Within Temptation, make no mistake, is a symphonic metal band. They are as cheesy and bloated as symphonic metal bands come and the Danish sextet’s sixth album, The Unforgiving wastes no time in making its intentions clear, beginning with a horribly pretentious spoken-word piece in which a melodramatic whisper lets off such grammatically suspect lines as “It’s certainly a lonely life, but a fulfilling one at best,” and “Someone has to take a stand against evil. Why should it not be me?” There are loads of fake strings, thoroughly saturated production and an operatic singer that seems to expound upon her bitterness that she didn’t get into Julliard with each note she oversings. However, the good news is that, however objectionable the ingredients of The Unforgiving are, Within Temptation focuses them into songs that are undeniably catchy and legitimately enjoyable.
The secret to the group’s success on the album is lead singer, Sharon del Adel. Where other symphonic metal singers tend to dilute their vocals through the Auto-correct strainer, rendering them pitch-perfect but emotionless, Adel has a real sense of timbre and uses her voice to come away with some of The Unforgiving’s best hooks. Her pleading soprano in the chorus of “In the Middle of the Night” gives the song an extra kick to an already pretty enjoyable duel guitar/keyboard riff. “Faster”, The Unforgiving’s lead single, is similarly excellent, Adel letting her accent slip in the repetition of the song’s title before ripping into an expertly executed chorus that definitely achieves the epic goals the song sets out for itself.
Of course with great aspirations come great risks for blunders and Adel is handed some pretty big dud lines on The Unforgiving. “Fire and Ice” is the first of the album’s many ballads and it sets a precedent for regretful melodrama with a chorus that goes, “And I still wonder / Why heaven has died / The skies have all fallen / I’m breathing but why?” When Adel names off things she would do to keep her love life from falling apart in “Shot in the Dark”, she suggests breathing underwater and acknowledges this exaggeration with this clunky couplet: “I’m so sad / I’m so damn sad.” The thing is that these lyrics, while cringe-worthy, fit the attitude of The Unforgiving and, while they don’t make the album any better, their transgressions can be largely forgiven given the catchy context in which they are placed. Considering how bad these types of albums tend to get, The Unforgiving may very well establish Within Temptation as the best lyricists of their entire genre.
Unfortunately, though, the album sags significantly after its first four songs. No symphonic metal album would be “complete” without some ballads and The Unforgiving has quite a few, not one of them being particularly memorable. The chorus to “Lost” recycles that of “Shot in the Dark” and the boring anonymity of “Stairway to the Skies” is an unfortunate way to end the album. The Unforgiving’s mid-tempo songs are always good for at least one impressive chorus, but songs like “Where Is the Edge” and “A Demon’s Fate” may not stand the test of time after an initial listen. That being said, aside from those aforementioned lyrical slipups, all of The Unforgiving at the very least sounds nice and will certainly please if ever played in the background.
So my ultimate advice on The Unforgiving depends upon your familiarity with this genre of music. If you’ve been a longtime fan of symphonic metal, then you will most likely enjoy the entire album, as it’s the best of its kind I’ve heard in quite a long time. However, if you’re not a fan, then I would just get the album’s second, third and fourth songs, maybe “Murder” and “Iron” if you’re feeling zesty. And if you’re not even a metal fan, all the better, because The Unforgiven is so poppy, an argument can be made that it is just a touch softer than traditional hard rock. With its flaws, The Unforgiving is still in the top tier of symphonic metal albums, so, if you somehow have the urge to get into the genre, this is probably the best introduction you’re going to find.