With the rise of gothic metal, dozens of bands have combined crunchy power chord volleys with ethereal vocals and orchestral arrangements, but none have done so as convincingly or with such a keen grasp for symphonic arrangements as Holland's Within Temptation.
Formed by chanteuse Sharon den Adel and guitarist Robert Westerholt in 1996, Within Temptation have become superstars across Europe over the course of three studio albums. Now, with a new deal with Roadrunner Records and their epic new album, The Heart of Everything, the band seems destined bring its majestic, emotion-swept music to new heights.
"We pushed ourselves to make these songs the best that we could," says Westerholt of the new record. "We wanted to have a more organic feeling and more energy than ever. I think our last one, [2004's The Silent Force], went a bit too far in one direction; at times the orchestra pushed away the drums and guitars. This time we tried to get the guitars more prominent and have more riffs. It still has a big feeling and there's still plenty of classical parts, but I think we did it without losing the power of the band."
The Heart of Everything, Within Temptation has never sounded more powerful or alive. The first single "What Have You Done," featuring Keith Caputo of Life of Agony, which see-saws between caustic guitar crunch and gothy, gauzy textures, is the perfect marriage of melodic rock and metal. The equally powerful track "The Howling" showcases Den Adel's trademark haunting vocals and soaring melodies, while the glacial "Frozen," features heartrending vocals and staccato string bursts and "The Cross" which starts like an intro to a film score, segues into a winding, dramatic number that's equal parts Richard Wagner, The Gathering and Kate Bush.
"Our biggest goal besides writing the best songs we can was to give this record more energy than the last one," says singer Sharon den Adel. "I used my voice in a different way on every song. Sometimes it's high and melodic, almost classical, and in some songs it's lower with power."
"We made very careful choices when we were writing these songs," adds Westerholt. "We didn't use orchestra everywhere and we also cut down a bit in the layering of the arrangements so they were more efficient and had less choruses so they could work better together with the band."
While Within Temptation was more selective about their compositions and less effusive with their classical elements, they experimented as much as ever, adding mandolin to "The Cross," cello to four tracks and working with the Prague Orchestra instead of individual players or synthetic strings.
"We like to try different things and when we're writing a song, we never know where that inspiration comes from," adds Den Adel. "It's always very spontaneous and that's what makes the music unique."
The band chose the album title The Heart of Everything because the songs address feelings and ideas that exist under the surface and can't be excavated without introspection. "So often, we live our lives without thinking," Westerholt explains. "We just do things because we're born in a certain environment and people are expecting certain things from you. Sometimes its important to look within yourself and discover what really makes you happy and what's important to you."
In their search for self-discovery, Within Temptation address a variety of subjects, including the futility of war ("Our Solemn Hour"), the strength of unconditional love ("Forgiven") and personal hardships faced by certain bandmembers ("The Cross"). Books inspired some tracks, like "Hand of Sorrow." Others were based on films.
"We wrote ‘The Heart of Everything' after watching ‘Braveheart,' says Westerholt. "And ‘The Truth Beneath the Rose' is based on ‘The Da Vinci Code' and is about the idea that belief is sometimes used to justify sins. On the other hand, it may be more important with belief that it's your own belief and you can stand behind it instead of following the belief other people may want to put upon you."
Within Temptation started writing the new songs at the end of 2005 and fine-tuned the material until late 2006. "We take our time to make our record," explains Den Adel. "We are not easily satisfied with ourselves, and the recording process is very time consuming because we record many instruments and sounds on our record beside the usual band stuff."
"Actually, this was our fastest follow-up," adds Westerholt. "So I think this was our easiest album to do. However, no album is ever really easy because there are big ups and downs in the writing and recording process. But in comparison to the other ones, this one felt the best."
With good reason. The Heart of Everything recaptures everything Within Temptation has thrived upon while taking their music to newer, more thrilling places. And in the process, through all the melancholy atmospheres, cinematic riffs and angelic vocals, the band delivers its most pragmatic and proactive message to date.
"If you want to make something out of your life, it's in your own hands," Westerholt says. "Life can sometimes be pretty rough and not very easy, but still you have a lot of power within yourself and there's always the possibility to bend things your own way."