Dark Waters

rating icon 7.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Hideaway Paradise
02. The Quest and the Curse
03. Beneath
04. Mirror of Night
05. Tainted Hearts
06. The Cold
07. Moth to a Flame
08. Queen of Shadow
09. Invictus
10. Underland
11. The Quest and the Curse (Piano Version)

Almost exactly three years on from the release of their last studio album "Apocalypse & Chill", DELAIN are a band reborn. When two thirds of the band jumped ship in 2021, vocalist Charlotte Wessels included, a less robust vision would probably have shattered in response.

Fortunately, founder and keyboardist Martijn Westerholt had other ideas, and here they are on "Dark Waters" — an album that takes all that DELAIN have achieved over the years and strides forward — impervious to the winds of change. Vocalist Diana Leah makes her debut here, and while she bears a slender resemblance to her predecessor, she has an equally great but distinctive tone and the same, bewildering versatility that the symphonic metal realm generally demands. Backed by new alumni Ronald Landa (guitars),  Ludovico Cioffi (bass) and the returning Sander Zoer (drums),  the combination of Westerholt's lavish, gothic anthems and Leah's voice is resolutely dramatic and swiftly banishes any concerns about everything or anything changing.

In truth, "Dark Waters" is a considerable departure from the streamlined and faux-futuristic vibe of "Apocalypse & Chill". While always armed with huge hooks, DELAIN's seventh album spirals around a vast, billowing barrage of gothic guitars, with strong echoes of the post-punk '80s and an almost equal debt to the spectral sonic mists of funeral doom. When applied to Westerholt's now elegant and refined songwriting, which continually veers between AOR/pop-metal sparkliness and flamboyant, fantasy world finesse, the result is a strange mixture of the box-fresh and the tried and tested. As a reinvention, it's convincing.

Meanwhile, DELAIN continue to produce big, bombastic earworms that cast melancholy shadows over symphonic metal's more upbeat instincts. An opening triumvirate of "Hideaway Paradise", "The Quest and the Curse" and "Beneath" feels like a concerted bombardment of melodic javelins, hurled from the depths of that fiery, goth rock squall. Of the three, "The Quest and the Curse" stands out as a strong example of Westerholt's intuitive blending of ideas, with surging choirs and lashings of pomp merging perfectly with the song's grim and steady undertow and the arena-metal euphoria of the chorus. Elsewhere, "Mirror of Might" storms and stutters along on a wave of retro synths and brutish riffing, before blossoming into symphonic splendor, with Leah's voice a gleaming diamond at its overblown core.

Thereafter, DELAIN twist and mold their new formula into a variety of attractive shapes. Measurably heavier than they have sounded in a few years, songs like "Invictus" and "Moth to a Flame" get the balance between balls-out heaviness and gently expressed ingenuity perfectly right. "Queen of Shadow" has one foot planted firmly in the '80s, from its disco pulse to the all-hands-on-deck euphoria of the multi-layered vocals. Everything is held together by Diana Leah, who sounds like she has always been there, and the sheer consistency of Westerholt's tunes.

When the crew abandon ship, you get to keep the ship. DELAIN have weathered the storm and "Dark Waters" is an inarguable and classy comeback. Onwards!

Author: Dom Lawson
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