Although deemed as "symphonic metal" by many, the Dutch group WITHIN TEMPTATION cannot be linked to a single style, as evidenced by their sixth studio album, Hydra, which features a wide variety of special guests, including rapper XZIBIT, Soul Asylum's DAVE PIRNER, Killswitch Engage's HOWARD JONES, and TARJA TURUNEN (formerly of Nightwish).
Additionally, the band (which is led by singer Sharon Den Adel and guitarist ROBERT WESTERHOLT, both of which also co-founded the band, back in 1996) enjoys keeping listeners on their toes when it comes to their choice of cover tunes that will be included as bonus tracks on different configurations of the album - ENRIQUE IGLESIAS' 'Dirty Dancer,' LANA DEL REY'S 'Summertime Sadness,' PASSENGER'S 'Let Her Go,' and IMAGINE DRAGONS' 'Radioactive.'
Recently, Den Adel chatted with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato about Within Temptation's latest disc, how they selected the aforementioned guest vocalists and cover tunes, as well as which Within Temptation tune is the trickiest to sing live.
BraveWords: Let's start by discussing the new album, Hydra. What can fans expect from it, and how does it differ from previous albums?
Sharon Den Adel: "Hydra stands for that we have so many different styles in our music, of Within Temptation. And with every 'head,' it represents a different character of our music. And with this album, even more so, because we have brought back some old elements that we haven't used for many years, like we have one song with a growling voice, which is really dating back to our early days. But not the way we used to do, with the high voice of my side - like an operatic way of singing combined with that - but more a natural way of singing. So old elements are coming back, but in a new way that we didn't do before. We're not afraid of exploring new, different ways to express our music. So, working with Xzibit is an example of the most extreme form to do that. This album is a combination of new and old elements, and every time that you think you've seen everything of Within Temptation, there's something new coming up, and we're always trying to explore and find new things to surprise ourselves with and also surprise our fans with."
BraveWords: The album has some interesting special guests - who came up with the idea of including Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, rapper Xzibit, etc.?
Sharon Den Adel: "What we did was when we had written the songs, as a band, we were checking out what kind of things we could add to the songs to make them even extra special. And when we were looking at these songs, these names popped up, because they reminded us of the song. Not with 'And We Run' - 'And We Run,' we wanted to make a song with rap, so that was a different case. But the other three were more like because the vocalists we eventually asked, the song itself reminded us of that person. Like Dave Pirner, the song when we wrote it was more like a Soul Asylum kind of song, and it's not a typical Within Temptation song, so if we're going to put this song on the album, we need to have him on it - to give a rawness to it and his raspy voice - he has such a character in his voice. We wanted to have him for that reason. And also, because we love Soul Asylum a lot, and was one of the bands that we grew up with when we started. And with Tarja [Turunen], it's a very epic song, and we felt like this could be a real cool combination of two girls collaborating. There's people that have the idea that there is such a rivalry between us, or was in the past. But there has never been, actually. It was also cool to also meet her finally and see the personality behind the voice and the face, which we hadn't met before and for us, was a thousand reasons why to do this. And the best reason of course was musically, and I think she did a great job. It was a real pleasure to work with her - she is such a nice person. And not a diva at all, like some people might think, because she has a very strong appearance on stage. She's a really nice person. And of course, we have Howard Jones. Well, the song reminded us of Killswitch Engage - with the tempo and the way it was built up. So we felt like it would be really cool if he did screams. And he surprised us by just singing very differently than what we're used to from him, and singing in this epic way. I think it really helps the song a lot."
BraveWords: I noticed there are also some bonus track covers that are interesting, including covers by Enrique Iglesias ('Dirty Dancer'), Lana Del Rey ('Summertime Sadness'), etc.
Sharon Den Adel: "The thing was we were asked by a Belgium radio station to do thirteen cover songs. And in the past, we only did one cover song ever in our career, and it was 'Running Up That Hill' by KATE BUSH. And we were always a little bit allergic to do any covers, because it felt like it was such a waste of time and why do that? We were always too busy to do anything with covers. But this time, when they asked us, we were between things - we just had the festivals and we only had our anniversary of 15 years in November, more than a year ago now. We felt like as we were working on the new album, why not do these covers as well? We were in the studio anyway. So every Friday we presented a new song, and instead of just doing these songs acoustically, we did the whole shebang, because we felt if we're going to do it, we're going to do it good. We're not going to take it halfway - we're going to do it in a full-production kind of way. We had to a list of songs we could choose from, and these were the songs that most appealed to us, as well. They appealed to us because we liked the song in a way or it was because we could make a bigger stamp with these kind of songs than with a metal song, for instance, because a lot of fans were saying, 'Why didn't you do a song of IRON MAIDEN?' Well, first of all, that was not on the list - it was a radio station that plays mainstream music, mostly. And the second reason was as our kind of band, we're a rock/metal band, you can make a bigger difference with a dance or a pop song than to do a metal song - you won't hardly hear a difference, because it already has heavy guitars in it. Only my voice will be the difference. So we felt like if we took these pop songs and dance songs, there will be a major difference than the original versions. So, that's why."
BraveWords: Within Temptation's albums have reached higher and higher on the charts in the US with each release (2011's The Unforgiving reached #50 on the Billboard 200). Do you think Hydra will serve as the group's big commercial breakthrough Stateside?
Sharon Den Adel: "I have no idea, because you never can tell. It depends so much on how much support you're going to get from radio and fans. And if people still know you're around. Also publicity through media. Those things of course help a lot. That so determines if everything just goes the right way. We don't know, because every country works so differently, and every country we're being received in such a different way. But I must say, we get a really good response from the media, and those are the people that get to hear the album first for themselves. And coming from that perspective, I think the fans will like it a lot, because it's a more heavy album, and it's more guitar-orientated, so probably for America, America will probably like it even more than the Europeans - it's a little bit more American kind of style in a way, although we still have the European sound to it, but it's more guitar-driven, which is more typical for America I think in a way. So I don't know, we'll see, and hope for the best, of course."
BraveWords: It seems that a lot of people describe the style of Within Temptation as 'symphonic metal.' What do you think of that description?
Sharon Den Adel: "It's very difficult to describe a band like Within Temptation, when we're doing hip-hop and having a song with dance influences, and then playing acoustic again, and then playing with a full orchestra. How are you going to name a band like that? For any band, it feels like it's very difficult to get a label. But in our case, because we have so many diverse styles in our music, I think it's even more difficult to describe it, but it's a name that we've built up through the years, and I think it probably comes most close to anything else."
BraveWords: Which Within Temptation song is the most difficult to sing live and why?
Sharon Den Adel: "I think probably 'Whole World is Watching.' Because it's in a different range than I'm…the parts of Dave Pirner, I can't sing it, because it's too high or it's too low. So we really had to find the right balance of tonalities working for both of us. The way it turned out, I can do that. But now, I have to play it acoustic, for instance, and Dave isn't here, so we had to transpose it to a different tonality to make it work for me, so I can sing everything. And also in a different form, because the middle eight is now the pre-chorus for the chorus, and we don't have a middle eight in the acoustic version, because we already used it! So we have to play a little bit around that. But that's fine."
BraveWords: Future plans?
Sharon Den Adel: "At the moment, we're just promoting the album a lot. The tour starts at the end of February, and we're going to tour at least the whole 2014, and hopefully be back here in September/October, and maybe in May. If May doesn't work out for us, then it probably will be September/October."