There can be some snobbery when it comes to symphonic metal and it has not always been given its fair dues. The genre has gone from strength to strength though and the numbers do not lie with scene behemoths Nightwish reaching heady heights as festival headliners and with probably one of THE most anticipated albums of 2020 due. Other acts Within Temptation and Evanescence adding extra dates on their upcoming arena tour and bands such as Epica and Ayreon (to name a few) releasing critically acclaimed albums, the scene is in rude health. Among the pantheon of acts, Delain are something of an anomaly though and one that has always been prepared to challenge expectations and perceptions and not held back by tunnel vision or what fits into the box
Beginning as a studio only project that hosted guest musicians, the band were formed by vocalist Charlotte Wessels and Martijn Westerholt (ex of Within Temptation and brother of WT guitarist Robert Westerholt). Success of their first album Lucidity back in 2006 led to Delain becoming a fully fledged touring band and their second album April Rain arrived in 2009. While the debut and its follow up are both great albums and showed huge promise, their dynamic is systematic of the symphonic genre. Vocalist Charlotte Wessels is a formidable vocal talent hitting stunning high notes and breathy on the softer material offering something of a vulnerable edge. Wessels’ voice is such that it is can easily infuse on a more pop level and still mixing it up with the heavy guitars and orchestration has always provided an interesting dynamic. This certainly drove the success of their third record We Are The Others and 2014’s The Human Contradiction and 2016’s Moonbathers captalised on this while continuing to bend and shape their sound.
A new decade and a new era of Delain begins and if there is one thing that the band cannot be accused of is repeating themselves but new album Apocalypse & Chill takes something of a left turn, pushing their own envelope and incorporating new sounds. This is not necessarily evident on opening track One Second (featuring guitarist Timo Somers sharing vocals) but by second track We Are Everything the smooth arrangement takes hold, guitars feel heavier, orchestration more organic and Wessels’ vocals nestling, a gorgeous hook in the chorus with a soaring solo. If there is one aspect of Apocalypse & Chill that cannot be ignored is the guitars which are a huge highlight of the album and on Chemical Redemption, the riff that kicks in and then backs off for a pistol whip return throughout the song which has the synths underpinning the chorus. Burning Bridges has a more straight forward attack-via-the-chorus approach with the mid section and bridge adding some growled vocals. Vengeance adds another guest on vocals in Yannis Papadopoulos (Beast In Black) and there is some sweet vocal interplay between Yannis and Charlotte and some nifty orchestration, whereas To Live Is To Die adds some effects to Charlotte’s vocals which removes some of the purity but it works with the song’s electronica being pushed to the forefront.
The one song that stands out is the haunting Ghost House Heart, and Delain’s softer essence on Apocalypse & Chill, the airy vocal melody and the strings feel like whispers in comparison to the rest of the album and Masters Of Destiny continues that – for a moment at least – before there is some simply incredibly powerful vocals from Charlotte Wessels. The album surprisingly ends on the instrumental Combustion and while typically instrumentals do not always float the boat, this one does with some quite extraordinary guitar from Timo Somers, the riffs and the solos are just exquisite and any showboating or indulgence can be forgiven considering that it is such a fine piece of work.
Apocalypse & Chill is a long album (more bang for your buck) but there is more than enough variety and a band that really are spreading their wings and looking forward rather in the the rear view. With themes of dystopia, human indifference and our impending doom, it does feel like a catapult rather than a step into a new era. A brave move indeed but existing fans should already know that Delain is a band that knows what it is doing, with excellent musicians and song writers that are not content with ‘the box’ and need to push beyond any expectations. Fans will be surprised for sure, Apocalypse & Chill is none of Delain’s previous albums, the core remains but this is a bold new future and momentum for a band that only has one direction to go and that is up.