February 6, 2023 Delain – Dark Waters (Album Review)
Change is inevitable yet it can be quite a challenge to weather. For some fans of Symphonic Metal titans Delain, the 2021 departure of the phenomenal Charlotte Wessels inspired anxiety, raising questions for the band’s future. Now, with their latest, the Dutch rockers set out to bury any fears twelve feet deep for good measure. Their testament to the continued reign of Delain, Dark Waters, arrives on Friday, February 10, 2023, thanks to Napalm Records.
The brainchild of founder, main songwriter, and keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, Delain’s history is lush. Initially formed in 2002, and intended as a side project, within three years the previously mentioned Wessels would come on board. Only a year later, the band delivered their debut studio disc, Lucidity. Seventeen years down the road and Delain is synonymous with epic-level Symphonic Metal compositions, as they have proven across six full-lengths, including 2009’s April Rain, 2014’s The Human Contradiction, and 2020’s Apocalypse & Chill. Prolific in their craft, Westerholt and co. have won the hearts of many, both in Europe and abroad.
But the next chapter of Delain is upon us. With a reinvigorated line-up that features two new faces—Diana Leah, on vocals, and Ludovico Cioffi, on bass—as well as two former bandmembers returning to the fold—Guitarist Ronald Landa and Drummer Sander Zoer—Westerholt is prepared to set the future aflame. Taking listeners on a journey through the past and into the future, incorporating elements from cinema, Metal, Pop, and beyond, Delain aims for the stars on the 11-track Dark Waters.
Inevitably, much of the album’s success weighs heavy on the petite shoulders of frontwoman Leah. Listeners are, no doubt, going to take extensive hours to compare and contrast her vocal approach with the stylings of Wessels, and there’s nothing anyone can do to avoid it. So it is that, with exceptional grace and charisma, Leah is quick to establish herself as a strong leader who does not intend to wallow in the shadow of or mimic her predecessor. As her new bandmates build a beautifully cinematic atmosphere on the album’s opener, “Hideaway Paradise,” cradling the ears with passion, they allow for Leah’s stunning entrance, heralding the arrival of a proud new chapter.
It is a journey that sees the group traversing through some monumental landscapes, from stumbling down the rabbit hole (“Underland”) to the murky depths of the sea (“Beneath”), topically speaking. Sonically, they offer a moment of Beauty and the Beast dueling on “The Quest and the Curse,” allowing Leah’s operatic talents to shine, and contrast darker choruses with angelic verses on “Mirror of Night,” placing a bold spotlight on their exceptional soprano. (Not to overshadow Within Temptation’s Ruud Jolie, who makes a guest appearance on guitar.)
Delain, of course, is a team and Dark Waters is not solely about their new frontwoman. Her bandmates provide a flawless foundation, delivering pure cinematic extravagance on the epic “The Cold,” choir and all, a contrast to the thrumming, magical density they provide on “Beneath,” capped off by guest vocals from Paolo Ribaldini of Seraphiel and Skiltron. Meanwhile, their compositional shifts bring “Tainted Hearts” to new heights, just as their lush musicianship drives us down the wooded path into the modern fairytale “Queen of Shadow,” which sees another killer performance from guest Ribaldini.
With each musician working at the height of their talents, they offer listeners an exceptional collection that is never in short supply of special moments. For example, the ‘80s Dance Pop meets Metal “Moth to a Flame,” a quirky earworm that pairs an infectious beat and chugging guitars with something that feels like Bananarama dressed in leather. Its bizarre blend serves as a highlight, but nothing can hold a candle to the showstopping “Invictus.” A theatrical tour de force, an operatic epic, the piece brings Marko Hietala (ex-Nightwish) into the fold, alongside another appearance from Ribaldini, the pair working in conjunction with Leah to catapult Delain into the highest echelons of Symphonic Metal. (And, yes, it will inspire a dire need to hit “Repeat”!)
And if, somehow, a listener still doubts the supremacy of Delain 2023, as well as the incredible talents of Leah, the quintet tosses in a bonus piano and vocal version of “The Quest and the Curse” to make sure naysayers are quickly silenced. Although, it would be hard to challenge a record that storms the gates of Hell and dances in the snowfall as it awaits sunrise, simultaneously remaining true to its creators’ signature sound while joyfully opening new doors that promise an even brighter future. Labyrinthine and cinematic orchestral arrangements alongside lofty melodies that anchor sophisticated compositions, Dark Waters is the majestic dream that arose from what could have been a nightmare. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Delain’s latest 5 out of 5 stars.