Holland’s Within Temptation have long been considered one of the most innovative and forward-thinking acts within modern heavy metal. That said, with new album ‘The Unforgiving’, the group is pushing boundaries far beyond anything that they’ve done before, having created a captivating concept album and accompanying comic book to support the music. Recently, we were able to chat with guitarist Robert Westerholt about the ideas and themes behind the band’s fifth record…
“Recording this album was a liberating experience”
S] Robert, How do you feel you have developed as a person through the music you’ve been making recently for ‘The Unforgiving’ – is it a shift back to your roots?
R] “I really thought that on our previous album ‘The Heart Of Everything’ we managed to achieve the sound that we have been working on for years. Because of that, as a band we said, ‘Okay, now it is the time to move on’ – at first it was challenging and we didn’t really know what direction to go in so we planned to write without any borders or boundaries and see what would come from that. In the end it was a very liberating experience recording this album. I think that it was the song ‘Shot In The Dark’ that made us realise that we are now doing something very new and fresh. At the same time though, there is this feeling of familiarity about it, like the music has become who we are. We also realise that there are these 1980s-style melodies on the record, which we have never had on our previous albums – we’ve taken a lot of influence from, and recognised artists from that time who we like. So yeah, it was a very liberating writing process.”
S] You created a trailer for the album – there seems to be serious hype in preparation for its release in March – are you as excited about it as you were when you started recording?
R] “It’s been a rush for us. It was so much work to make it and we have put lots of time into the whole process – when it was all finished we could hardly believe it! We have been amazed by the end result though because it could have all gone hopelessly wrong – it has been a very big project to complete, because if it didn’t all get done really nicely then the ‘magic’ of it all would totally break down. We are extremely excited about it now. It’s all just started though! We are just beginning to unleash this concept into the world. That’s also nice because the story doesn’t stop with the music, it is going to develop with the comic coming out every two months! ‘The Unforgiving’ is already becoming a being of its own.”
S] Can you talk us through the inspiration behind a song on the new record that means the most to you?
R] “For me, there is certainly one riff that really stands out and I look forward to playing the most! [Laughs] We all really like the song, ‘In The Middle Of The Night’ which is probably also the heaviest song on the album and after the first chorus, the second riff echoes Metallica – I am really in love with that one. That song really stands out because it is so up-tempo and we really love the heaviness of it too. At the same time, looking at a song like ‘Faster’, it has ‘magic’ in its simplicity, power and catchy nature. It’s very straightforward and ‘in your face’. What makes this album special though, is that each song is so very different from the other. While each one fits together inside the concept album, I think that the music represents us as a band and the fact that we can go from one completely different angle to the other and still feel like everything fits in one album. Again, that really represents the power that it has.”
S] Having found your sound on the previous album, ‘The Heart Of Everything’, can you remember when the moment came and you decided to move on to something completely different with this work?
R] “For us, that moment comes very soon after we finish a record, because when we are making it, it is very difficult to judge as we are too ‘involved’. A few months after we finish, we will listen again and start to notice things about it that we like, and don’t like – from there, we feel like writing again. Those are the moments where we figure out how to improve on things that we have done. The main difference that came with this album in contrast to the previous ones was that we didn’t feel like we had to improve on anything, ‘The Heart Of Everything’ is a great album. So, we wanted a new challenge – we knew that we would not be able to do the same thing again because it would come out badly. It was really about finding new challenges for ourselves and that was the exciting thing because we really had no idea where it would go to when we started out.”
S] Talk to us about ‘Faster’ and what you want to achieve with that song and the ‘Mother Maiden’ video – why did that come first?
R] “As far as the first short movie goes [check it out below] that really explains a big part of the concept and the story. It is an ideal start to everything. As far as the song goes, it is just extremely powerful and we have been surprised by it ourselves. Everybody around the band upon hearing it ‘triggered’ to that song when we played it. Even the working title for the comic series at first was ‘Faster’ but we did not think that gave an accurate portrayal of the story so, it was changed to ‘The Unforgiving’. It is a very powerful song and it is also fresh. Again, it’s the perfect way for us to start the album.”
S] Can you relate to any of the characters in the film or comic at all – you’ve said in the past that you are a fan?
R] “I think I can relate to a lot of them. The characters are not based on us – that was a very conscious decision. We really did not want to have anything to do with the storyline ourselves because we are just the ones who are contributing towards telling it. We didn’t want to write it ourselves either because for us it needs to have that ‘magic’ – when we read the story, we need to be inspired by it musically, and we want to be overwhelmed. That being said, everyone can relate to the basics of this – the idea that everyone feels guilty and does things in life that they might regret later – of course, it’s always nice to have a second chance! It’s also about taking life in to your own hands – that is very familiar for a lot of people – when you see injustice or things going wrong, you might think, ‘Oh, it would be great if I had a team of people who could fix everything’ and wish to change it. There are lots of layers to this story and I think that is what the short movies will explain – there will be background information about the main characters, where they come from and why they have turned into what they are – the audience will find out what went wrong in their life.”
S] It’s a great opportunity for you because people who don’t listen to your music might be “turned on” by the comic, and those who do listen might identify with the characters in the comic as well…
R] “For us, this is about more than making an album of music. There is a whole picture to see – the music is inspired by the comic and when listening to eat you can ‘dive in’ to the story and it will become so much more special. We want to bring back that feeling of excitement for a fan when buying an album that was there in the 70s and the 80s. When buying an album back then you would stare at the cover for weeks searching for storylines and hints in the lyrics – it was something really magical. Now, in these times where we have YouTube, comics and movies available for watching, and reading directly on an iPad or computer, that magic is back again – it is a new time and there are new ways to create and be seen – we have embraced this.”
S] What did you enjoy most about working with Steven O’ Connell and Romeno Molenaar on the comic book and films? How were you involved in that process?
R] “The start was very important. We talked a lot about the concept and basis of the story. Steven had a few ideas and one really popped out and that formed the story as it is now. There were certain things that were really important for us too – the characters’ backgrounds were essential – it is really important that the people reading and watching get to know more about them. We didn’t want a ‘flat’ action story, and we also didn’t want a super hero story. When you start to read it becomes like a detective one and then as it continues, there are more layers to discover. So yes, those conditions were important for us because we had to write the songs about it and be inspired. When we had the basics and had talked about those things, Steven worked out the story and he did it brilliantly! He was exactly what we had been searching for – a ‘real’ writer who knows how to produce a story that can ‘grab’ the reader and listener. The same goes for the video directors and the discussing of the script for the short movies was very important and nice to do because they brought in ideas that Steven incorporated in the movie. We inspired each other and I think, looking back, the only way we could’ve ever pulled this off was because we had a lot of very talented people who really liked the idea that we had, to bring all of these elements together. The story is not even worked out in detail yet! We know the rough lines of the story and how it’s going to develop but I think that Steven is currently working on issue three of six issues that will be coming out. So, for us it is exciting to really see in detail how it is all developing.”
S] Tell us about the live show and what thoughts are going into that for fans in Europe?
R] “That is also part of the concept for us! It’s going to be a dream come true, because we now have so many great things to incorporate. We can make a very exciting live show. We have already tested it in Holland and we plan to have 3D projections on stage where we can make people appear and then disappear again – that worked really well when we tried it. Now, we have the story to work with, and we know what we want to do with it. That is what is next for us over the coming months and we’re going to make the live show very special.”
S] So, the characters from the comic will make an appearance?
R] “For sure. We want to suck our audience into the story when they come to see us!”
S] What things are keeping you most passionate now in 2011?
R] “I think it is the new developments that I was referring to before like YouTube and also, developing our live show. There is so much more that is possible for us now. Music-wise it is really quite bizarre though, we might have thought we were done but with this record we feel like we have opened up a can of new possibilities to explore. It feels like a new start!”
S] What else are you most looking forward to doing this year – you’re developing your family and that must feel great – are you taking a break?
R] “Of course. That is very important because otherwise touring can become boring. I know for sure that everyone is really looking forward to getting back on stage. I personally am looking forward to developing this concept and seeing just how far we can take it.”
For more information visit the official website.