Thursday, 1 May 2014

Delain's 'The Human Contradiction' - Album Review

While symphonic metal might not be as popular now as it was a few years ago, it is still a genre that sees a fair amount of love. Once the up-and-coming darlings of the genre, Delain are now hardened, established veterans and their fourth album The Human Contradiction reminds us why they are so well liked. This is their first studio album released on new record label Napalm Records (not counting the compilation Interlude that was released last year) after the band were dropped by Roadrunner during a big takeover which saw them bought out by Warner Brothers. This meant that their excellent third album We are the Others was delayed for a few months, and some feared that it might never see the light of day at all. Luckily, it was finally released and received plenty of excellent reviews from lots of different corners of the metal world. The band toured it furiously, and helped build their reputation as an excellent live act. Now, two years on and the stress of their old record label behind them, Delain have returned with another really good album. The Human Contradiction continues with the sound forged on We are the Others but adds a much harder edge, which leads to a much tougher overall sound. The poppy elements that allow them to create such infectious melodies are still here in force, but they have been mixed with much bigger sounding guitars than previously. First and foremost, this is a metal record and anyone who views 'symphonic metal' as a light alternative to the real thing ought to give this album a go. Frontwoman Charlotte Wessels is not a classically-trained vocalist like many of her peers, but she has a strong rock voice and this helps the band have their own identity within the realms of symphonic metal. Their songs might not be as grand in scope or production of bands like Epica, but Delain never try and compete with that and focus on simpler arrangements and more overt melodies. They are the everyman's symphonic metal act, and those who are turned off by the pomp and grandness of other bands will warm to Delain's simpler take on it. It is also worth noting that guitarist Timo Somers plays a greater role this time around. His contributions to We are the Others were minimal, with much of the album being written and recorded before he joined; but this time around he is ever-present, which I suspect is why the album's guitar riffs are sound are much harder overall.

The album starts off gently with the piano-driven introduction of Here Come the Vultures where Wessels' voice and Martijn Westerholt's keyboards mix well, but it is not long before the song really takes off with the help of some huge distorted guitar from Somers. The sparkly keyboards continue to cut through the wall of guitars however, and help to accentuate Wessels' vocal lines. She sounds fantastic throughout this album, and I would say that she really comes into her own here. A catchy chant about two thirds of the way through the song helps to bring the poppy elements out, before a bona fide symphonic section preceeds a short, speedy solo from Somers. It is an excellent song that sets the tone for the rest of the album, and introduces a heavier, sleeker Delain. Your Body is a Battleground continues down the heavier path of the previous track, and sees Wessels duet with Marco Hietala (Tarot; Nightwish) who added his unique howls to their first two albums, but was absent on We are the Others. Their voices mix well together and hearing him sing is always a treat, as no-one else really sounds like him. The verses have a really nice, sleazy rhythm that sees Wessels and Hietala trade off vocal lines before a delicious chorus reminds us of the soaring melodies from their 2006 debut album Lucidity. Somers gets another chance to show off his skills with another excellent solo, and Hietala backs up Wessels on the final, epic chorus. Stardust is the poppiest song here. Electronics and muted drums are employed at the beginning, but the song's chorus is another winner that sees Wessels employ uncomplicated vocal melodies. The song is not as interesting as the preceding two, but it is catchy and likely to become very popular for that reason. My Masquerade starts in quite an unconventional way for the band, and there is a hint 1980s new wave/goth about it which becomes more apparent in the chorus where some Carl McCoy-esque backing vocals are employed to help create a dark atmosphere. The song is very catchy though, especially the chorus; and it gets heavier as it goes along with some good work from Somers and drummer Sander Zoer who's punchy rhythms help the dark sound. Tell Me, Mechanist is another heavy song (after the introductory piano anyway) and uses the harsh vocal talents of George Oosthoek (Orphanage) that were last used on Lucidity. His deep growls really add to this song, and the contrast between the melodic death metal sections that he sings on and the airier verses sections that belong to Wessels. Light and shade is important in metal, and this song has it in spades.

Sing to Me sees Hietala return to the fold again, as do the big symphonic elements that are sometimes utilised by the band. Epic strings help to create a counter melody to the palm muted guitars and Wessels sings the song's title repeatedly while a big droning choir echoes her with wordless utterances. Hietala then takes over, and his powerful voice really helps to make this song. Everything he sings over turns to gold, he is just a fantastic vocalist. He does not outshine Wessels however, and the two of them combine so well that he becomes part of the band, rather than a tacked-on guest appearance. Army of Dolls gets back to the toughness of the first part of the album, although the chorus brings a certain delicacy to the proceedings. Wessels uses all of her rock grit during the verses, but the floatiness of the chorus shows us just how much range she has. The second half of the song descends into a slightly electronic (almost dancy) section led by a huge bassline from Otto Schimmelpennick van der Oije (yes, that is his real name..) that is something new for the band. It works though, and the contrast between the big riffs in the early part of the song and the electronics in the second part is interesting. Lullaby is probably the only song on the album that has not really clicked for me. It is an enjoyable song, but after the heavy and inventive songs that come before it, it falls a little flat in comparison. It chugs along at a fairly steady pace, without ever really shaking it up creating any infectious melodies. I suppose nearly every album has to have one song that does not quite make it, and this one is it for me. The album comes to a very strong end though with The Tragedy of the Commons which features another guest in the form of Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist; Arch Enemy) who lends her guttural vocals to the song. A huge choir, that also includes Georg Neuhauser (Serenity), helps to bulk out the sound - and creates one of the most epic songs that Delain have ever written. Despite not being classically-trained, Wessels still sounds beautiful here and the choir help her to sound even bigger. White-Gluz has a very unique-sounding growl and it really adds something to the song. The song slowly fades out with the sound of the choir filling your ears, and that is a fitting end to a lush, and melodic album. Overall, Delain have produced another excellent album that will no doubt appeal to a wide number of people. It is great to see that they are now an establish and well-respected band. They deserve it!

The album was released on 7th April 2014 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Stardust.

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