Saturday, 24 September 2016

Delain's 'Moonbathers' - Album Review

Delain have really grown in stature in the past few years. Starting with their third album, 2012's We are the Others, Delain really found their niche in the metal world and established a sound that set themselves apart from other symphonic metal bands. Their riff-focused, heavier take on the genre has made Delain different from the rest of the more over-the-top bands in the symphonic metal world and has made them very popular in their own right. This heavier, streamlined sound was refined on 2014's The Human Contradiction (which I reviewed here) which was probably their most complete work to date. A slight over-reliance on guest vocalists gave the album a slightly disjointed vibe at times, but the songwriting, performance, and production was spot on throughout. I have to say that it took me a little while to really get into The Human Contradiction's heavier sound, but now I love it and it is the Delain album I reach for the most. Two years on, and plenty of live shows later, Delain's fifth album Moonbathers was released last month. It was preceded by an EP called Lunar Prelude back in February, which contained two new songs (both of which appear Moonbathers), a re-working of a The Human Contradiction bonus track, and some live recordings from the 2015 European tour. It worked as a good taster for Moonbathers, despite not being an essential release to own. Moonbathers is the band's first full-length album to feature guitarist Merel Bechtold (Purest of Pain; MaYaN) and drummer Ruben Israel, who have both been playing with the band for a while now. Both started as session musicians on tour with the band filling in for existing members, and gradually wormed their way into the band's permanent line-up. Israel replaced outgoing drummer Sander Zoer in 2014, and Bechtold was added last year after subbing for lead guitarist Timo Somers on a few occasions. Bechtold's addition makes Delain a six-piece for the first time since early supporting line-ups for the debut album Lucidity. While the twin guitar attack has not made a big difference to the band's studio output, something which they probably have not made the most of yet - some harmony leads and dual solos would be a great addition to their sound going forward, but live it helps to beef up the sound. Moonbathers could be described as a beefy album too, with the heavier side of Delain's sound emphasised with Somers and Bechtold's guitars dominating the mix, with founding member and songwriter Martijn Westerholt's keyboards taking more of a backseat. The star of the Delain show on this album however, as always, is singer Charlotte Wessels. Her strong, clear voice is the true heart of Delain and that has not changed here. Like The Human Contradiction, this album takes a few listens to get into, but there are plenty of strong songs here which will please fans.

The album starts with a bang as the chugging guitars and double bass drumming heralds the start of Hands of Gold which is a real symphonic metal anthem with dramatic orchestrations and the album's only guest vocal spot. Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist; Arch Enemy) adds her trademark growling vocals to the album which is a great contrast to Wessels' soaring cleans. This is one of the heaviest Delain songs to date, and includes a excellent chorus where Wessels showcases her impressive vocal range as Westerholt's swirling keyboards and orchestrations provide colour. White-Gluz's section is the album's heaviest moment, and then everything drops out leaving just Wessels' voice with some subtle drumming - a great contrast in styles. The Glory and the Scum follows with a groovy riff and soon descends into a solid mid-paced verse led by Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije's driving bassline and a commanding vocal display from Wessels. The chorus is the song's strongest moment however. Wessels even provides the growled backing vocals during this part of the song, showing even more vocal range than I thought she possessed, and the rest of the vocal melodies are extremely catchy. Somers even gets a short guitar solo to show off his skills, something which is a rarity in the band's music. Suckerpunch, one of the two songs to appear on Lunar Prelude, opens with some atmospheric synths and morphs into a soaring rocker that relies more on Westerholt's keyboards than many of the other songs here. The verses are very rhythmic with some great drumming from Israel, and the chorus is an explosive one with lots of catchy backing vocals. The song's instrumental breakdown is also worth a mention, as it is more Nightwish than Nightwish! It shows that Delain can do the over-the-top style symphonic metal too, and this short section really adds something extra to an already great song. After three great songs, the album sees a slight drop in quality with The Hurricane. It is a slow song, but without any real standout melodies and it never seems to really go anywhere. It is a bit of a plodding song really, and Delain have done much better songs of this ilk in the past. The next song, Chrysalis - The Last Breath, is also a slow number but this is much more a ballad than The Hurricane. Opening with delicate piano and Wessels' voice, it starts off strongly and continues well throughout. I particularly like the strange chorus during the song, with some very floaty vocals from Wessels that sounds different from anything she has recorded before. It works well and you can see her love of Muse shining through. While the last third of the song is a bit gritter, it never really becomes a rocker. That works well however, and shows a different side to Delain's songwriting.

After two slower songs, Fire with Fire picks up the pace with a simple, but heavier metal tune which is instantly catchy and has a very old school Delain vibe. This would not have sounded out of place on 2009's April Rain. I imagine this song will become a live favourite, especially with the anthemic gang vocal chanting section that comes after the melodic chorus. There is another bombastic symphonic instrumental section part way through, which climaxes with some ringing piano chords and a huge, rousing gang vocal section. This is a rocking tune that stood out from the off, and is one of the best tracks on the album. Pendulum is another heavier track with some barking growls in the song's intro (and also used elsewhere throughout), but it soon becomes a smoother song with a keyboard-driven verse with van der Oije's rolling bassline proving some great rhythm. There is another strong guitar solo here, and shows that Somers is a pretty capable player. Flashy guitar parts have never been a big part of the band's sound, so it is good to see the guitar work a bit more varied and explosive in parts throughout. I would like to see the band do more of this in the future, especially with Somers and Bechtold in the band now. Bechtold is a real shredder too, so I would love to see her cut loose! Danse Macabre is a strange song, but it is great with some catchy Eastern-inspired melodies and some dancey synths in places that bring Amaranthe to mind. The chorus is classic Delain though, with Wessels' high vocals taking the spotlight as Westerholt's keyboards ring out with some extremely melodic lines. Overall, the song feels very different to what Delain have done in the past, despite some familiar sounds coming through, and it is good to see the band pushing themselves on this album. A cover of Queen's Scandal follows, which might actually be better than original. Scandal is not exactly a classic Queen song, and sounds more like Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet than Queen, but Delain have taken it and made it into a real rocker. The chorus is bombastic and powerful, and Wessels holds her own against the inimitable Freddie Mercury. There is a proper guitar solo here too, with a bit of shredding and what sounds like some lead keyboards thrown into the mix. This is a really strong cover, and merits it's inclusion on the album. Turn the Lights Out, the second song to appear on Lunar Prelude, the is the last 'proper' song on the album. I was one of the first people to hear this song when they debuted it in Bristol on their European tour last year, and I liked it from the off. It has a great atmospheric feel to it, as the big layers of keyboards dominate. Wessels sounds absolutely gorgeous during the floaty chorus and shows why she is one of the best vocalists in symphonic metal. It ends the album on a strong note, as it merges into the largely instrumental closing number The Monarch. Overall, Moonbathers is another strong album from Delain. It does take a few listens to get into, but it is an album worth sticking with as there are some real gems on here.

The album was released on 26th August 2016 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Suckerpunch.

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