As one of the forerunners of the modern symphonic metal movement, and also having been pegged with the gothic and dubious female-fronted subgenre tags, Within Temptation have achieved great success in Europe, cultivated a loyal following in America, and continue to try new things. Their last album, The Unforgiving, pushed their ’80s pop and rock influences to the forefront, injecting an extra dose of melody into their music, while their latest release, Hydra, amps up the energy, even experiments with rap and touches of psychedelia, and features four guest vocalists. It’s a natural evolution for a band that started life as a doom/goth metal group with their 1997 debut, Enter, and has since grown in other directions, which makes the title of their new album highly apropos. Somehow, the group finds a way to balance it all out.
“I think with every album we’ve changed a lot,” confirms singer/lyricist Sharon den Adel, calling the Aquarian from Holland. “If you compare Enter with Mother Earth, it’s also a really big change. We’ve always been a very melodic band but also very heavy with the guitars really up in your face, and for us this [Hydra] is the heaviest and most up-tempo album we’ve made so far.”
The group has often used full string sections on their studio works and even released an orchestral live release called Black Symphony. This time up there is trippy cello work in the mid-section of the majestic “Edge Of The World,” but the symphonic feeling enhancing the hard-driving songs comes mostly from keyboardist Martijn Spierenburg. Robert Westerholt’s axe work certainly drives most of the tunes here, like the lead single “Dangerous,” which features vocals from former Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones. He is not to be confused with the ’80s new wave artist of the same name, who would probably also manage to fit in comfortably on a Within Temptation album with the right song. (If you want to hear how diverse the band’s tastes are, grab the limited edition two-disc set of Hydra which includes covers of songs by Imagine Dragons, Lana Del Rey, Passenger, and Enrique Iglesias.)
Den Adel says that propulsive lead single “Dangerous” is inspired by daredevils, thrill seekers, and people living on the edge. Considering the uptempo nature of the tune, the subject matter seemed highly appropriate. They also felt that musically it overlapped with that of Killswitch Engage, and being a fan of that band and its former frontman, they reached out to him. To their surprise, he not only had known about the Dutch outfit for years, but was eager to contribute.
“It was funny because we could’ve asked him years ago,” says den Adel. “We sent him the song with a guide track for the vocals, and knowing Killswitch Engage we felt he would do more screaming, but he came back with this really epic kind of vocal style. It was a surprise, and we didn’t know he could sing like this as well. We were surprised, but it was better than what we initially had in mind. We’re happy that he’s on it because the song really grew from that.”
The other three Hydra vocal collaborations also yielded great results. Former Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen appears on “Paradise (What About Us)?” and her operatic vocals glide and intertwine beautifully with those of den Adel. It’s a natural fit for the two pioneering metal sirens. Soul Asylum singer Dave Pirner also lends his raspy style to the haunting closing ballad “The Whole World Is Watching.” The sharp contrast to those contributions is “And We Run,” which spotlights the rapping of Xzibit. Westerholt in particular is a fan of the American rapper, and when the idea of combining his genre with the music of Within Temptation emerged, he was the obvious choice for the guitarist.
“I didn’t know if he would do this to be honest,” admits den Adel. “But Xzibit is a very open-minded guy who’s experimenting with rap and uses guitars sometimes and has been working with orchestral things. I have this really high voice, and he has this very dark and deep voice, which is a cool contrast already. The fact that he’s open-minded to experimentation made us think he was the right guy for us. And we liked his music.”
Their management knew Xzibit’s people, and the band soon asked him about the collaboration. He offered the chance to see if it worked, and they clicked. Other than explaining the idea behind the song, den Adel says they gave him carte blanche to do what he wanted, as lyrics are a rapper’s signature. “We wanted to give him the opportunity to do something for his own perspective and add his own thing to it because that’s what we wanted to have from him,” she says. “I think it came out very cool, and what is special about the song is that it doesn’t have a rock or metal structure, it has a dance structure. The song became original in the form it’s already in and also because of Xzibit. There are no dance elements in the song, but it’s more like how dance music is built up and how they create a structure. It sounds different from the songs that we normally do, and it is the most special song on the album.”
In the way that “Dangerous” deals with thrill seekers, Hydra‘s lyrics on the whole invoke the ideas of maintaining one’s identity and holding on to one’s sense of self even in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Den Adel explains that “Covered By Roses” was inspired by the idea of living in the moment and celebrating important moments with people you care about. Many life transitions can be hard, whether it is moving on or someone leaving your life, and those memories can keep you strong in the future.
The members of Within Temptation understand this theme well. Den Adel and Westerholt have three children together, and she acknowledges that she is always juggling two worlds. “I couldn’t just be a mom, neither could I just be a musician,” the singer explains. “I need to have both worlds to be happy, and I just try to find the right balance between things. When we started the band we were so young and very dedicated to it, so every weekend we were playing because we loved doing it. We almost drowned in it. We put all our other needs aside. I never went to clubs. I didn’t have time for it because I was always with the band, always doing stuff for the band or with the band. I neglected certain things and grew up very quickly with this band.”
Always being on the road and working with the band meant that she missed out on certain parts of her life, but she has also gained much from the success that she and her bandmates have achieved. “Certain sacrifices give something back to you, but you’ve also lost something,” she admits. “It’s important to think about what kind of balance you need in life. It almost broke up the band in 2007 after we came back from America because of all the touring. At that time, I had a one-year-old at home, and for two-thirds of the year we were on the road constantly. She had been on tour with us for a certain time. It wasn’t just that fact but also that everybody had been living on a nightliner for such a long time. We were so much in each other’s faces that at the end of it we really hated each other more or less. We really needed a break from each other in 2008, and Robert and I also split up for a few months because things didn’t go the way that we wanted them to. Everything was too heavy. But it brought back a new balance which works today. We realize that everything needs its space, and everything in life needs its space, like family and friends but also our passion for our band. It’s about balancing things, and that was a big change.”
Within Temptation will perform at Vintage Vinyl on Jan. 27. Hydra will be released Feb. 4 through Nuclear Blast. For more information, go to within-temptation.com.