A change in vocalists is never easy for a band, but both XANDRIA and DELAIN have knocked it out of the park, continuing the trend of bands that have been revamped by new singers. After a rocky few years, when the future of DELAIN was uncertain as to what direction mastermind Martijn Westerholt would take it – either a studio project or a proper touring band – August 2022 came with an answer: DELAIN was back as a full band, and with a new studio album, “Dark Waters,” to boot, out on February 10th, 2023, via Napalm Records.
Let me just start this review by saying the following: ah, finally, DELAIN has some cohesion on their albums! Now let me expand on that – DELAIN have some great to excellent songs in their catalog but I feel like most of their albums lacked a sense of cohesion, the tracks either pulling in a full symphonic direction or being more melodic/modern metal oriented. Their latest album, the highly-praised “Apocalypse & Chill” (2020), really showcased this juxtaposition, especially when you compare the singles to the album tracks. Well, there’s not much of that on “Dark Waters” as the ten songs presented here are deeply and firmly rooted in symphonic metal. So, if you expected the band to simply pick up where they left off, chances are you will be disappointed.
Representing a return to DELAIN’s roots, there are many textures and sonic nuances that make “Dark Waters” feel rich and layered. It also helps that original guitarist Ronald Landa and original drummer Sander Zoer came back to the fold and – alongside keyboard master Martijn Westerholt, vocalist Diana Leah and bass player Ludovico Cioffi – have not just simply revamped the band, but also the sound. DELAIN was never a traditional symphonic metal band like EPICA, recent XANDRIA, or old-school NIGHTWISH, but rather they choose to combine powerful symphonic soundscapes with some modern metal elements and thus create a fresh and cool sound that set them apart in the scene. In this respect, DELAIN is still very much DELAIN, the formula hasn’t changed, all their trademark elements are in place, and with Diana Leah sounding so much like Charlotte Wessels at times, one could be easily forgiven for listening to this album and not realizing they have a new vocalist on board. However, at closer inspection, you’ll come to realize that Leah can hold her own and she actually sounds quite impressive on these new tracks.
The first single released, symphonic metal banger “The Quest and the Curse,” presents their bombastic sound very well, while subsequent singles, haunting anthem “Beneath” and jaunty “Moth to a Flame,” expand on the blueprint by adding new elements like a male/female duet between Diana Leah and guest Paolo Ribaldini (SKILTRONN, SERAPHIEL), or a poppy melody on top of heavy guitars. Hefty “Queen of Shadow” wonderfully merges orchestral sounds, synths, melodic guitars, and hooky vocal melodies, making it one of the catchiest tracks on the album, on par with ballad-like “Mirror of Night” in this respect. The latter also features guitar work from Ruud Jolie (WITHIN TEMPTATION) and some nice piano melodies that work well with the vocal melodies and the overall darker ambiance. On the same note, Diana Leah’s slightly more poppy voice is used to maximum effect on “Hideaway Paradise,” thus opening the album with a beautiful dream-like atmosphere that is still strongly rooted in heavy guitars.
Elsewhere on the album, “The Cold” is the album’s symphonic metal track, featuring everything from choirs that make the chorus sound huge and orchestral melodies, all the way to meaty riffs and a superb vocal performance. In the same vein, “Invictus” is a rock extravaganza boasted by powerful riffs, thunderous drums, choirs, and wonderful vocal performances from Diana Leah and Paolo Ribaldini, onto which returning guest vocalist Marko Hietala’s raspy sound adds an ominous vibe. They saved the best for last as big-sounding “Underland” closes the album on the same poppy note it started, thus making the album come full circle, but with haunting backing choirs and powerful instrumentals that give it a darker feel… though I’m not a fan of the fade-out approach to the final seconds of the album. These three titles are definite highlights of the album and some of DELAIN’s best songs in general.
All-in-all, “Dark Waters” represents not only a fresh start for DELAIN in this new lineup as they hit the ground running but, most importantly, a rediscovery of their passion for making music. Thereupon, this album feels inspired, creative, and energetic, with some interesting twists and turns to keep the listeners engaged, beautifully underpinned by Diana Leah’s versatile vocals. The band also feels animated and more than ready to get back on stage to present these tracks in a live environment. Needless to say, “Dark Waters” is a great addition to both the band’s already impressive discography and to the symphonic metal catalog.
Written by Andrea Crow
1. Hideaway Paradise
2. The Quest and the Curse
3. Beneath (ft. Paolo Ribaldini)
4. Mirror of Night
5. Tainted Hearts
6. The Cold
7. Moth to a Flame
8. Queen of Shadow (ft. Paolo Ribaldini)
9. Invictus (ft. Marko Hietala & Paolo Ribaldini)
Martijn Westerholt – Keys
Diana Leah – Vocals
Ronald Landa – Guitars
Ludovico Cioffi – Bass
Sander Zoer – Drums
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