departure from the band’s epic grandiose style, Within Temptation were still not a band to do things in half-measures; resisting the urge to put out a quick collection of songs to instead focus on a grand concept album and multimedia project complete with an accompanying graphic novel series (written by Steven O'Connell of BloodRayne and Dark 48 fame and illustrated by Romano Molenaar known for the likes of Witchbalde and X-Men) and three short films 'Mother Maiden' (Faster), 'Sinéad' and 'Triplets' (Shot in the Dark). Although the album’s shift from symphonic metal bombast to a more accessible pop-infused metal sound did alienate some fans, it gained them many more and allowed them to grow their name and reputation to the extent that on later albums they have been able to collaborate with the likes of Howard Jones (Light the Torch, ex-Killswitch Engage) and Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach), as well as booking headline slots at some of the biggest metal festivals around, such as Bloodstock in 2015 and Graspop in 2019. At the album’s 10 year anniversary, what better opportunity to look back and see what made this record so special.
Coming in after the 30-second intro track, 'Why Not Me', den Adel’s voices breaks through taking us into 'Shot in the Dark', which was the first sign to fans back in 2011 that what they were getting much less operatic and much more anthemic than anything before. There is a definitive step away from the heavy focus on Martijn Spierenburg’s keyboards of Within Temptation’s older work, towards a more guitar-driven metal track (including a terrific solo from lead guitarist Ruud Jolie) with the type of quiet-loud approach that makes so many big rock songs tick. Consequently, the track has become a staple of Within Temptation sets ever since. The pace picks up following this with 'In the Middle of the Night', where den Adel again shows off her vocal dexterity with soaring choruses and catchy verses galore. Again, we see that the likes of 'Mother Earth' and 'Ice Queen' which categorised their earlier work, but not to the detriment of feeling like the band were going in a direction that didn’t suit them. Continuing on the same theme is 'Faster', which again is a song for a stadium or a festival headline slot. Another huge chorus, more pacey verses with Jeroen van Veen and Westerholt providing fantastic rhythm to move to and an overall effect that raised the bar even further for the band.
'Fire and Ice' reverts to something which would have been a little more familiar to Within Temptation’s stalwart fans, as keys and den Adel’s majestic vocals take centre stage for a phenomenal ballad that moves the record along terrifically and gives necessary respite from the higher tempo songs that went before. This does not last long though, as 'Iron' comes roaring back in with a fantastic guitar riff opening things back up to another huge sounding track, and a fantastically well put together key change in the final chorus that allows den Adel to takes things up a further notch even than listeners would have previously thought possible. There is no let up in terms of barnstorming tracks however, as next up is 'Where is the Edge?', which was the track released early to promote the record in the build up to its release. This is much more reminiscent of Within Temptation’s older work, with a very similar sound to the likes of 'Stand My Ground' and 'Angels', though still with a heavier guitar presence and a moving away from operatic vocals by den Adel. Fortunately for her fans, den Adel was not remiss of opportunities to show off her incredible vocals, as we see with the next track 'Sinéad' which features a chorus that showcases all the wonderful control and impact we had come to expect from one of the most talented women in metal. This is ably abetted by some excellent drumming from Hellenberg which again transforms what would otherwise be a staple ballad into something so much greater.
Herein lies the true key to the success of 'The Unforgiving' and why it ought to be remembered as one of the seminal metal records of the last decade. While purists may scoff at the “mainstream” approach of a band who moved away from their traditional sound, what Within Temptation really achieved here was an important evolution of a band who otherwise were in real danger of going stale. Every track infuses elements of past and future; symphonic and anthemic all rolled into one. Moreover, they achieve the perfect balance any band should seek to strike with every track on the record being distinct, but it also flowing superbly well as a whole album. This continues as the record draws to its conclusion through the anguished 'Lost'; the orchestral-sounding 'Murder'; and the headbang-inducing 'A Demon’s Fate'; culminating in the truly epic 'Stairway to the Skies' (the live performance of which sees den Adel raised into the air on wires, which should tell you all you need to do about the theatricality and grand scale that Within Temptation were operating on with this record).
'The Unforgiving' project was by far the most ambitious thing Within Temptation have ever done, and they reaped the rewards of that ambition with an album that deserve full recognition.
'Within Temptation' is available on all major music services - stream the record on Spotify here: