Few bands have had a career as illustrious as Within Temptation. Since their foundation in 1996 by long-term partners vocalist Sharon den Adel and guitarist Robert Westerholt the venerable Dutch symphonic metallers have made confident strides into the annals of rock and metal history courtesy a sterling recording output that has become synonymous with integrity and a cast-iron commitment to forge a career according to their unique creative vision.
A legion of fans and accolades have followed in their wake, and a staggering 26 years later they’re showing no signs of slowing down or bending to the fickle inducements of fashion. Arguably, it’s that focus and singularity of purpose that has ensured their ability to weather changing trends as well as the pitfalls of a profoundly transformed recording industry, and with the release of their eighth studio album, it’s apparent that they’re not afraid to rock the boat, either.
“We started writing the winter before the pandemic,” says Sharon of the writing process that would become Bleed Out. “We were going on the Worlds Collide tour with Evanescence, but we’d already released our previous album quite a bit before and so we thought it’d be good to have a few new songs as well.”
Fate, and a world crisis, had other plans, though the pair are quick to point out that Bleed Out is not a pandemic record. Rather, the confluence of events kick-started a period of self-released singles which would keep Within Temptation engaged with their fans when that connection was needed most, and it also gave them the ability to lyrically respond to world events swiftly and without the relatively glacial pace of a full album release.
“It meant that we could write something in the moment, so if an event happens you can release something in a short period of time instead of in two years as the first single off an album,” she says. “That’s a really nice ability to have and I’m really into it.”
“And I suppose by being able to release things quickly means you’re not 18 months behind the conversation when you are commenting on things,” adds Robert.
It would make for an unconventional release schedule, but also foreground one of Within Temptation’s boldest statements yet: an album that is as epic as it is unflinchingly outspoken, and anyone who has seen them take the stage with a Ukrainian flag recently will know that this is a band who aren’t afraid to make a stand on issues they care about.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Within Temptation has shifted its focus from writing about societal subjects to tackling the war in Ukraine, to the plight of women fighting for freedom in Iran, to the complex issues involved with a woman’s right to choose. Throughout the writing process, Bleed Out has become a fist-in-the-air proclamation of the band’s fearless approach to music, and close observers will note that this isn’t an album that’s afraid to shatter a speaker system or two. Imbued with a vast dynamic range that plumbs the full depth of symphonic heaviosity, Bleed Out is as exuberantly heavy as it is politically profound.
There’s an equally powerful subtext at play, too, and it stems from Within Temptation’s own emancipation from the music industry. Fully independent, they now release their music themselves without a traditional record company dictating schedules or release windows. In short, they’ve torn up the rulebook.
“With all the streaming services it’s easier to release things yourself,” explains Robert. “That combined with the fact that we got the rights to all our music back meant we could have everything in our own hands. Record companies are a machine and working with them takes time, and that started to annoy us a little bit. We want to try stuff if we want to.”
“It means that we can work quickly,” adds Sharon. “Labels tend to be traditional, but these are not traditional times, and the way people find and enjoy music constantly evolves.”
But while much in Within Temptation’s world has changed, a tried-and-tested approach or two still remain, and they primarily have written and recorded under the guidance of longtime producer Daniel Gibson since 2004.
“Daniel is the glue between us,” says Robert. “Sharon and I don’t write together – we fight! I’ll sit down and write with Daniel, but then I go out of the room and she comes in and does the same!”
It’s a creative ebb and flow which has historically yielded impressive results, and by the sound of things this is a record that is as unflinchingly metal as it is courageously forthright in its convictions. The release of the Wireless single in May and its accompanying video was a full-throated indictment of the invasion in Ukraine. However, it also covers the repeating of history, wherein people willfully sign up for the army and mistakenly believe they’re obligated to answer the call of their government. In the end, they realize they have been deceived.
“The war in Ukraine has influenced us a lot. As artists we are inspired by the world, and we have this platform. We are storytellers, and I think as human beings, these are things we should be talking about.”
And it isn’t just Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that’s weighing on the songwriting duo’s mind. Don’t Pray For Me grapples with the complex issues around a woman’s right to choose, while Bleed Out – the album’s title track – addresses the plight of women fighting for their rights in Iran. “I lived in Yemen when I was a kid,” she says. “My parents lived in several countries in the Middle East, and I’ve visited them a lot when they were there. It’s a different world. Due to my time there, I feel connected to that part of the world. I’ve been so incredibly impressed by the bravery of the young women there who’ve been burning their scarves knowing they were going to be thrown in prison or worse – it’s heartbreaking.”
But that isn’t to say that there’s no light to the heavy shade on Bleed Out, and the delectable Ritual as Sharon explains, is one of the kinkiest songs the band have ever written and is fully inspired by From Dusk Till Dawn. An iconic movie by Quentin Tarantino about a seemingly normal road trip, turning into a vampire slayer party. “It’s a fun track about seduction,” she explains. “It’s about the lady taking power in a male dominated world and taking her own initiative.”
With a release planned for October 20th and a major touring plans to match, Within Temptation are a band poised to fight the good fight, and they’re doing it their way.