Founded in 1996 by vocalist Sharon den Adel and guitarist Robert Westerholt, Within Temptation emerged onto the international metal scene and eluded genre definition. Equal parts gothic metal, symphonic rock, anarchic pop, melodic metal, and atmospheric progressive rock, Within Temptation will initially remind many US fans of Evanescence, but will eventually reveal itself to be much harder to pin down. Suffice to say, the band is more interested in expressing their creativity and vision than adhering to the sort of simplistic labels fans and executives try to slap on modern music at every turn. In fact, they’ve clearly stated their distaste for following the rules of any particular scene, instead adopting and absorbing anything that catches their attention.
Within Temptation’s affection for orchestral and symphonic arrangements led to “Black Symphony,” an ambitious, February 2008 performance at the Ahoy Arena in South Holland that featured the Metropole Orchestra, the 20-voice Pa’dam Choir, a massive video screen that spanned the width of the stage, live stuntwork, blaring pyrotechnic effects, and, somewhere, buried in the midst of it all, the band itself. However, the size of the production was only the beginning. Within Temptation rolled out a whopping twenty-one songs, opened the concert with a full instrumental overture, invited several renowned guests to perform with the band (including Keith Caputo of Life of Agony, Anneke van Giersbergen of The Gathering, and George Oosthoek of Orphanage), and ran Adel through a series of elaborate costumes. Best of all, the entire event was captured on fourteen high definition cameras to ensure every moment could be shared by fans the world round.
For the most part, it’s a breath-taking performance. The entire band seemed energized by the spectacle of the evening, the instrumentation was polished and precise, and, even with up to a hundred folks on stage at once, there wasn’t a single moment where it didn’t look as if everything was proceeding exactly as planned. I can’t imagine the behind-the-scenes headaches and logistical nightmares that must have plagued the tech crew darting here and there in the wings, but nothing spilled onto the stage that would have suggested there was a single hitch in the show. Perhaps I was distracted by the sheer enormity of the production, but my eyes darted around the screen from beginning to end and I didn’t see anything except for a unique and exceptional live performance. I’m not even a slathering fan of the band or their music; I just couldn’t get over how lavish and sophisticated the stage show actually was.
My only complaint is with the technical, home video presentation of the production. I didn’t mind minor adjustments (such as presenting the opening overture in black and white), but an onslaught of jarring rough cuts, garish post-production edits, and an over-reliance on multi-colored filters continually pulled me out of the experience and reminded me I was watching a pre-recorded concert. Instead of allowing the performance and the elaborate set pieces to speak for themselves, the BD/DVD producers apparently wanted to add their own dose of artistic expression. Still, even if the band asked for such heavy-handed interference to be applied to their stage performance, someone should have stopped them. Ah well, at least the presentation’s brief hiccups never manage to ruin the overall experience.
All in all, Within Temptation fans will be ecstatic when they see the band’s “Black Symphony” performance, newcomers may just feel the urge to buy a few CDs, and live concert junkies of all stripes will certainly get their money’s worth.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Within Temptation: Black Symphony’ features an excellent 1080i/AVC-encoded transfer (never fear, the footage has been converted to 60hz for international viewers) that doesn’t suffer from any persistent or debilitating issues. The lush stage lighting bathes the performers in vibrant splashes of color, Adel’s costumes are lovingly rendered, and the crowd is submerged in a flood of deep and natural shadows. Contrast is a bit hot on occasion and fine detail does fluctuate a bit, but I doubt either is the result of a technical problem with the transfer. Despite the at-times garish lighting, skintones remain warm and natural, primaries rarely bleed, and textures continue to pop. More importantly, the picture is quite clean and isn’t plagued by the heavy blocking, banding, and noise that disrupts other notable BD concert releases.
Of course, that isn’t to say the transfer is flawless. The image is occasionally disrupted by minor artifacting (especially during quick cuts to scenes involving the gaudy filtering and post-production nonsense I mentioned earlier), crush is a slight problem, and I caught a few random instances of aliasing and shimmering. Still, ‘Within Temptation: Black Symphony’ definitely belongs in the upper echelon of BD concert discs. It may not be the most beautiful concert disc I’ve reviewed, but it does offer a striking filmic presentation that enhances the disc’s reference quality audio track as well as the concert itself.
As always, the most important aspect of any live concert release is its audio package. In that regard, the Blu-ray import of ’Within Temptation: Black Symphony’ is an absolute showstopper when it comes to track selection (the disc includes five different audio mixes) and overall technical quality.
Front and center is a powerful, 96kHz/24-bit uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track that brings the Rotterdam performance surging into your home theater. Where to begin? The LFE channel continually offers fans resonant bass beats, earthy thooms, and healthy choral support. Dynamics are quite impressive, delivering everything from Adel’s lyrics to the band’s guitar riffs with crisp, clean, and stable treble tones. Better still, convincing crowd noise regularly erupts from the rear speakers, pans are invisible, and the Ahoy Arena acoustics are believable and realistic. I can’t tell you how many times I was impressed with each particular element as it was distributed throughout the soundfield. Even the various pyrotechnics arrive with sonic shock and awe, flooding the soundscape with fierce explosions, rapid bursts of activity, and aggressive, multi-channel presence. To top it all off, the entire track boasts an undeniable clarity that makes this release worth every dime.
However, even if your audio rig can’t handle the full weight of this default PCM monster, you’re in luck. The disc also features a variety of additional audio options (all of relatively high quality) including PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1, and standard Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. All things considered, you couldn’t ask for a better live concert audio package than this one. Fans should be thoroughly pleased with the results.
The Blu-ray edition of ’Within Temptation: Black Symphony’ includes a decent collection of supplements. But while this release also drops a feature-packed bonus DVD into the mix, most US fans won’t be able to access its PAL-encoded content. What is there to miss? Unfortunately, a lot. The inaccessible disc includes a full-length Bonus Concert, a series of music videos, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a slew of additional goodies that will tease domestic fans with what could have been a massive, five-star supplemental package. If your DVD or BD player can handle PAL, you’re in luck… otherwise, a chunk of the hard-earned cash you toss at this release is for nothing.
Is ‘Within Temptation: Black Symphony’ worth importing? If you have any love of the band and its music, and have some extra cash to toss around, the answer is a resounding yes. The Blu-ray edition of the concert performance features an excellent video transfer, a jaw dropping 96kHz/24-bit uncompressed PCM surround track (among other high quality audio options), and a decent trio of features. Granted, the bonus DVD (will be inaccessible to anyone who doesn't have a PAL player, but it’s a small dent in an otherwise impressive technical juggernaut. Just be warned, whether you use Amazon.com or Within-Temptation.com to nab the disc, it’s a pricey purchase.