The Dutch band WITHIN TEMPTATION has at last released their long awaited eighth album “Bleed Out” in full, after giving us over half the songs in advance during the Covid-19 pandemic. We had a Zoom chat with charismatic singer Sharon den Adel about some of the songs and about the recent world affairs that have informed the album.
INTERVIEW BY: KIRA L. SCHLECHTER
All over the world, maybe now more than ever, freedom is a hotly debated concept. People are fighting for freedom in all its forms: freedom from being oppressed by a government, freedom to retain or regain rights that have been taken from them, freedom to just exist in peace.
Not so coincidental then that “Bleed Out”, the latest outstanding effort by the Dutch band WITHIN TEMPTATION, is all about freedom, in contexts from political to personal, says singer and songwriter Sharon den Adel.
The album was written before and during the pandemic, and as we know, a good half of the songs were released between then and now. The band’s bio noted that they felt this allowed them to comment on recent world issues in a more immediate way.
“We released way more songs than we were supposed to, than we actually wanted to, because Covid of course went on and on and on”, Den Adel says in the Zoom interview. “We wanted to keep everybody busy. The remaining songs were actually written at the end of last year during and after the summer. It was around that time also when things were happening in the world, of course.”
Some tracks were released before the war in Ukraine, an event that has affected them deeply. But even so, they tie in perfectly with the more recent material, Den Adel says.
“When we were finishing the last song, before we put it in terms of order, we were playing around with it and we felt like it does connect. Every song, even though it was about personal stuff in the beginning, things happening in society, in the West, where we have democracy – and we have our own problems, still, here. It’s all about a cry for freedom: to be who you want to be, but are standing in a war in Ukraine or being that woman in Iran. The subject that binds it everywhere, every song we’ve written, is about freedom”, she elaborates.
And in keeping with the trend from their previous album “Resist,” the album’s sound is heavier, in keeping with its weighty subject matter. They back up their heavy cred even further with a guest spot from metalcore band Annisokay on the track “Shed My Skin.”
“But also then, our musical taste is a bit heavier”, Den Adel points out. “In the past, we were searching for but not reaching that perfect sound – for us anyway, perfect sound, that we were looking for – and now we’re finally finding it.
Technology has also changed a lot – we can detune even lower and I can do more with my vocals and the guys can do more with the guitars. It’s nice to have that ability and to play around with that possibility, so that’s why the sounds are even heavier. I am still singing female vocals and I am limited to how heavy I can sound, so technology helps.”
In fact, it could be argued that only the track “Worth Dying For” has any resemblance to symphonic metal.
“I love what we did in the past, but that was then and we are into a different sound nowadays, that we feel, that we embrace, at this moment”, Den Adel insists. “Maybe we’ll change in the future again, but at this moment, it feels right for us and also with the subjects that we’re dealing with.”
“We Go To War” is for good reason the album’s opening track, Den Adel says. It’s of course about the war in Ukraine, but it’s also about the fear and anxiety of that war taking place quite literally on the band’s doorstep.
“I don’t think everybody realizes that we are very close to this war”, she notes. “From my airport to Kyiv is a 2 ½ hour flight. It’s crazy how close it is. The fact that Russia invaded a sovereign country, it goes beyond my belief. The song “We Go To War” is not because we want to go to war, it’s forced upon you and they glorify war. We hate war, but it’s sometimes the only option, to fight for freedom.”
It goes deeper than that, too.
“We never had the idea to write about these subjects upfront,” Den Adel insists, “it just enters our music because it’s on our minds and our souls. This is something to deal with the frustration and anger and the sadness of the stories that we are hearing in the Netherlands about that country, about these people, where we have toured so many times.”
She spoke of a 2008 experience in Kherson, the first city that fell to the Russians.
“We rode in a train with the mayor of Kherson”, she remembers. “We went to a museum. They gave us traditional food and they gave us traditional clothes. We had a wonderful time for four days. We know the area very well, so there’s a connection there.”
From the opposite side of the spectrum is “Wireless”, a song sung from the perspective of the Russian army, of thinking you’re going off to defend your country, but you’ve really been lied to and exploited.
“Of course we‘ve gone to Russia as well, we love Russia – the memories that we have, there are a lot of beautiful people”, Den Adel explains. “But I think if you constantly hear the state media saying the mantra – you need to defend your country, you need to invade Ukraine, Ukraine are fascists, they’re Nazi lovers – if you hear that constantly I think you start believing that. And so they end up in a war facing an enemy who’s completely dedicated to fight for their freedom. They asked these people for the ultimate sacrifice, which is their life, and they’re being so tricked into a war.”
To help with the war effort, the band has made donations to Ukraine Aid Ops, a nonprofit organization that “provides battalions in Ukraine with the things they need”, Den Adel elaborates. The band purchased 30 military patches from the organization, at 200 euros apiece – thirty people who bought the “Bleed Out” box set are receiving one.
“It’s trying to do in a small way something for the organization. We are trying to promote them and support them in our own way.” Upon receiving the band’s donation, soldiers in Kherson gifted them with a battlefield shell. They haven’t received it yet. ”I know it’s on its way, it’s one of the many things they make into artwork and sell to get money – they turn something ugly into something beautiful, like the shell can be used as a vase.”
The title track memorializes Mahsa Amini, the Iranian woman jailed for not wearing her headscarf in public; she later died in police custody. The lyrics reflect her personal sacrifice, her choice: “There’s no remorse, she doesn’t mind.”
“You see individuals in countries like that, where people sacrifice their future, their life, for the next generation because they say I can’t live like this anymore. I’m bleeding out literally, bleeding out pain, bleeding out in so many metaphorical ways.”
“They’re just drawing a line in the sand, saying OK, I’m just going to take my stand and I’ll see what comes. I don’t think I can completely imagine what it’s like because I’m not in that situation. I can only have empathy for them and be every time amazed by their bravery”, she adds.
As noted, WITHIN TEMPTATION’s examination of the fight for freedom isn’t just from a political standpoint; it’s also from a personal one.
“Don’t Pray For Me”, for instance, demands the most intimate freedom: bodily autonomy, in the form of a woman’s right to choose. Den Adel mentioned the essay she wrote for Kerrang! in 2021 (a link to it is here: Sharon den Adel: “It is the right of every woman to be able to decide independently in all matters related to reproduction, including abortion”) regarding the variety of abortion regulations in the European Union.
“Not that I’m pro or against abortion – I’m very much for the right of the individual to choose, in their position, what they want to do”, she clarifies. “I was curious what the differences are between the countries of the EU. I was comparing it and I was like I couldn’t believe this is the truth, how diverse are the laws within the European Union.”
The mother of three has strong feelings on the issue of choice.
“I believe in the individual choice of the person”, she asserts. “Nobody can make that choice for you. You are your own judge, and there’s a time that you have to occupy on this earth and you will have to make your own choice and live with that. It’s going to be difficult to make that choice – I don’t think people do that choice lightly. I don’t believe that for one second.”
She has equally strong feelings about the other side of “Don’t Pray For Me” – religion.
“Religion always tells you how to live and how to be and how you’re not fit enough”, Den Adel says. “I’ve read somewhere in the Bible that you should love the person next to you, don’t throw the first stone. Those kinds of things don’t apply to what they’re doing now. If you want to believe, believe whatever you want to believe, I don’t care. I really hope you find whatever you’re looking for. But don’t tell other people to do the same because we’re all so different.”
But the album’s not all deadly serious. “Ritual”, inspired by the Quentin Tarantino vampire film “From Dusk Till Dawn” is about women demanding sexual freedom. And it’s loaded with innuendo. Den Adel delivers lines like “You’re going down for milk and honey” and “I’ll make you rise up into my midnight oil” with a sultry, deliberate purr, and she laughs heartily, her cheeks turning pink, when asked about them.
“It’s trying to turn around the traditional roles between men and women in the seduction kind of way”, she says. “If we were doing to them the same thing that sometimes they do to us, then it becomes really a funny track – if you can visualize it, I’m going to seduce you and you have nowhere to go!”
Den Adel says husband and co-writer Robert Westerholt helped her with the naughty lyrics.
“We had so much fun”, she says, relating their interaction as a battle between ‘I’m not gonna sing that!’ and ‘You’re gonna sing that!’
“He said yes and I said oh my God, no – how am I going to sing this seriously?”, she laughs.
The concept of freedom is also relevant for the band as a business – they’re no longer on a record label, so they’re able to do things at their own pace. But record label support also means financial support, especially with regards to touring – they just announced a large European tour for next fall. So how will they manage?
“We’ve been around for a long time and we saved up”, Den Adel says with a laugh.
So call it The Within Temptation Rainy-Day Fund? Den Adel laughs again at that.
“We had to hire a lot of people to do the work that the record company does, but now we actually know what we’re spending it on and we can control it and we have more insight on it. Which I don’t want to have because it takes away from my creativity – not only mine, but also Robert’s.”
“We can choose now to release in the moment, when it matters to us, and we can decide we’re going to do more singles than we’re ‘supposed to.’ With a record company, we would have never been able to do so, and we would have lost the attention of our own fans and engagements with everything we were doing”, she adds.
Den Adel finished the chat by speaking about possible future touring plans for WITHIN TEMPTATION in the States.
“I hope we will be back after the European tour, there’s nothing set in stone yet”, she answers. “Hopefully we’ll get there and I hope to be back in your country again.”