With all the overtly serious music in the progressive community, sometimes an album that oozes fun, quality, and just pure enjoyment is exactly what I crave. Not that Delain’s latest album, “Apocalypse & Chill”, is shallow or light fare. No, this is an album that balances enjoyment with social commentary, all while creating what might be their best album yet. The album releases on February 7th through Napalm Records.
Delain hails from the Netherlands originally. The group has been at it for over 10 years now, and it seems like their music is only getting tighter and more mature. The current lineup includes Charlotte Wessels on vocals, Martijn Westerholt on keys, Timo Somers on guitars, Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije on bass, and Joey de Boer on drums.
Delain has always been a mix of various genres and ideas. One part of my brain wants to put them in the realm of Kamelot, Epica, and other symphonic metal bands. I believe that they have one foot in that arena, but they also have strong elements of pop, alternative rock, and maybe even industrial metal, if my ears serve me well. That means Delain can be theatrical and epic, but also dark, textured, and haunting. And, without fail, they serve those feelings up with a big dose of catchiness. I think their alternative flair is what really drew me to them initially, especially on past albums like 2014’s “The Human Contradiction”.
Where do I even begin with this album? “Apocalypse & Chill” is meant to be tongue-in-cheek social commentary. As the band would call it, this is a “dance on the edge of the abyss”, not taking a complete plunge into melancholy and politics, but choosing to remain resilient and lighthearted, symbolically wearing sunglasses in the glare of the atomic fallout. This album, then, is heavy—maybe their heaviest in some time—but also epic in scale; with ferocious guitars, a humongous vocal performance from Charlotte, and elements of electronic/industrial textures.
The performances here are outstanding. I chose Martijn as my #2 keyboardist of 2019, and I’m sure he’ll appear in the next list, too. His ear for nuanced backdrops is as acute as his love for towering keyboard solos. He really takes this record to the next level. Yet, Otto and Joey’s rhythm section is dark and violent, too, giving much needed gravity. Additionally, Timo really impresses on guitars while laying down some extremely tight riffs and grand solos. Charlotte brings this all together, harmonizing and holding notes that are seriously imposing. Her upper range is definitely her strength.
If I had room, I’d discuss each and every song. There isn’t a weak one in the bunch. The singles are “One Second”, “Burning Bridges”, “Ghost House Heart”, and “Masters of Destiny”. These songs alone make the album worth your money. “One Second” is similar to “Let’s Dance” in that I didn’t really like either song when I first heard them. But they’ve both grown substantially on me, and I think they are placed perfectly in the tracklist. “Burning Bridges” and “Masters of Destiny” have both been out for quite a long time now. The former threatens to be my favorite song of 2020, with the immense vocals and seriously ambitious instrumental in the second half. The latter was one of my favorite songs of 2019, and it loses none of its legendary feelings, even with age. “Ghost House Heart” is the newest of the singles, and it shows Delain exploring an abstract ballad format, feeling quite macabre and Gothic in tone. It is absolutely brilliant.
I think I’ll go over just three more tracks. “We Had Everything” flirts with electronica while giving us some solid riffs. The chorus is layered and so very memorable. “Legions of the Lost” is an epic mix of orchestra and electronic accents, but it’s the gigantic second half that really sells it for me. The album ends with “Combustion”. Now, this is an instrumental track, something I did not expect. “Combustion” earns its title by being the heaviest track on the album, featuring unabashed technical fireworks, magnificent guitar solos, and retention of all the melody you expect from this band. It is truly a legendary ending to this fantastic record.
“Apocalypse & Chill” might end up surprising many in the metal community. It is heavy, yet rich; subtle, yet enormous. It offers a perfect balance between despairing humor and enlightened hope, and thus feels more grounded and full of grit than many symphonic metal albums. Between its soaring orchestrations, luxurious melodies, and powerful riffs, this record still manages to offer heightened subtlety, absurdity, and maturity. It will be difficult to find such equilibrium the rest of the year, methinks.
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