“We don’t have this need to party and to cling to other people doing the same thing that we are”: how Within Temptation followed their own path to make The Heart Of Everything

Within Temptation press shot in 2007
(Image credit: Press)

Within Temptation are one of symphonic metal’s great success stories. Formed in Holland in the mid-90s, they rose to fame on the back of such grandiose albums as Mother Earth (2000) and The Silent Force (2004). But it was 2007’s acclaimed The Heart Of Everything that sealed their ascension to the top of the 21st metal tree, something that singer Sharon den Adel and guitarist/co-vocalist Robert Westerholdt were at ease with when Metal Hammer met them just before the album’s release.

Lightning bolt page divider

The minimalist interior of a large suite in London’s K West hotel is perhaps the last place you’d expect to find a couple like Within Temptation founders singer Sharon den Adel and guitarist Robert Westerholdt. It isn’t that they don’t look the part in that casual, jeans and t-shirt way that’s common to most denizens of this increasingly infamous rock‘n’roll rest-stop.   

It’s that, just a few floors up from a sea of mid-afternoon JD and Cokes being served to a waiting queue of globetrotting journos downstairs, Sharon and Robert seem a planet away from the slightest hint of debauchery or even the most forgivable hint of metallic excess. You’d never guess that this was the eve of one of their biggest releases to date, The Heart Of Everything, or one of their most ambitious stabs at cracking the titanium-like egg of British appeal.

A suitcase sits amid neatly folded clothes near the bed and a laptop perches on a chair near the couch where, weirdly, they seem closer to a pair of wide-eyed tourists ready to set out on a day of sightseeing than two of the world’s most successful metal musicians; a duet of Dutch musical talent that, perhaps as a testament to their romantic links, founded a band in 1996 merely as a form of recreation. It was, as they explain it, a strategy for getting away from a humdrum, nine-to-five existence. Bonus points if you’ve just guessed it didn’t quite work out that way.

Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel and Robert Westerholt in a hotel room

Sharon den Adel and Robert Westerholt in London in 2007 (Image credit: Rob Monk/Classic Rock Magazine/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

But at the time, Robert paid his rent by way of work as a Human Resources manager, and Sharon – perhaps predictably if you know anything about Within Temptation’s exuberantly costume-heavy live shows – was holding down a job as a manager at a fashion agency. And, almost accidentally it seems, they both over the course of just a few years stumbled CS Lewis-style into a world of recording contracts, festival circuits, and – just last year – accepting the Dutch Pop Prize and Dutch Export Prize. 

“It’s not like a pop music prize like for pop music,” blurts Robert, nearly sounding defensive. “It’s more an award for people who have contributed to the music scene in Holland. It’s like a culture prize. For all of us it was pretty unexpected, but people just kept requesting our songs again and again. But then look at Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. That never should have worked either…”

It’s an undeniably charming display of humility, because – think about this – Within Temptation’s last studio effort, 2004’s The Silent Force, wasn’t just an instantaneous chart-topper in their home country. It wasn’t long before it reached platinum status there, reached gold status in Finland, Belgium, and Germany, where it defiantly remained in the charts for a staggering 30 weeks. But if anything can be said of Within Temption’s dynamic duo, it’s that they’re almost unnervingly hesitant to credit themselves with any real success or accomplishment. Nudge them a little in that direction and they’ll stare blankly into space before looking at each other, as if telepathically asking each other how to respond.

“We’ve never really been hoping for any of this,” says Robert. “The fact is we started this as a hobby band, so that’s meant we’ve tried things really slowly. We have more solid ground which makes you less insecure. We’ve always had the time to develop ourselves, not to be hungry for success but to just go as far as we can and see where it ends. We’ve gone from country to country and step by step.”

“It all happened in a very natural way for us,” adds Sharon, settling back next to him. “It’s just been the next label, the next big festival, it didn’t happen overnight for us. It’s been ten years, so for us it just hasn’t been a shock. And we prefer it this way.”

As sincerely as it comes across, it’s a little difficult to believe that a band that famously covered Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill isn’t floored by such lofty achievements. But then there’s much about Within Temptation that defies any real logic but overflows on the charm front.

The two met in band class 13 years ago, instantly hitting it off on account of their shared love of shows like Robin Of Sherwood and the Jim Henderson 1982 puppet-epic The Dark Crystal. But it was really their appreciation of a wide, bizarrely wide, spectrum of acts like Tori Amos, Kate Bush, and Iron Maiden that inspired both their sound and their outlook on how to conduct a stage show. As Robert grimaces, “we’d hate to just play the tracks off a CD.”

He isn’t kidding. Perhaps most brilliantly captured on 2005’s The Silent Force Tour DVD, Within Temptation shows are unapologetically escapist affairs, all lightning-fast dress changes for Sharon and most famously feature large inflatable beanstalks, and dozens of torches among other flights of theatric fancy. The pair scarcely crack a smile at their mention.

As they explain, Within Temptation is about defying reality and providing themselves and their fans with a respite from life rather than a reflection of it. Not even the birth of their daughter Eva Luna on December 7, 2005 features in their fourth studio album. To Robert and Sharon, Within Temptation is simultaneously an unexpected career and a place in the imaginary ether where even their own lives play second-fiddle to their lofty imagination. 

“We already have a song called Mother Earth about birth and death and life,” says Sharon, smiling at the suggestion that her first child might have played a creative inspiration in The Heart Of Everything. “We didn’t feel the need to write about it on the record. It’s our minds, not our lives, where we get our ideas from. Our daughter Eva Luna is like our beautiful secret. She just doesn’t come up, even though all the writing for the album happened afterward. If people don’t know about it they wouldn’t find out.” 

If you think that sounds reclusive you’d be right. It isn’t just that “people in Holland are so down to Earth that they don’t really intrude” as Sharon explains, but the fact is that from the get-go the couple have gone out of their way to keep themselves rooted in the anonymity of their long-gone lives. 

“We avoid the parties,” she says. “We don’t have this need to party and to cling to other people doing the same thing that we are. Of course we’d have people in our garden trying to take pictures if we did, living that way invites that.”

Does having a child mean you’ll be settling down?

“Oh yeah, in about 30 years maybe,” says Robert through a nervous laugh. “There’s so many bands out there with children we hadn’t even considered it.”

Sharon den Adel performing live on stage at the TMF Awards 2007

Sharon den Adel at the TMF Awards 2007 (Image credit: Photo by Paul Bergen/Redferns)

Although they seem content to defer to each other in the way anyone in a settled relationship does, Sharon doesn’t seem entirely happy with the response, and goes on to explain that it’s almost been a rule of Within Temptation’s creative output to defy what she describes as “making concessions to real life”. According to her, Within Temptation’s gradual ascent to mainstream success has been one riddled with all manner of disappointments and shocking introductions to the politics and harsh realities of the industry, but when pressed she’s loathe to what those experiences are. It seems that in conversation as well music, WT are happier leaving themselves at the door. 

“I think the most important thing is to just do what you want and stay close to yourself,” she says. “If you want your music to do something then you have to do as you wish and never work for success, do it for yourself. That’s the heart of what it’s about. As long as you do that it’s perfect.”

If she comes to you someday saying she wanted to start a band of your own what would you tell her? 

“Nothing at all. If you could go back no one would make their first record again but then the journey wouldn’t be very interesting,” says Robert, sounding rather paternal. “You have to go with your own flow.”

But then Within Temptation are hardly singular in their sound, and they seem curiously at-ease with the suggestion that – whisper it – they bear a striking resemblance to other bands forever mentioned in the same breath as theirs. They avoid the murky question of who was doing the female-fronted line-up first. Having formed in 1996 they can afford to, but Robert does suggest it’s merely the line-up and not the sound that generates such facile classification. Don’t take his word for it. A spin of The Heart Of Everything reveals it isn’t about to blow the mind of anyone who counts acts like Lacuna Coil or even Evanescence.

“We’re more concerned with where our own band should go,” says Sharon, “We were so focused on ourselves that we haven’t really thought about anything else, we just wanted this to be heavier…”

Robert’s had enough. “Are the Rolling Stones and The Beatles the same band? To my mind, it’s the same thing with us. Musically we’ve got a completely different soul. It’s really important to us when we write our music that we don’t bother about anything other than that.”

Originally published in Metal Hammer 164

Alexander Milas

Alexander Milas is an erstwhile archaeologist, broadcaster, music journalist and award-winning decade-long ex-editor-in-chief of Metal Hammer magazine. In 2017 he founded Twin V, a creative solutions and production company.  In 2019 he launched the World Metal Congress, a celebration of heavy metal’s global impact and an exploration of the issues affecting its community. His other projects include Space Rocks, a festival space exploration in partnership with the European Space Agency and the Heavy Metal Truants, a charity cycle ride which has raised over a million pounds for four children's charities which he co-founded with Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood. He is Eddietor of the official Iron Maiden Fan Club, head of the Heavy Metal Cycling Club, and works closely with Earth Percent, a climate action group. He has a cat named Angus.