Talk about a blast from the past! I haven’t really talked about it much here, but among my many rebellious phases I undertook growing up, I did have a bit of a goth phase in high school. Or something like it anyway… Specifically, though, I I had a phase where all I ever really listened to was symphonic metal. Nightwish, After Forever, Sonata Arctica, Epica, and this band, Within Temptation, constantly flooded my headphones with their intense violins, operatic (often female) vocalists, and harder edged guitars. When the randomizer pulled out this single for me, my initial reaction was one of excitement – it had been literal years since the thought of Within Temptation had even passed through my mind and thought it would be pretty fun to revisit a group that used to mean so much to me.
But just a bit of background first, in case you aren’t familiar. The band was formed in 1995 in the Netherlands and are one of the biggest contributors of the European symphonic metal scene that found its peak at this time. Although their success in the US is pretty limited – they are mostly popular in European countries and especially their Dutch homeland – they have remained consistently successful despite numerous lineup and stylistic changes through their whole career. A couple good examples of the sound with which they originally came together as a band (and the sound that led me to them in the first place) can be found in their early single “Mother Earth”, from the 2003 album of the same name, and “Jillian (I’d Give My Heart)” from The Silent Force (2004). The former has some very prominent Celtic influences in the sound, while the latter is an operatic tour de force that packs multiple emotional punches at every turn. It’s pretty much the deepest that the band has ever been steeped in the symphonic metal sound through their entire career.
This single, “Frozen”, comes from their fourth album The Heart of Everything, in which they took a more edgier hard rock sound than had been found in their previous releases. To be honest, this was basically the point where I was beginning to get bored by the band and eventually dropped off listening to them until this very day. Even though I was very much into hard rock radio around this time, their lead single from the album “What Have You Done” never really caught my attention, and “Frozen” is even more slower and moodier, which doesn’t quite work for me completely. Sharon den Adel’s vocal performances are generally some of the more signature elements of the band’s sound (having been one of the only members to stick around from beginning to now), and she usually does a pretty good job. Yet here, it seems that she’s just going along with the typical beats of this type of grungy, angsty hard rock number – along with the other members of the band, who don’t really offer much of anything that doesn’t sound like every other sub-par rock band flooding the airwaves in the mid aughts.
Apparently the song was written with the issues of child and domestic abuse in mind, and the band even donated a portion of the single’s earnings to a charity that deals with these issues. Now, that alone is pretty respectable and I admire any artist who takes this approach so, so much. But I’m struggling to interpret just how lines like“Tell me I’m frozen” tie into domestic violence at all. The song could be about any distressing topic under the sun – the ending of a relationship was my first guess as to what the song was about – and its this utter lack of specificity that makes it a weak message for the cause and just a weak song in general. It ticks all the boxes of the typical “sad, gloomy, vaguely goth hard rock” song, but doesn’t do much beyond this to make it worth remembering in the next day or two. Hell, I’ve listened to this song a few times many years ago and at least five times today, and I couldn’t repeat any of the lyrics or even the basic melody if my life depended on it. This is a major skip; you’re better off listening to any song from Mother Earth or The Silent Force over this one.
After this album, the band went on to some… well, rather interesting things. Their next album, The Unforgiving, while still retaining a lot of the hard rock sound they adopted in The Heart of Everything, nonetheless had some pretty explicit pop influences thrown in the mix. Their lead single “Sinéad”, with its uptempo 4/4 beat and slightly more electronic sound, is fiercely evident of this. Sometime after this, though, they released The Q-Music Sessions, which featured utterly poppy, not-metal-at-all covers of songs like Bruno Mars’ “Grenade”, Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, Adele’s “Skyfall”, and Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”, among others. And the cherry upon this delicious, absolutely kitschy cake comes in the form of “And We Run”, a single from their latest album Hydra, which features guest vocals from (wait for it)… American rapper Xzibit! Seriously, y’all really need to listen to this song; it’s really too good/bad to be true, and also has one of the best single covers that I’ve seen in recent memory.