Sound — 8
Orchestral would be an understatement when describing Within Temptations's Black Symphony, which is replete with atypical rock conventions like chants and classical string instruments. Featuring 13 live tracks that were accompanied by a 60-piece orchestra ensemble and a 20-voice classical choir, Black Sympthony is nothing if not ambitious and it's a large undertaking that results in a lush, expansive and epic collection of songs that span the entirety of this Dutch band's catalog. Within Temptation's music has always been progressively tinged, thanks to the noodly guitar work, the score-like ambience and the celestial vocals of raven-haired vocalist Sharon den Adel, which haunt the dreams of all who choose to listen to her. But the music goes a step further and flirts with being operatic and symphonic when it's backed by dozens of stringed instruments and layered with an assortment of vocal ranges and pitches. While many bands could crumble under the weight of so much accoutrement, Within Temptation handle the task with signature aplomb and by the end of the disk, you'll realize it's not too much of a stretch the thicken the songs with classical extras. Songs like "What Have You Done," featuring a guest appearance by Life of Agony's Keith Caputo, "Stand My Ground" and "Mother Earth" are upped a notch, thanks to the alternating beauty and bombast of the extra musicians. These songs are thus transformed into room-filling anthems and rightfully so. While Black Symphony is not an endeavor like, say, Metallica's S&M, it's a righteous and successful exercise. Oftentimes, live recordings suffer from the crowd noise and diminished production, but Black Symphony comes across as plugged right into the board, with its crisp and clear quality. Most of all, it puts the listener in the moment, as if they smack dab in the middle of the fifth row in Rotterdam's Ahoy Arena, where the concert was recorded in February of 2008.
Lyrics — 7
Den Adel's gorgeously ghostly voice normally borders on operatic and she certainly doesn't switch gears here, either. There's a certain chill to her vocal emissions, as though she's untouchable and unreachable, but it fits the heatseeking riffs put forth by her counterparts in the band. It's a complementary fire and ice style. Den Adel is aiming high and she hits the mark. The choral background provides an unexpected boost, too. Despite the spectral vocals, den Adel grounds her lyrics in subjects that the average Jane can relate to, dealing with life, loss and love, as opposed to things like fairies and fantasies that explore the otherworldly.
Overall Impression — 7
Many people erroneously assume that rock 'n roll is noise pollution and at direct odds with classical arrangements. Bands like Metallica and Apocalyptica have been proving naysayers and critics wrong for years, and Within Temptation follow suit with Black Symphony. It's a piece that certainly earns "must hear" status and will cause diehards to pillage, kill and steal in order to obtain a copy. Casual Within Temptation fans and passerbys won't have their heads turned by the band's lofty effort here. However, the fanatics will surely dissect, devour and digest Black Symphony, which exists mostly as a collector's piece.