The True Heart of Decadence & Beauty in Metal.

It has been three years in the making and eagerly awaited both by fans and fans of the genre desperate for their fix of heavy emotive metal and for an evocative, captivating female presence so sorely left empty by the departure of Tarja Turunen from the front line band Nightwish. Such a loss was this that some might have even forgotten about a band just as worthy, about a voice perhaps even more stunning and talented then the ex-singer and very wrongly so. Three years later the silent forces have returned to remind us that Nightwish are not the only ones who know how to marry the perfect sounds of metal and opera together, to remind us that other stars shine just as brightly and that they are just as powerful and enticing as ever. Be prepared to be tempted, very tempted, by the spellbinding Dutch enchantress Sharon Den Adel and her band Within Temptation.

'The Heart of Everything' is Within Temptation's much awaiting follow-up to 'The Silent Force' and sports many of the stylistic qualities that made 'The Silent Force' so unique and special from earlier works. While 'The Heart Of Everything' possesses the same gliding and soaring vocals courtesy of the hauntingly beautiful Sharon Den Adel, the epic soundscape and orchestral accompaniments and driving, roaring guitars that help lay the foundations of their classic big sound, it also contains new elements that work to display a new side to the style of Sharon's voice, a bigger symphony orchestra for an altogether bigger sound and a noticeably darker and sincerer sound then has ever been heard before. It is fantastically written and one of the tracks has even been written for and featured on an online role-playing game 'The Chronicles of Spellborn'. Everything right down to the cover art on the album seems to have a more decadent edge to it, an altogether more gothic and sophisticated approach to the sound.

The first track is 'The Howling' written for 'The Chronicles of Spellborn' and it is massive, an impressive and energetic start to the album that pushes through and influences all others after. It starts off with a gentle yet tense string introduction that smoothly flows across the rhythms laid out underneath, accompanying the chilling and sinister mood laid down by Sharon's atmospheric vocals. There is a sense of urgency in the introduction, a sense that the movement of the music is giving chase to something or someone, leaping and bounding straight into a heavier introduction driven by the classic, epic sound created by the guitarists while Sharon's vocals create the most amazing effect, her vocals almost sounding like the howling and baying of wolves before launching into a powerful verse. The verse is a jam packed dance between instrumental vocals and her forever powerful and dominating voice, a verse so powerful it is only rivalled by the sheer intensity of the chorus in which her velvet smooth, whispering yet sharp and chilling soprano operatic voice coats the relentless and noticeably bigger orchestra, working together to create a movement that could move mountains with the scale of the sound.

And if that wasn't enough, the next track 'What Have You Done' becomes even bigger. Its strikingly elegant appeal starts off with a gentle accompaniment as Sharon enters and comes through on to an outstanding verse, pouring all the emotion that bleeds from the lyrics back into the music and then out into the world. This then filters into a pleasing and perfectly complimentary surprise; guest male vocals courtesy of Keith Caputo of Life Of Agony. His role is simple, he sings a verse, an important main line and accompanies Sharon in the chorus but the effect of this role should not be underestimated in the slightest. Combined with the deliciously sharp and wintry strings it creates a mood not unlike 'The Phantom of the Opera', the two voices duel each other for emotive and creative force but they are so perfectly suited. The age old tale of beauty and the beast lives again in this track although radio friendly in places in the chorus, could give some aspiring female bands on the edge of the genre a real tip or two on how this music should be composed and performed.

Sharon Den Adel has the voice that many female vocalists could only dream of having, she has excellent diction and handle of her lyrics, an amazing and breathtaking range and a gift for being able to adapt her angelic voice to all styles of their playing from ballads to near bitter growling, a technique Sharon gets to grips with for the first time ever on the gripping track 'The Cross'. This deserves a mention because it is truly amazing how many different textures her vocals cope with in the first few bars of the track. Opening with a very high, urgent and pain filled scale, Sharon quickly shifts from opera to low, sharp and staccato notes that almost sound like growling, though it still retains a purring, smooth character. She then returns to her regular way of singing, flowing, dancing among the instrumentation and truly resounding, enveloping the listener and caressing the soul. The second chorus's harmonisation is also particularly beautiful and incredibly powerful, preceding the string interlude with unrivalled style. If you want an example of how a singer can become so incredibly talented and flexible, you need look no further than 'The Cross'. Unlike most female singers, Sharon Den Adel's voice doesn't just have one major strength it has a great many.

'Our Solemn Hour' is also worth a mention for the stunning and sinister collaboration between the accompanying Latin choir and the band, and also 'Final Destination' for further demonstration of how smoothly Sharon can switch between two styles of singing with no faults.

I could go on and on but the short of it is that there is not one weak track on this album, it has all the qualities that make Within Temptation the perfect gothic female fronted metal band but they have taken these and made them into so much more. The choirs are more accomplished and feature more, the orchestration is more atmospheric and bigger in sound, and there are male vocals and the guitar riffs are as cutting and heavy as ever. As for Sharon Den Adel? Well, you couldn't find a better front woman in the entire genre, not only does she have the silkiest and most elegant of voices, she also helps write the music, is stunning and has a wonderful flexibility of voice that just keeps improving even when it would seem impossible for her to improve any more. Far superior to 'The Silent Force' by miles, 'The Heart of Everything' proves once and for all that Within Temptation should never have to stand in the shadows of other greats but rather have the strength to stand alone as an influential band in their own right.