There’s a self-serving nature to defending any album panned as a fit of commercial pandering, a nature that is multiplied further by claims that the album’s commercial success is merely a symptom of a collection of music that is distinct from most that share this symptom. But I’m in the mood for a pretentious fit of self-service, if for no other reason than that I think that most of the Metal world has unfairly marginalized Death/Doom’s lighter and Goth Rock infused cousin, and completely disowned its further distant mainstream affiliate EVANESCENCE. Sure, this music is vocally oriented and largely simplistic, but the sum of the musical parts and the lack of subtlety in the chorus-oriented approach create an irresistible pleasure that could be deemed a guilty one, but an entertaining one nonetheless.
Although WITHIN TEMPTATION’S 2007 offering “The Heart Of Everything” should be treated a bit differently from EVANESCENCE’S “Fallen” as it is far more elaborate and also leans harder towards the Symphonic tendencies of NIGHTWISH, the parallels between the two leap out of the speakers almost immediately. The vocal prima donna Sharon Van Adel sports a more mature exterior and possesses a lighter, more angelic voice with a larger range than her eccentric American counterpart Amy Lee, but the mixture of depressive Rock music inflections with traditional Opera influences and the overall melodic contour of the vocal lines are remarkably similar. Similarly, the music relies on a similar template of predictable Rock grooves and lighter surrounding textures, but exploits their arrangement much more and throws about twice as many riffs as the listener. There is, likewise, a greater emphasis on orchestral ambiences rather than piano/keyboard work, which are the staples of both NIGHTWISH and EVANESCENCE, though both do utilize orchestral sounds as well.
Anyone who has already sampled the previous release in “The Silent Force," the individual songs on here conform to the same standard format, contrasting from said album only in an increased level of orchestral pomp that likely was influenced by NIGHTWISH’S “Once." Such dramatic slices of catchiness as “Our Solemn Hour” and “The Truth Beneath The Rose” could instantly be linked to the infamous 2004 effort by their Finnish cohorts, though without the extended musical breaks and quirky Middle Eastern additives. Some of the others on here definitely show a tendency towards radio play alongside many current acts, particularly the cynical duet single “What Have You Done” and the melancholy protest against human depravity “The Howling," which take existing clichés and elaborate them with a mixture of Dance Music and Symphonic influences. Perhaps the lone outlier of what is otherwise a consistently two-dimensional approach to songwriting (Groove based Rock and depressing Power Ballads) is “Frozen," which essentially merges both approaches with a vocal performance akin to Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos.
Whether one wants to give this light approach to Metal a chance depends largely on one’s tolerance level for somewhat commercial tendencies in the songwriting and a pristine yet heavy production. It is important to remember that although not original by any standard, this album is the product of a band that predates EVANESCENCE and most likely influenced them indirectly along with LACUNA COIL and LULLACRY. It’s a little bit less varied than “The Silent Force," but it contains an equal amount of memorable songs; some slightly better than others, but none really qualifying as over filler. Now I feel different enough from most people I normally associate with to feel that my initial goal was accomplished, despite that it impacts my positive attitude about this album in no way whatsoever, nor should it yours either.
(Online November 4, 2010)