May 14, 2024

The Dame is a progressive rock band formed in 2015 in The Hague, The Netherlands, their unique retro style intriguing listeners with what the band likes to call “a chic, sexy version of Progressive Rock”. The band aims to evoke the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, although this theme may not be immediately apparent in digital downloads, you have to see them live for the full effect.

Their debut album Losing Sight of What You Want was released in February 2018, revolving around the captivating voice of then lead singer Marian van Charante. Those early songs felt like stories, with Marian’s vocals shifting between softness and shades of Alanis Morissette.  I first heard of them through a sampler CD that contained Faking It In Monaco, a track off this first album that had a stupendous guitar solo within a moody, brooding Marillion-like rant at the duplicity in places like Monaco – and I was hooked!

The Dame’s blend of neo-progressive music, Dutch musicality, dramatic art-rock flair and storytelling skills certainly created a bit of a stir at that time….and then it all went quiet. Just like countless other bands, The Dame faced the daunting challenges brought on by the relentless COVID-19 pandemic. Gathering for writing sessions became a rarity, and securing precious studio time was akin to scaling a mountain – and if that wasn’t enough, singer Marian contracted long-Covid and only eventually emerged from that after re-assessing her life and having decided to move on. Still great friends with the band, she’s reinvented herself in other corners of the music scene.

But here’s the twist: The band stumbled upon what they describe as a true gem in Elianne Ernst, a talented songstress who took over the vocal reins during their November / December 2022 UK tour and is Marian’s permanent replacement – but not before Marian and the band had completed the vocals and other parts of the new second album which was then in the the mixing and mastering process. For whatever reason, that second album – II – got delayed and is only now released, the subject of this review. The band had actually started work on new material for a third album straight after that 2022 tour, before tragedy struck once more, hitting them harder than ever before.

Elianne was diagnosed with a serious illness that she is only now slowly but surely recovering from, and happily is planning her return to the spotlight. The Dame have decided to take a brief hiatus throughout the remainder of 2024 in order to allow Elianne to fully recover, but they’re aiming to get back on track recording and playing live in 2025. Here’s to their reinvention!

So! II still features Marian on vocals, along with Stephen De Ruijter the guitar maestro, Thijs De Ruijter on piano and keys, Michel Krempel on bass and Remco Engels on drums, synthesizers and backing vocals. The album has six new (2022) tracks, that range from dark, jazzy ballads about espionage, to catchy rock songs with an 80s twist. The band still have their unique visual and recording flair, adding that touch of mystery and intrigue to their craft.

Into The Wastelands is our first taste of this second album, an epic sprawling over 12 minutes, original singer Marian’s vocals as commanding and theatrical as ever. Quite dark in tone, a brooding, menacing guitar chord-line keeping you on tenterhooks as to what will happen next in the storyline. Actually, this sense of highly operatic art-rock reminds me of an old Newcastle band called Punishment of Luxury who could conjure up the same sense of dark drama, albeit more New Wave in terms of delivery…..but back to The Dame and this superb composition! This band share all things inherently Dutch and Good in their playing, I never tire of being impressed with the sheer musical verve of so many bands from The Netherlands.

This is classic Prog-Rock, without drifting into excess despite its twelve minutes, Marian’s voice and lyrics full of rich storytelling, the guitar work is superbly fluid and creatively tuneful, mixing ‘meat’ and melody in equal measure with some beautiful lead licks. The keys (both synth and piano) blend perfectly with the guitar and the rhythm team do their job powerfully yet unostentatiously – the whole composition being a perfect pot-pourri of powerful prog! Very much the core track on this album, setting a high high bar to follow, I love it!

All in Good Reason follows, it’s more in the band’s signature musical-hall style, this one is almost “dark vaudeville” in mood – a difficult vibe to capture in a recording as opposed to the visual power of playing live on stage, and I’m not sure it completely works on this number, although you have to applaud the band’s determination to stick to their core style. Momentary Inn slows the mood down even more, there’s almost a touch of hotel bar “lounge-lizard” jazz here to start with – it’s just what these guys do! The track gets heavier and there’s an undoubtedly power to this, bluesy, some more sublime guitar work underpinned by tinkling piano. It’s a fascinating composition and you’re left wondering what twist happens next, although again the burlesque touches of vocal delivery might be off-putting to some, it’s a bit like an extract from “Phantom of the Opera” at times?

All That Rumbles comes in with a more rocky vibe, an appropriately rumbling bass-line underlining the song’s intentions. Jagged guitar work gives a spikey angle to it, and Marian’s powerful but totally controlled vocals are simply masterful – Elianne deserves the extended break being given to her by the band to take over front stage on material such as this, and all credit to them for their faith. It’s a more conventional track, this, but very good. Overwhelming Silence is then introduced by some softly, poignant sounding piano before Marian enters the stage. This is pure jazz-blues, a sparse arrangement that sounds like just the two of them, again like an excerpt from a musical, you’ll either love it or not?

Disentangling is the final track, another long opus telling a musical-hall-style tale. A slow gentle introduction draws you into the story before some intriguing drums, low groaning synths and almost metal chords rumble in. There are several ‘movements’ to this piece, a classic mix of ballads mixing it with the beefier stuff, it’s extremely effective. I can’t get away from the feeling that the lyrics referring to “taking her final bow” reflect Marian’s own real circumstances, this could be a beautifully musical goodbye from her, and from the band to her? There’s some fascinating time changes, lovely keys, gorgeous guitar lines, a poignant almost elegiac sense of change and departure….

A farewell to Marian then, gone but certainly not forgotten! And here’s to Elianne’s full recovery, I look forward to hearing and seeing these guys in the next phase of their musical journey – I’ve no doubt it’ll be as theatrically fascinating and musically melodic as ever!

The video below is from three years ago and has the original singer Marian on vocals, but gives a great flavour of this band’s niche!