Music Reviews

Within Temptation’s RESIST Begs the Question: Were They Ever Any Good?

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Genre: Symphonic Metal, Gothic Metal

Favorite Tracks: “Raise Your Banner,” “Mad World”

Were they ever any good to begin with? I don’t think there’s a more depressing thought one can have after listening to an album from a treasured band, especially one you’ve stood by even as many others decried them as sell-outs. In a top-heavy genre dominated by two or three names and a lot of faceless copycats, Within Temptation has been vilified by purists in favor of Nightwish’s classical authenticity or Epica’s progressive, conceptual tendencies, not helped by leaning into ‘80s stadium rock on THE UNFORGIVING and a string of bizarre collaborations with Xzibit and the lead singers of Killswitch Engage, Soul Asylum, In Flames, and Papa Roach.

Yet I’ve stood up for them through it all, as they’ve got a naturally charismatic lead singer in Sharon Den Adel, consistently sturdy, tuneful hooks, and an ability to deliver symphonic swell without overstepping into the camp or machismo that makes Nightwish songs like “Wish I Had An Angel” borderline unlistenable. Sadly, on RESIST, you can still hear den Adel pouring her heart into an album that she’s far too good for. It follows in the footstep of Muse’s SIMULATION THEORY by ditching drive and speed in favor of front-heavy production, misguided electronic flourishes, and attempts at apocalyptic atmosphere stifled by banal writing and a ceaseless torrent of inconsistent tones.

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Symphonic metal is built on obvious dynamics: angelic female vocals backed by gruff growls, strings, pianos, pretty keyboard melodies on top of chugging, brutish guitar, heavenly choirs over ripping solos. Within Temptation were usually creative at rising above this bifurcation, keeping the choirs to a minimum to maximize their impact and writing riffs and solos with more speed and character. RESIST pitches that out the window for painfully basic compositions of quiet verses leading to loud choruses, with “In Vain” and its dull, two-note guitar loop being the most painful example. The guitars that took center stage on HYDRA songs like “Dangerous,” “Silver Moonlight,” and “Paradise” have been reduced to these abortive, choppy riffs on “Endless War” or overly-distorted, buzzing, formless noise on “Holy Ground” or “Trophy Hunter.” About the only solo worth mentioning is “Raise Your Banner,” and it is the best 20 seconds on the record since the guitars are finally allowed to open up and really shred.

Turning the guitars into a background texture and letting other instruments provide the main melody and color only works if the other instruments had any of these qualities. RESIST opens with a horrible keyboard melody that I can only describe as skronking on “The Reckoning,” getting forgotten quickly in favor of glitchy, spastic tones. Such a pattern becomes the precedent for the album as it jumps from one undercooked melody or tone to the next, which would be fine if the album wasn’t so turgid and slow. Outside of the bleak walls of guitar, every other instrument is a shapeless vapor. What happened to the band who made the beautiful, organ-driven opening of “Sineéad?” Or the ominous chimes of “Final Destination?” I don’t even think the main keyboard melody on “Mad World” is all that interesting due to sounding like a leftover from HIM’s SCREAMWORKS, but it at least syncs up well with the 4×4 drum beat and has at least some form of momentum and presence to it.

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Bad production is not a new problem for Within Temptation—HYDRA in particular was guilty of  sacrificing any depth in the mix for sheer noise, but that was also meant to be a straightforward, aggro metal record, so there wasn’t much depth to begin with. RESIST is supposed to convey a dystopian ambience, so the band overloads songs with superfluous vocal effects and background noise with no idea of how to blend it all. On “Supernova,” the chanting monks at the halfway point were effectively haunting in the same way as The Mountain Goat’s “Rain in Soho,” but they get lost in a musical soup dominated by some of the worst sounding drums I’ve ever heard, simultaneously loud and weak, their boring progressions handicapping any symphonic swell. “Firelight,” a ballad that the band should normally be able to make interesting and compelling in their sleep, features a flat drum knock that would be better-suited for a homespun emo song, and that’s not a flattering comparison for an album that’s going for such a massive, garish sound.

On paper, RESIST did not have to suck. The band have made dark, intense songs like “The Howling,” “Final Destination,”  and “A Demon’s Fate” that I would rank among my favorite of theirs, and THE UNRAVELING showed they could fuse more prominent electronic elements into their killer hooks and elegant swell to create excellent music. Apparently doing both of these at the same time was out of their reach, or maybe they somehow got lucky five albums in a row before this one! It’s a tour-de-force of the band’s worst traits and instincts that feed off one another to overwhelm any of their talents, and it’s easily one of the worst albums I’ve heard from a band I enjoy.

Blake Michelle
Unqualified, unfiltered, unbiased, but not uninspired reviewer of whatever these people tell me to review.

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