Progressive Rock/Metal

Within Temptation – Mother Earth

Power-metal bands sporting female leads with high soprano voices have almost become cliché, the process having been sped up immeasurably by pseudo-metal pop act Evanescence. Within Temptation fits squarely into this little subgenre, but are probably one of the absolute best at the style. More pretentious, more heavily produced, and more metal (though that’s not saying much) than their fellow Dutchmen The Gathering, Within Temptation feature a huge, orchestral sound in which the crunching metal guitars are sublimated under massive, imposing keyboards that sound rather authentically like classical string sections, to say nothing of Sharon den Adel’s soaring vocals.
Not really prog-metal in any sense of the term other than the fact that the word “symphonic” fits this stuff to a T, Mother Earth’s songs are mostly simple verse-chorus affairs, but a couple things allow them to hold up under scrutiny. First, there’s den Adel’s voice. She is impressive in her range, with a high but powerful voice, and on a couple songs (“Caged,” “The Promise”) her angelic style gives way to a grittier, scowling shriek that’s just delightful considering most vocalists of her type tend to stick to the wispy, pretty stuff. Second, there’s the melodies. Mother Earth is chock-full of memorable melodies, all of them exploited to the fullest with a kind of pretentious symphonic flourish that would do any symph-prog band proud. In any given song you’ve got big keyboards emulating string sections and occasional horn sections, massive choral vocals, or dramatic percussion augmenting the rock-n-roll drumming. Down to earth this stuff is not, but through it all the band’s nose for melody remains impressively true.

Surprisingly given the relative simplicity of the compositions, my favorite song on the album is the longest — the aforementioned “The Promise.” This mini-epic starts off sounding like a grandiose soundtrack, then picks up the pace with one of the speedier guitar riffs on the album (backed, of course, by that ever-present faux string section that lends everything a touch of the dramatic). When den Adel enters, it’s with an almost operatic arrogance, before going on to deliver one of her most compelling vocal performances on any of the Within Temptation albums I’ve heard; she vacillates between beautiful siren and wicked witch with capable ease. At the higher registers she sounds a little weak at times, but this is fairly easily forgiven in context. Beneath her caterwauling vocals, the rest of the band seethes uneasily, building to satisfying peaks and ending with a bang.

There are a couple sappy ballads; but given that these guys are already barely “metal,” and that they have the asset of a tremendous vocalist, a couple of them actually work. “In Perfect Harmony” is a total disaster though, embarrassingly schmaltzy: even James LaBrie would be embarrassed to sing this one. Otherwise, this is a pretty remarkable album — a bit of a guilty pleasure for me given the clichéd overall sound (not to mention that cover art), but basically unimpeachable in it.s quality

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