When I’m talking about Jack White or The Lumineers, I feel pretty safe assuming that people will already be passingly familiar with the artists, or at least know what I’m talking about when I say “blues” or “folk rock.” However, when it comes to discussing the Dutch symphonic power metal band Delain, I’m inclined to think that a brief primer might be in order.
I’m assuming that of the words I’ve used above, most people are going to be comfortable with what I mean by “metal” and “Dutch” (at least, I really hope so…). Power metal is a subgenre of metal that sprung up in Europe in the mid-80s with bands such as Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, and Helloween. They use more complex guitar work at higher speeds, creating a less heavy tone that sounds more driven and energized, and often features a call-to-arms/we’re-in-this-together sort of a feel. A lot of power metal deals with fantasy themes; most notably, Blind Guardian have penned songs focused around the fantasy writings of authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Jordan.
Symphonic metal is another sub-genre, one which is often paired with power metal. It started in the 90s with bands like Nightwish and Within Temptation. As a general rule, the music uses orchestral backing, heavy on the strings, to provide a thicker, more deeply-layered tone that delivers an epic feel. The vocals will often be clean (though death growls crop up from time to time…unfortunately), and sometimes they’ll tend towards the operatic. The genre also lends itself well to tales of fantasy, mythology, etc. On the whole, symphonic power metal will be much more melodically focused than other metal sub-genres and tends towards longer tracks with more room to develop.
Delain’s history is (to me, at least) fascinating. The genre is somewhat incestuous, and artists from one band will often crop up in another for a guest appearance or in a form of super group (most notably, the group Northern Kings, made up of some backing musicians and four of the foremost male vocalists in the genre, who have released two albums of covers of 80s pop songs, such as Take On Me and We Don’t Need Another Hero [it’s as gloriously ridiculous as it sounds]). In that vein, Delain was originally formed by Martijn Westerholt, who is the brother of the lead guitarist for Within Temptation and their one-time keyboardist (he was forced to leave the band owing to illness), along with then-teenage vocalist Charlotte Wessels. They began as a project band (one that doesn’t tour), and their first album, Lucidity, is a beautiful experiment. Presumably through contacts from his Within Temptation days, Westerholt was able to pull in some of the best musicians and vocalists in the business to record the album with him, most note-worthy being: Ad Sluijter of Epica, Marco Hietala of Nightwish and founding member of Tarot, and Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation (who is also Westerholt’s sister-in-law).
That first album in 2007 explores a lot of the traditional possibilities of the genre, heavy on the epic fantasy influences. Since then, they’ve released four more albums and found their voice. They settled on a more permanent line up, but still occasionally have Hietala appear on albums or at live shows for some guest vocals. Their 2012 album, We Are the Others contains the notable title track that functions as an anthem for many of their fans and deals with the death of Sophie Lancaster, the reasons for it, and the importance of solidarity and being true to yourself. The sound has departed from some of the more traditional elements of the genre without losing the flavor, while embracing some more elements of rock, and their style does well at showcasing Wessels’ dual training in both classical and jazz vocals.
Moonbathers, their latest album, opens with Hands of Gold, which leans on the epic feel to the point where it feels like its opening bars could have been composed by Hans Zimmer. The album is strong as a whole, with particular strength in the songs Danse Macabre, which does some interesting things with the vocal line, and Chrysalis – The Last Breath, which is a beautiful slow song that manages to maintain an air of tension throughout its full five and a half minutes. True to the genre, I’m told the song Turn The Lights Out draws its influence from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, which reminds me I really need to get down my reading list to that one… I enjoyed the song Scandal, but at first listening I couldn’t work out why this very 80s sounding song was in the middle of the album. Then I realized it was a cover of a Queen song, and it made a little more sense. It’s fun, but it does feel a little jarring placed in the middle of the album as it is.
Delain definitely remains one of my favorite bands, I’ve seen them live twice (once opening Download in 2012, and once supporting Kamelot), and I’m sure I’ll see them again. I’d thoroughly recommend checking them out. If you listen to metal in some form, I’d start with Lucidity; if you’re less familiar with the genre, then We Are the Others is a good introduction to their newer tone.