Almost 3 years after the release of their concept album The Unforgiving, symphonic rock masters Within Temptation are back with studio album number 6, Hydra. For founding member and guitarist Robert Westerholt it’s a chance to bring a heavier edge back to the band’s sound.
“I think very often with every record somewhere there’s a reaction … a contra movement away from the last album” says Westerholt, when asked about the style and direction for Hydra. “You take all those things that make Within Temptation, and we are a band that will always be recognisable, but we get inspired by changing things. The last album was well produced and it sounded beautiful, but we felt that yeah, beautiful … it can get boring” he laughs. “So we thought lets go for a bit more organic sound and put the guitars up more. That’s really what’s so great about writing an album – you start and don’t really have an idea where to go to, and then it really goes a different way. ”
One listen to the album is enough to reveal that the band has succeeded – this is a heavier album, with a raw-edged sound that is more ‘in your face’. “There’s definitely more balance towards the heavier tracks,” agrees Westerholt. “ It’s a bit faster, a bit heavier, a bit more raw. What is a big difference is we are using a lot more kick drums. The last record we were using fewer and fewer because when you use less kick drums you can make it sound really fat. But at a certain point we totally switched around and started using double kicks again and really loving it because we hadn’t done it for such a long time.“ As well as his guitar duties, Westerholt also finds himself back behind the microphone on a few tracks. “Grunting again is here and there, suddenly it felt fresh whereas in the last album it felt completely outdated.”
A key component in giving Hydra that ‘Within Temptation but heavier’ feel is the return of producer Daniel Gibson. Westerholt is clearly a fan, “Daniel is somebody who really brings out what we feel, he goes along on the ride. He’s so versatile and really brings the sound out of us. He likes also to experiment, we can go anywhere with him and it’s great to have somebody you completely trust.”
In addition to the heavier feel, Hydra is also notable for the range of guest vocalists that have been invited to perform. Westerholt sees this as a key component of the new release. “For us it’s been a bit of an adventure. The collaborations with our guests, it’s been really exciting for us. It’s like ‘do they like the song, do they want to do it’. And then it becomes ‘How does it turn out’. It’s quite an exciting time, and every time it exceeded our expectations”. The band has a tradition of inviting a guest to join them for a track on each of the past few albums and Westerholt was excited to take this one step further on Hydra, “At a certain point it was like let’s take more guests for this album. You are always with your own band, and it’s just very inspiring to work with other musicians from other bands. It gives a lot of taste to an album, it’s just a lot of fun, and you get more for the same price” he adds with a laugh. “A lot of people say ‘but why, you have a great vocalist already’, but it’s not that Sharon’s not on there! ”
This open approach eventually led to four collaborations on Hydra. “The first song was ‘Paradise’” explains Westerholt, “we felt this could even be a Tarja song, so why not bring her in, and that’s how it started. Then with ‘The Whole World is Watching’, it felt like Soul Asylum, so lets ask Dave Pirner. Even though it’s not really a very Within Temptation-like song, it felt like the song fell into place. With him it feels right. It was the same with ‘Dangerous’ and Howard Jones from Killswitch Engage.” But the track that most excites Westerholt is ‘And We Run’, featuring American rapper Xzibit. “That’s been a bit of dream of mine because I’ve always had a weak spot for hip hop,” he explains. “I think hip hop is not that far from metal actually, the feeling can be quite dramatic and powerful. We were searching for a track for years, we didn’t want to just throw it in. With ‘And We Run’ we finally thought this can work. For me it’s a track I’m very happy with, it’s a bit of a dream come true. Xzibit was first on our list, he’s a very positive guy and has a very deep dark voice and it matches great with Sharon.”
The tour plans to promote Hydra are well underway, but there’s no sign yet of any Australian dates. If Westerholt has his way, that will change. “We’ll make it a goal to go next year, around January“ he offers optimistically. As a keen tennis fan he has multiple motives. “Australian Open and Within Temptation tour, I can combine both. In fact I’m going to call my agent after this interview!” Go ahead, make that call Robert.