Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Within Temptation: A Musical Quandary

Lately, I've had some freedom to explore new genres and artists because of the free-but-nontransferable music offered by Ruckus through my university. I've been able to screen new soundtracks, pick up on musical gems that not even the major services like iTunes and Yahoo Music have, and find new groups or genres that fit my tastes.

In short, I've been expanding my musical base.

Which leads me to my "musical quandary." I've always disliked heavy metal, rap, and hardcore rock and roll. (I say "hard core rock" because it turns out the genre of "rock" really doesn't mean what it used to be.) I've even gone so far as to accept that many of these styles are detrimental to psychological and spiritual growth.

But I heard a song on a YouTube fan video that was coupled with footage of Lord of the Rings. The song, "Somewhere" was sad, achingly sad, but somehow tinged with resolve and carried it off without abandoning hope altogether. I went to find and buy the song very quickly after hearing it. It became one of those "play over'n over" tracks on my portable music device.

I was curious enough to learn more about the group, Within Temptation, who could craft such a meaningful song.

Pandora.com's Music Genome Project describes Within Temptation in a couple of different ways:

  • Vocal/choral foundation, smooth female lead vocal

  • Guitar-driven force of hard rock with the sweep and grandeur of symphonic music

  • Acoustic rock instrumentation, subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation, acoustic rhythm piano and intricate melodic phasing

Other classifications have been attempted, such as symphonic rock, or Goth-influenced symphonic metal. Regardless, they're not just any metal/rock sound and they don't fit neatly into any one general category. Their choral backgrounds are a highlight, as well as lead singer Sharon den Adel's very melodic wailing.

Using that splendid Music Genome project at Pandora, I've looked into similar groups such as Evanescence, Nightwish and Epica, and all fall short of the good songs by Within Temptation.

The problem is, their music is either feast or famine. Some of their work features what I suppose are classic metal elements, such as torturous drum beats, hideous guitar-jamming, and screeching "death yells" (raspy-voiced growls and other guttural, inhuman vocalizations).

On the other hand, there are splendid arrangements that really break out of the metal bindings and fill in a new sound all its own...a sound which I can only describe as epic tragedy or hauntingly fateful poignancy. (Songs like "Pale", "The Swan Song", "Forgiven", "Memories" and the instrumental "Intro".)

Others have a coursing power feel to them, songs such as "Our Solemn Hour", "Forsaken", "Ice Queen" (which works perfectly as a theme song for the Chronicles of Narnia's White Witch, as evidenced by the number of fan videos coupling the song with movie footage) and "Angels".

What was interesting to me is how many of these songs fit so well with the Lord of the Rings motion picture trilogy, as evidenced by the number of YouTube fan tributes centered around them. I'm often impressed by the skill of these "amateur" editors who edit clips and montages together for free.

"Our Solemn Hour", for example, was brilliantly set against clips of the films by one YouTube user named KatePevensie - I still go back to rewatch the video from time to time.

The song "Forsaken" was edited with LotR clips by a user named Endareyn. (Incidentally, for those who have read deeper into the history of Tolkien's Middle-Earth, "Forsaken" would be more fittingly matched with AkallabĂȘth and the downfall of NĂșmenor.)

When I heard the song "Pale", I knew I had only to search to find its LotR tribute, and YouTuber LadyLupin3's video is the first one I came across.

Another YouTuber by name of Elvira27 coupled "The Swan Song" with more clips in a montage. The song perfectly reflects the decline of the race of Elves.

The appeal of these videos is partly to provide an alternate score for moments from the film, but also to draw part of the story out of the whole and tell it independently. (IE, "the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen" or "Frodo's suffering", etc.)

I even got in on the game after hearing a song called "The Howling" from the latest Within Temptation CD, "The Heart of Everything". The song was picture-perfect and begging to be matched with battle footage from Lord of the Rings. Over the space of a month or two, I managed to download various clips of LotR battles such as Moria, Amon Hen, the Pelennor Field and the Black Gate from YouTube (not possessing the technology to rip the movie from the DVDs themselves), and splice them together in Windows Movie Maker to produce my own montage/tribute, titled "When We Start Killing" that I feel is equal to others on YouTube, and perhaps even equal to the song.

There is at least one other video that used "The Howling" for a film tribute, although mine is unique in at least one regard - I edited the music to make for a longer video. Because I wanted to feature important battles in the film (except Helm's Deep, since it just didn't fit) I had to repeat one of the verses. It didn't work seamlessly, but I was still happy with the result.

One of the things that is most appealing is the ability to capture sadness in such a moving way. I had a friend ask me why it was I "enjoyed" sad songs or at least, why they appeal to me. That's a question I hope to answer in a future entry.

In the meantime, I encourage you to check out some of the above-mentioned music, and if you find something that truly is similar, give me a holler.

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