Within Temptation have never been the most prolific band on the circuit. This is only their seventh album since Enter in 1997 but it's taken five years to get to it, their longest gap between full length releases thus far. Apparently, singer Sharon den Adel suffered from writer's block and what emerged from that was initially very different to Within Temptation and so was released as a solo record.
The influences that she and her bandmates found for this album are an odd mixture and it's one that's both enticing and potentially offputting for some audience members. We'll see how that plays out over time.
There's a lot of darkness here, both lyrically and musically. A majority of the album follows the theme of struggle betrayed by the title, perhaps appropriately given that it was a struggle to get to this point. Many of the tracks feature a pounding style industrial backing that might conjure up visions of the oppressed working class in dystopian movies, marching protestors and even the sort of eastern European vampire clubs that were everywhere for a while.
However, the most overt influence is modern western pop music. I remember when Shania Twain released her Up! album in three different styles (pop, country and world) and wonder how this would sound if the solos were cut out and the heavy pounding was replaced by softer, more dance oriented electronics. I have a feeling that songs like Holy Ground would transform into the sort of thing we might expect from Taylor Swift or Nicky Minaj.
That's a weird feeling to have on an album that I expected to sound like symphonic metal, but it's not an adverse one. Chart material nowadays is very strong on melody but it cares more about synchronised dance routines than substantial musical backing. Taking the good from pop but discarding the bad shouldn't be as outrageous as it sometimes seems. Resist keeps on rocking just like the pop tracks on the new Papa Roach album don't.
Talking of Papa Roach, their vocalist Jacoby Shaddix guests on the opener and it's more extreme than anything on Who Do You Trust? He does a good job here, as do Jasper Steverlinck from Arid and Anders Fridén from Dark Tranquillity and In Flames. Those diverse guests hint at other influences here and they're most obvious in the vocals, even if songs like Firelight as a whole betray particular influences, in this case Pink Floyd.
While Sharon den Adel is taking most of her cues from pop music, there's often an Irish lilt to her voice that I don't remember, as well as middle eastern melodies at points. There are dance style backing vocals here but also heavy shouts, ethnic chants and even some Therion-esque choral work on tracks like Supernova. These inventive songs aren't only borrowing from one source.
All in all, this is initially both enticing and offputting and what you feel about modern pop music may flavour how you respond to this. I think it's a pretty damn good album that's much deeper than easy descriptions might suggest. Taylor Swift singing for Rammstein? I can hear it. Andrea Corr fronting a supergroup featuring Trent Reznor and Dave Gilmour. Sure, why not? But there's much more than cheap elevator pitches here.
This is something new and it's either going to fade quickly into oblivion or it's going to become one of those pivotal albums that will spark a new genre. I have a feeling it'll be the latter and it'll become better with the context of hindsight.