With no real definite word on the return of larger indoor gigs to the UK and Europe, arena-headlining acts are turning to the virtual reality world for “live” performances and with each new “event” it would seem that the envelope is pushed further than before. In a VR world the possibilities are endless and with regards to Within Temptation and their retina-blitzing VR event: ‘The Aftermath’, it would seem to have been a case of “if you can dream it, we can build it”.
With the onscreen clock counting down, there is always a genuine sense of anticipation before the screen flickers to life, anyone else gets goosebumps those last few seconds before it hits zero? What greets the viewer is a setup almost like the flashback scenes in Terminator 2 Judgement Day or was it flash-forward? Anyway, without giving too much away, there is a voice-over similar to the part in T2 where Sarah Connor is describing what happened after Skynet bollocksed up the world for everyone and the machines are in charge. The only thing missing from the impressive, setup is an endoskeleton standing on human skulls. The setting is one of a post-apocalyptic world and although the viewer knows that it’s all CGI, it’s hard not to be impressed. Amongst the burnt-out ruins are Within Temptation on what looks like quite a large stage, the intro to ‘Forsaken’ kicks in, and with so much going on it’s honestly a case of “where do I look?”.
There are arena-like qualities to the production, which is split into segments marked by the arrival of the onscreen narrator, as well as changes in the virtual surroundings and indeed changes in the clothes that the band is wearing (the opening segments has the band performing in black to signify the potential end of the world, while by the time that the event ends, the band are more hopeful, and are all dressed in white). The opening track is performed with the band separated on individual stages/platforms, and once they launch into ‘Our Solemn Hour’, the band are all together on the same stage, with a large screen behind them.
Now is probably the correct time to bring WT vocalist Sharon den Adel into the equation. Her vocals simply get better on each outing, the enforced time off the road has not had any adverse effect on her, and ‘Our Solemn Hour’ and the immediate follow-on of ‘Paradise (What About Us?)’ highlight her full range. Arguably the owner of the strongest, purest, most ethereal vocals in the genre? Hard to dispute that, especially during ‘And We Run’, ‘The Purge’, a jaw-dropping rendition of ‘Firelight’, and the goosebump-inducing ‘Stairway to the Skies’. The band is no slouches either, and the standard of playing is top-notch: Mike Coolen behind the drum kit always impresses and tonight is no different, and his work on ‘Raise Your Banner’ is particularly noteworthy, as is his partnership with bassist Jeroen van Veen, Martijn Spierenburg is as subtle and effective as ever behind the keyboards, and the guitar work from Ruud Jolie and Stefan Helleblad is fiery and brings an aggressive edge to the evening. Within Temptation always sounds heavier live, and here even in the virtual world, that is still the case; especially on tracks like ‘Entertain You’, which is way heavier than the studio version.
Add a few more older tracks into the setlist to flesh it out to the 75-minute mark, and this virtual gig is perhaps an indication of what to expect on the rescheduled co-headlining tour with Evanescence, – without the guest vocalists, the fire, moving platforms, the fire, the fallen statues and the scenes of carnage, and the fire though (lots of fire). While nothing will beat catching a band live in the flesh, and the thrill of the houselights dropping, a virtual gig is the next best thing, and this is one of the best.
‘Within Temptation: The Aftermath – A Show In A Virtual Reality’ is available July 15/16 depending on your time zone, with the chance to watch it on catch up, more information is available here.