Pop quiz, hotshots. Who had Delain down on their 2023 bingo card for producing one of the strongest albums in the first few months of the year? Along with TV personality Carol Vorderman taking the UK government to task for the neverending list of scandals, the return of Delain with such a strong album has to be the biggest (and most pleasant) surprise of the year so far. Not that Delain releasing a strong album is a surprise, as the Dutch masters of symphonic metal don’t have one duff album in their discography. More the fact that after the shock implosion of the band in February 2021 that saw four of the five band members walk away (including vocalist/lyricist Charlotte Wessels) you could have been forgiven for thinking that was the end of Delain. Thankfully, it was not the end of Delain, and two years on, Delain founding member and mastermind Martijn Westerholt has returned with a new line-up and an album that – given the turmoil that preceded it – is simply magnificent.
Original guitarist Ronald Landa and original drummer Sander Zoer returning to the fold has been a major factor in the high quality of ‘Dark Waters’ (studio album number seven), as it meant that Westerholt had enough “Delain DNA” in the new line-up to warrant continuing with the band, and as he pointed out during an interview with DGM earlier this year, having former bassist Rob van der Loo (now with Epica) playing on the album meant that the line-up (minus Charlotte Wessels) that recorded sophomore album ‘April Rain’ in 2009 was now back playing together again. A reunion of sorts. A re-introduction of past-Delain members.
Replacing a vocalist is tricky, especially one as synonymous with Delain as Charlotte Wessels – two of the six previous Delain studio albums feature the unmistakeable Wessels firmly on the album cover, on her own – but Westerholt has struck gold in the form of new Delain vocalist Diana Leah. Unknown in the world of metal, Italy-based Leah left a message on Delain’s Instagram page saying that she was interested in becoming the new Delain vocalist, Westerholt checked her out on YouTube and the rest is now history. With new bassist Ludovico Cioffi coming on board, the last piece in the jigsaw was in place, and Delain were back, almost three years to the day since previous album ‘Apocalypse & Chill’ was released.
New lineup, but very much the same elements to the Delain sound that has brought them great acclaim over the years. ‘Dark Waters’ possesses that head-swimmingly good mixture of light and shade that runs through every Delain studio album; Diana Leah has the lightest-of-light siren-like vocals on stunning lead single ‘The Quest and The Curse’ (feast on the gorgeous piano version of the same track that features on the special edition of the album), while Ronald Landa brings some guttural growls to the sweeping majesty of the track that will absolutely kill when the band gets back out on the road in April. The classical, and choral arrangements, the sharp riffage, and the grandiose elements of Martijn Westerholt’s songwriting all combine to fantastic effect, and in all honesty, it’s like Delain never went away.
‘Beneath’ quickly follows on with its soaring, uplifting energy and beguiling vocals from Leah that impress from the off on a song that gets better with each listen, and the mixture of Leah’s vocals with those of guest singer Paolo Ribaldini is quite intoxicating. The galloping ‘Tainted Hearts’ is classic Delain, as is ‘The Cold’ which would be the perfect set-opener should Westerholt decide to drop ‘Hands of Gold’ from that position – the choral arrangements on this one are utterly sublime. ‘Moth To A Flame’ is only a few degrees of separation from a banging Eurovision-winning tune and along with opening track ‘Hideaway Paradise’, this is Delain at their poppiest best. ‘Invictus’ is edging toward the title of standout track on the album, and features so many Delain-isms that it will make your head spin; the breathless vocals from Leah, the towering arrangements, the tempo, the sheer epic-ness of it all. And there is more…it has ex-Nightwish (and longtime Delain collaborator) Marko Hietala lending his unmistakable vocals to the track – a long-overdue return from one of metal’s great characters.
Anyone fearful of the outcome of the 2021 split, and what a Delain album in 2023 would sound like need not have worried, for in the careful hands of Martijn Westerholt and songwriting partner Guus Eikens ‘Dark Waters’ is nothing short of a triumph. Delain are back, and to be honest, it’s like they never went away.
Available now via Napalm Records, order here.
Review – Dave[Photo Credit: Andrea Falaschi]
DELAIN Live 2023
14.04.23 NL – Tilburg / 013
15.04.23 NL – Haarlem / Patronaat
21.04.23 UK – Manchester / Academy 2
22.04.23 UK – London / O2 Islington Academy
24.04.23 LU – Luxembourg / Rockhal
24.04.23 FR – Paris / Le Trabendo
27.04.23 CH – Zurich / Komplex 457
28.04.23 DE – Munich / Backstage Halle
29.04.23 DE – Stuttgart / Im Wizemann Club
30.04.23 DE – Berlin / Hole44
02.05.23 DE – Hamburg / Knust
03.05.23 DE – Essen / Turock