20 October sees the release of Bleed Out, the eighth album from Dutch symphonic sensations Within Temptation. In the time since 2019’s Resist, they have parted ways with their label and gone independent. This has given them the autonomy to regulate their own output as they see fit, demonstrated by the steady stream of topical cuts released, which has maintained the engagement with their fanbase during the isolation of Covid Restrictions.
Within Temptation – Bleed Out (Independent)
Release Date: 20 October 2023
Words: Sophie James
Since their inception, long-term followers will have noticed a distinct evolution in their sound, expanding on the foundation of their symphonic roots, developing into what we have today, a more technical, penetrating yet enveloping sound while still retaining their distinctive melodies.
Although work commenced during lockdown, this can best be described as a Post-Pandemic album. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Women’s Rights across the globe and other social matters have been the inspiration for singer Sharon Den Adel, her partner guitarist Robert Westerholt and long-time producer Daniel Gibson during the songwriting process, which they summarise as “crystallising fragments of emotion in our own particular way.”
Finally comes the opportunity to immerse oneself in the complete body of work, and it is immediately discernible that all the elements which are so distinctly Within Temptation are in abundance throughout. Sharon’s sumptuous vocals with their multiple textures, the colossal crushing guitars of Robert, Ruud Jolie and Stefan Helleblad, and the luxuriant keys of Martijn Spierenburg.
The adept songwriting and lavish arrangements unite in perfect synchronicity to form such an inviting, dynamic, encompassing and addictive sound.
Opener, We Go To War is an imploring tale of defiance, unity and ultimately hope inspired by the incredulity that modern Europe has once again been plunged into a savage, unjustifiable conflict.
The brief prelude sets a foreboding mood as a stark tolling bell accompanies the gentle chimes prior to the characteristic sonic arsenal crashing in. The malevolent atmosphere is further accentuated by a choral backing. At times, the impacting riffs appear representative of a sustained artillery barrage or air strike.
That said, sufficient space is apportioned to deliver the message. I have always been enchanted by the often breathily vulnerability of Sharon’s vocals. Here, there is something deeply symbolic and rousing about a female commentary articulating the despair at the turn of events yet rallying the listener to resist and ultimately triumph:
“Now, nothing else really matters. We’ll defy till the end. Oh when we hear the call, we go to war.” Lyrically robust throughout, it will take some song to match its impact so succinctly.
The titular Bleed Out deals with Women’s Rights and the tragic case of Mahsa Amini, the Iranian woman who died in suspicious circumstances after being arrested for not wearing a Hijab. The inspiration further draws on Sharon’s connection with the region in which she spent much of her childhood. The vocal intonation and melodies of the song continue to project that air of vulnerability while allied to crushing riffs.
“God bless she walks in her last winter. The halo around her head, it starts to linger”.
Wireless commences in such a seductive and brooding fashion, the underlying sense of menace reinforced with the arrival of the razor-sharp assault of the guitars atop the majestic synths as it deals with the topic of being deceived into fighting for a misguided cause. The melody of the chorus transports me back to the opulence of The Heart Of Everything era.
“You never cared for us, just our halo. Our bloody halo” – the most beguiling hook of the album thus far. One thing that has always impressed me when I have caught them live is the depth of Jeroen van Veen’s propulsive bass. An often overlooked but essential ingredient of the whole Within Temptation soundscape and none more so than here.
Worth Dying For motors with the melodious intensity of peers of the genre, such as Battle Beast. Instantly appealing, drummer Mike Coolen powers the whole thing along while Martijn’s keyboards soar and swoop, creating such a majestic, all-encompassing envelope of sonicity.
Sharon’s sustain at the zenith is majestic, and one hopes she will fully replicate it if and when this is played live.
Current single Ritual is described as the “Kinkiest song we’ve ever written,” and with a crowning line such as “Your equality, your vanity, your relevancy, sexuality and venomous perversity, venomous perversity,” one does not need a picture drawn.
However, the lyrics do not limit their topics of dominance, control and submission to solely that area and explore more general application of such techniques. However, the alluring melody does perfectly score the more primal side of the themes.
Imagine, if you will, elements of Wicked Game, combined with subtle nods to MUSE, all fused in their distinguishable style and propelled by a most understated yet thrusting riff. This has the potential to succeed both as a Club Anthem and a live favourite.
On first listen, some may consider Cyanide Love the most radical departure on the album, but on repeated plays, that feeling diminishes as so many of the traditional ingredients are present. The brooding tones of the guitars mirror the sinister histrionics of the protagonist, while the German language segment adds to the almost flippant air of malevolence.
The narrator’s self-reflection and descent into despair on the deeply self-critical The Purge has been captured in such a contrasting, infectious and anthemic manner as it races along with so many memorable hook-laden lines.
“Oh, can’t you see it’s taking over, over me, can’t you see?”
Don’t Pray For Me deals with forcing one’s beliefs onto others to the point whereby they erode previously held rights. It continues musically in a similar fashion to its predecessor. On both these, we see the other side of Sharon’s crystalline vocal, soaring to the top of her range both in her primary role and that distinctive ‘angelic choir’ accompaniment.
“And every time you bow down your head to pray, don’t pray for me!” An acerbic swipe at those conservative and/or religious groups who pressurise their elected representatives.
Shed My Skin examines the metamorphosis of becoming one’s true self and sees them unite with German Post Hardcore outfit Annisokay. A split male and female vocal always adds a special dimension to Within Temptation’s sound. While the song’s vivacity is so distinctly embedded within the present day, it corrals the spirit of their 2007 collaboration with Life Of Agony’s Mina Caputo on What Have You Done.
Unbroken is a consummate example of a song constructed around a most infectious vocal melody.
Over the previous few albums, Within Temptation have experimented with introducing hip-hop and Urban vocals and grooves into their material. Album closer Entertain You is another compelling example of that progression and more. This also sees Producer Daniel join the band by performing the prominent male vocal of the track.
As it progresses, its intensity rises, reaching such a plateau that, like here, it could be considered to close the main part of a live set. One can just imagine the line “This ain’t no game, no we’re not here to entertain you,” fading from the PA as the lights dim.
While many of the lines I have quoted may not initially appear to be extraordinary, within the context of the songs, their melodies, harmonies and arrangements, they are delightful, elevating the listener to the point of quiet rapture.
Overall, Bleed Out is a triumph. The sound of a band magnificently balancing the symphonic leanings that won them an army of fans in the first place, what they developed on Resist and this contemporary, diamond hard edge, without sacrificing any fragment of accessibility or virulence.
Bleed Out is the kind of album that keeps giving and has you reaching for the repeat button over and over.
Sharon Den Adel told MetalTalk all about the new album, the writing process and the reasons for going independent. You can read the interview here.
Within Temptation have announced the Bleed Out 2024 Tour. Tickets are available now from here.
Bleed Out 2024 Tour
Sat, October 5 – Belgium, Antwerp, Lotto Arena
Sun, October 6 – Germany, Cologne, Palladium
Tue, October 8 – Norway, Oslo, Sentrum Scene
Wed, October 9 – Sweden, Stockholm, Annexet
Fri, October 11 – Finland, Helsinki, Ice Hall
Mon, October 14 – Germany, Berlin, UFO
Tue, October 15 – Germany, Hamburg, Sporthalle
Wed, October 16 – Germany, Leipzig, Haus Auensee
Fri, October 18 – Hungary, Budapest, Barba Negra
Sat, October 19 – Germany, Munich, Zenith
Mon, October 21 – Austria, Vienna, Gasometer
Wed, October 23 – Germany, Frankfurt, Jahrhunderthalle
Thu, October 24 – Czech Republic, Prague, Sportovni Hala Fortuna
Fri, October 25 – Poland, Łódź, Atlas Arena
Sun, October 27 – Denmark, Copenhagen, Falkoner Salen
Thu, November 21 – France, Paris, Adidas Arena
Sat, November 23 – Spain, Barcelona, Palau Sant Jordi
Sun, November 24 – Spain, Madrid, Palacio Vistalegre
Tue, November 26 – Portugal, Lisbon, Altice Arena – Sala Tejo
Thu, November 28 – France, Toulouse, Zenith
Fri, November 29 – France, Grenoble, Summum
Sun, December 1 – Italy, Milan, Alcatraz
Mon, December 2 – Switzerland, Zurich, The Hall
Tue, December 3 – Germany, Stuttgart, Porsche-Arena
Thu, December 5 – Luxembourg, Luxembourg, Rockhal
Fri, December 6 – Netherlands, Amsterdam, Ziggo Dome