Review by Jeff Maki
Led by the second most famous Sharon in metal, the Netherlands’ Within Temptation—as addressed from the stage by Sharon den Adel herself—has now been “on the road” for 20 years. The band emerged from Holland in 1997 with its debut album Enter and was the country’s best-kept secret for years. Steadily building popularity and acclaim across the Netherlands and Europe in the early part of its career, it wasn’t until 2007 that the band was finally able to to bring its brand of symphonic metal to North America. To my knowledge, this is only its third tour here, after the Hottest Chicks in Metal Tour in 2007 and the 2012 Unforgiving Tour (read live recap). Within Temptation is a huge band internationally, and its latest album, Hydra (Feb. 4, 2014) (review) even debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 chart here in the States. But it is still a rare and near exclusive opportunity to see them live in the U.S. They certainly have a healthy fan base here, especially in Baltimore, Md., as fans filled Rams Head Live up to the balcony and lined up at the merch booth all the way across the entire bar area.
As the crowd (or “Dragons” as the band now refers to fans) filtered in, I noticed, probably due to their longevity, Within Temptation’s fan base is just as diverse as someone like, say, Metallica’s. There is an understandably large female percentage, but the overall age range is anywhere from 13-year old kids to grown men in their 50s. There were your typical goths, some jocks, hardcore metal guys and many seeing the band live for the first time. Sharon den Adel acknowledged this diversity in a short inspirational speech, saying, “Things are starting to get bad again” and “whether you were gay, straight, or whatever you were,” everyone needs to be accepted (or something to that affect)—yeah, that’s what I thought, too, she’s kind of a hippie.
Despite Sharon’s great looks, incredible charisma and fans’ ongoing obsession, we were ultimately there for a rock show on Within Temptation’s 12-city North American leg of the “Hydra World Tour.” But first, we had another eye catcher and surprisingly awesome opener in Sweden’s Amaranthe.
When I first heard Amaranthe a short time ago, I immediately pegged them for a band that someone like Kerrang would be all over. Featuring three vocalists—the beautiful siren, Elize Ryd, the death metal guy, Henrik Englund, and a power metal guy who looks like he was plucked out of Linkin Park’s lineup, Jake E.—they would have been all the rage and graced every metal magazine cover at Tower Records years ago. They’re pretty, slick and polished. I don’t know about magazine covers, but I can tell you their music video for “The Nexus” has an astounding 6.3 million views to date on YouTube, and the band proudly boasts they have 50 million plays on Spotify. Yet, here in the U. S., they are still unknown. But you know what? They won over the Within Temptation crowd in Baltimore with relative ease. Ryd (who has also recorded and toured with Kamelot) received a big ovation when she first appeared onstage (either because they had fans here or because she is hot), and led the band through a 10-song set of standouts from the band’s first two albums, Amaranthe (2011) and The Nexus (2012), as well as material from the soon-to-be-released Massive Addictive (Oct. 21, 2014, Spinefarm).
Both Sharon den Adel and Elize Ryd wore their long hair in Ariana Grande-style high pony tails, but unlike Sharon (who is now 40 years old with three children), Ryd (who turned 30 a week after this show), in this stage of her career, is still using her sexuality as an advantage to win audiences over. And the more the fans got into the band, the more provocative she became, posing, clawing at her nylon covered legs and acting songs out in a theatrical sense. Together, the three vocalists (with the harsh vocals having the smallest part) feed off each other in a dynamic I haven’t really seen yet from a metal band. That is, if you don’t previously know their material, it’s anyone’s guess who’s going to be singing and when. Standouts from the set were the power ballad “Amaranthine” from their 2011 debut, the futuristic anthem “Digital World” and the Marilyn Manson-esque swagger of “Drop Dead Cynical,” both from Massive Addictive. The new album title makes perfect sense, because even for fans that are drawn to the more extreme metal bands, Amaranthe’s Soilwork/Epica/Linkin Park combination of styles molds death metal, pop, techno and power metal into a sound that is massively addictive live.
Amaranthe set list:
“Call Out My Name”
“Drop Dead Cynical”
Amaranthe will return for a new trek of North American dates, beginning Oct. 25. View tour dates here.
Amaranthe’s new album, Massive Addictive. will be released Oct. 21 in North America via Spinefarm Records. Watch the video for “Drop Dead Cynical” here.
OK, so what does a band do when a half dozen of its most popular songs now feature guest vocalists? If you’re Within Temptation you bring along a large video screen that shows footage and montages of their vocal parts, even in a live setting. Fans already know, but I’m talking about Keith Caputo (Life of Agony), Howard Jones (Devil You Know, ex-Killswitch Engage), Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish) and hip-hop star Xzibit. The band once used a hologram effect to make Caputo and Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering) appear during their respective parts as part of An Acoustic Night at the Theater, so they are adept in incorporating musical guests into their sets.
Within Temptation has gone from an underground folk-metal band into a band that shows no limitations stylistically (the album title Hydra, which is a mythological creature that possessed many heads represents this), and they’re now steadily cranking out big hits with each album. Some may suggest they “sold out” long ago for a more pop sound. While there are elements of pop in recent releases, if anything, the bulk of material is far heavier than what they were playing early in their career, so selling out really has no basis for argument here.
I’ve said it before, but Within Temptation truly is an arena band, as evidenced by its “very special shows” in recent years: the 15th anniversary show, Elements, on Nov. 13, 2012, and its show on Feb. 7, 2008, performing for an audience of 10,000 people at the Ahoy in Nederlands, together with the Metropole Orchestra, called Black Symphony (2008) (review). They’ve also made countless festival appearances overseas playing for thousands. But here in the U.S., they are confined to smaller venues like Rams Head Live (capacity 1,400). But that’s OK. It just makes it that much more special for fans to have Sharon singing five feet in front of you, or sometimes, even to you. For one lucky fan, Sharon even handed him her mic to sing along to Caputo’s parts in “What Have You Done”—he did a great job, too.
Surprisingly, but not to a fault, there weren’t any costume changes or anything else real elaborate from Within Temptation. (Sharon didn’t even let her hair down) Clocking in at one hour and 45 minutes, the set consisted of six songs from Hydra: “Paradise (What About Us?),” the opener “Let Us Burn, “Dangerous” (featuring Howard Jones), the surprise inclusion of the ballad “Edge of the World,” “Covered by Roses,” and the crowd favorite and band’s latest single, “And We Run” (featuring Xzibit). There was also an acoustic version toward the end of the set of the their ’80s pop metal hit, “Sinead” (from 2011’s The Unforgiving), which cast only Sharon and guitarist Ruud Jolie centerstage. Fists pumped in unison and we cried out, “Sanctus Espiritus” during the anti-war anthem “Our Solemn Hour” from 2007’s The Heart of Everything (review). We were asked “if we liked to dance,” which led into the band’s metallicized cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness;” we banged our heads to the power-metaller “In the Middle of the Night,” also from The Unforgiving; and the night closed back where it all started with the classic, “Mother Earth” and “Ice Queen.”
Despite many of the song titles suggesting otherwise, there was no fire, no confetti falling or any other special effects. This was nonstop music, and Sharon danced and sang her little ass off. You could here her gasping for breath during the few times she spoke to us quietly (Once about Baltimore’s own legendary poet Edgar Allan Poe, and then another asking what there was to do in Baltimore). The fans at Rams Head Live were left more than satisfied. Here’s to hoping Within Temptation recognizes this and makes its way back to Baltimore, and North America for that matter, in the very near future.
Within Temptation setlist:
Intro (Dragon Short Movie)
“Let Us Burn”
“In the Middle of the Night”
“Fire and Ice”
“Our Solemn Hour”
“Stand My Ground”
“Summertime Sadness” (Lana Del Rey cover)
“And We Run”
“Edge of the World”
“What Have You Done”
“Covered By Roses”
Within Temptation will release its Let Us Burn: Elements & Hydra Live in Concert blu-ray/CD set on Nov. 24 in North America. View details here.