I've been disappointed with Within Temptation of late, but much of that seems to be because I've been reviewing their EPs. I need to stop doing that and focus on their albums; in the meantime I'd better review in this in two different ways.
From my usual perspective, based on what I've previously heard, this is automatically problematic because I've heard half of it already. Bleed Out contains eleven tracks, seven of which have seen a previous single release, but they've also been included on a progression of EPs. Initially, Entertain You and The Purge were released as stand alone singles, but then they were included on the Shed My Skin EP, along with that song. That trend of including all the new songs up to that point on each new EP, along with one more, continued through the Don't Pray for Me EP, Wireless EP and Bleed Out EP. Thus, Entertain You and The Purge are showing up here for the sixth time. That's nuts. I'm officially done with Within Temptation EPs.
I haven't been as fond of all these new songs on the EPs either but even my least favourite of them sounds a little better here on a full length. Why, I don't know. The main problems I have with them still hold true but they feel somehow better in a relatively consistent full length environment. The vocals work for me throughout, Sharon del Adel getting poppier on most of these songs than even their previous album, Resist. However, there are points where she'll ramp up to something a little closer to the symphonic metal with gothic edges that they're mostly known for. What's important here is that I find that I don't favour one or the other, as they work well as a range.
However, while the light end of the band, epitomised by the vocals, is poppy, veering not only into modern American pop and Celtic lilting, on songs like Don't Pray for Me, but even a sort of floaty tentativeness on Cyanide Love that feels hauntingly Japanese because of its rhythms, the heavy side, that often felt industrial on Resist, continues to morph more into metalcore. I rarely found distinguishing marks between those three guitars, because they exist to combine into a tone, one that's inherently limited, often monotone and rhythmic, so doesn't interest me much. They could have been replaced by a simple keyboard line.
Certainly the keyboards of Martijn Spierenburg become the only instrumental source of melody, very welcome too as the forty-seven minutes run on. My favourite song is easily Worth Dying For, because it feels like an actual song, with dancing keyboards, a strong vocal performance and an honest to goodness guitar solo. There are precious few of the latter anywhere on this album, as it doesn't seem to be important to the band any more. That it also features some effective dynamic play is a bonus. Other potential highlights like Ritual, The Purge and Don't Pray for Me are all let down by the guitars.
Frankly, the only time that guitar tone worked for me is on Cyanide Love, as the contrast between the vocals and instruments reaches its most overt. Del Adel is so light here that she floats in the air in an almost kawaii manner, but the guitars churn in slow and heavy metalcore chords, so deep that they flirt with sludge metal. That one stands out here, because nothing else dares to be that light or that heavy. Putting the two approaches together is fascinating. Is this where the band will end up if they continue travelling down the road they're currently on?
Somehow I don't think so. I think they're more likely moving towards more songs like Shed My Skin and Entertain You, which feature guest vocalists. The former is upbeat and very commercial, with a chorus that reminds of a commercial era Paradise Lost track, but it heavies up during the second half. I kinda like it but I kinda don't at the same time. The latter is a loud pop song, something that I could hear Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga doing, merely with a different filter. While den Adel finds a strong vocal line, it's easily my least favourite song on the album. And that sums things up for me, which makes it hard to rate.
I'm totally on board with den Adel's vocals because she takes quite the journey across these tracks, always remaining interesting, whether she's fluttery or soaring. If I were just rating her, she's 8/10 for sure. The keyboards are massively important, maybe a 7/10, as this would be a wildly different album without them. The guitars are tedious and boring, so much so that I truly wish they weren't there, a 2/10 or maybe a 3/10 if I'm lenient because of that guitar solo. The songwriting is between those extremes and I'm going to go with a 6/10 because of that. That's compared to the 8/10 I gave Resist.
Now, let's see where the next album falls. It could be another 8/10 because they're interesting at this point in their journey, whether I happen to think it works or not. It could be something dismal though. I hope it's the former.