It’s getting harder and harder to be original in the ever-crowding universe of female-fronted symphonic metal bands, so one must be clever about their approach. Massively popular Dutch band Within Temptation chose to be innovative by creating a modern comic book to inspire and tie in with their new album The Unforgiving, which comes out tomorrow in North America. And on top of the six-issue comic series that the album embraces thematically, three short dramatic films have been commissioned to tell the same tale. (The newly released second video and film, both titled Sinead, are viewable below.) So Within Temptation have certainly come up with a fresh twist — a story told and translated through music, comics and film — while also offering the most sonically expansive album of their career, one that incorporates hard rock, new wave, ’80s rock and symphonic music into its tasty milieu. That’s a nice hat trick.
The synopsis of The Unforgiving (found at the band’s site) is thus: “A powerful medium, Mother Maiden recruits lost souls to be part of her wraith taskforce to fight evil in all its forms. They each carry a specific guilt about something they did in their lives. Mother Maiden offers them an opportunity to ‘make right what is wrong’ by giving them missions and assignments to hunt down evil as a penance for their previous sins.”
I recently spoke with the group’s rhythm guitarist and co-songwriter Robert Westerholt for a Grammy.com feature on rockers writing comic books, and we went even more in-depth into their latest creation for A.D.D.
The new Within Temptation album is inspired by a comic book you commissioned. Could you tell us about it?
We planned to do a concept album, but we didn’t want to do it in a traditional way where you make up a story and some lyrics and that’s it. The idea of a comic was also going through our minds for some time because we’ve been comics fan since childhood. There was a video game that we did some music for, and by coincidence we encountered a Dutch artist who works for Marvel and Top Cow. He’s a great comic artist, so we met, discussed it and thought it would be a perfect opportunity. It was also important for us because we could create a unique story that has not been released before, so when people buy the album and get the story it’s something exciting and new. It’s all one thing, and [while] the songs are not in chronological order, they are based on the story.
Will the album be packaged with a comic book?
No, there are going to be six separate issues released. Of course, the CD will include illustrations from the comic. Our first commercial single [“Faster”] was released at the end of January. When our album comes out, there will be one [online] prequel out, and from then on the [printed] series will be released every two months. It’s a normal 22-page issue.
Could you talk about your collaborators?
The story was written by Steven O’Connell, who has been doing the BloodRayne comic series. He also worked before with Romano Molenaar, the comic artist. They’ve been working together [on this]. I had a few meetings with Steven about a story. He had a few ideas, and we picked the one we liked the most and worked it out. The album is based on the comic story. It’s based on the rough outline of the story. The comic has to do with the title — it’s called The Unforgiving, and it’s about people who experience something in life and they just can’t deal with it and can’t forgive themselves. And after death they’re still struggling with it. It’s also about the unforgiveness towards other people.
How do you feel that the new album is different musically from your past works?
To us it feels like we’ve gone back to our roots a bit to the mid and late ’80s with bands like The Cure, Sisters Of Mercy and Depeche Mode but also the rock ones like Europe and Bon Jovi. All of those bands have a big feeling in their melodies and a dramatic style, and we felt it was time to dive into that period again. Of course, it doesn’t sound like it was back then, but it’s definitely got the feeling. I can also say that we completely let ourselves go and didn’t restrict ourselves to anything, and it’s for sure our most versatile album. There’s really not one song that is really in line with another song. There’s really heavy stuff on it, really up-tempo stuff but a lot of different stuff. We still have enough orchestral parts and recorded an orchestra for most of the tracks, but our style has definitely been reevaluated. We felt it was time to move on again and take another step with the music. I think it will feel very fresh to a lot of people.
Which comic books are you guys fans of? What did you grow up reading?
I’ve always been a big Wolverine fan, and I really love Spawn. And, of course, Spider-Man. I think anybody who reads comics is into Spider-Man. Those are the main ones.
Are there more recent titles that you have followed?
I’ve read a few issues of The Darkness. The thing is we don’t have such a big comic culture over here as in the States. It’s only until recently that I’m diving back into it. My God, there are so many comics these days.
Even though this project is ambitious, do you find it liberating at the same time?
It’s ambitious, but I feel privileged. We felt privileged when we were able to record a full orchestra on our record. And privileged when we were able to play with an orchestra live. Now it’s the next step, and we’re thinking, “My God, is this really happening?” It’s so extremely nice to be able to have a creative idea and to really make it what you had in mind, and you can only do that if you have the people with the talent that would like to work with you. A bit of a budget also helps.
Are you amazed by the success of the band, and the fact that every album keeps getting bigger and bigger?
I don’t know. The only thing we always think about is that we picture every album like [what] would we really like to hear. If there were another band, what kind of music would we like to hear? And on stage, what would we like to see? We’re taking our own dreams and what we like, and if we achieve success it means that there are more people who have the same taste as we do. You can always be happy that that’s the case, but it could also be that nobody has the same taste as we have and we could sell nothing. I think that’s a bit of luck.
This will be your fifth album in 14 years.
Yeah, we’re not the most productive band.
But then again, it’s better than putting out 10 albums that are not as good.
I’m sure that if we would have made more albums that they definitely wouldn’t have been as good as these five. Things take time to develop and grow.
Is it tough to juggle being in this band along with being a parent?
Yeah, definitely. You’re always balancing your time. You don’t want to neglect both sides. That’s life. You have to spread your time and make choices.
You and [Within Temptation singer] Sharon [den Adel] have two children already and a third on the way. So you’re going to be very busy.
Two, three. It’s not much of a difference. It’s another side of life. It’s like our destiny. We’re here to breed offspring.