Delain – Dark Waters

I have, in my mind, been doing a good job of holding my tongue about the Delain developments over the past couple years.  I was waiting to see what Delain would become before I opened up a little bit.  Well, the new Delain album is releasing on February 10th, and I need to speak my mind.  The new album is called Dark Waters and is being released through Napalm Records.

I like Delain, always have.  They were, I suppose, the cool kids in the symphonic metal genre.  Two years ago, four members of Delain left the band.  They did so rather quietly, though I assume COVID played a part in what actually happened.  Anyways,  only keyboardist and Delain mastermind Martijn Westerholt remained, which made me wonder about why his team would suddenly leave, especially when it seemed like they were really hitting their stride musically.

The ex-band mates did end up releasing statements, and they were mostly classy and amicable, though one could read between the lines pretty easily to understand the toxic and narcissistic environment that Delain had become.  And I’m sure there were faults on both sides, but it seems clear to me that it was four against one, and Martijn was always going to win because he owns the damn company.

Look, I’m not naïve.  I understand that many bands, even some of my favorites, aren’t the grassroots artists that I like to imagine they are.  They are corporations and companies; they are a business that will replace anyone that gets out of line, just like the company that holds my job.  I get it.  Martijn was ultimately the one in charge, so the others walked.

What I don’t think Martijn understood, though, was just how much those other members did indeed contribute.  And Dark Waters is a stark display of what is missing.  The new lineup includes new singer Diana Leah, along with Martijn Westerholt on keys, Ronald Landa on guitars, Ludovico Cioffi on bass, and Sander Zoer on drums.  These musicians are all competent and perform well, so that isn’t the issue here.  The issue, I believe, is with the writing.

Martijn started Delain, but it is clear that he and Charlotte wrote much of the band’s music together.  Martijn provided the base symphonic metal sound, and you can still hear that here.  He is a terrific keyboardist, there is no doubt, and the almighty riff still pairs with his illustrious melodies well.  However, this is about as plain and safe a symphonic metal album that can be.  I hear a thousand symphonic metal bands every year; I get their promos daily.  Many of them are clones of Delain or Epica or Nightwish, and this new Delain album sounds like a clone.  It is a by-the-numbers, tepid work that is solid enough, but that just doesn’t cut it coming off Delain’s best album, Apocalypse & Chill.

This is a regression, no doubt.  Charlotte provided the spunk and pop and even industrial vibes that made for Delain’s unique fusion of sounds.  The other members added the flair of excellent technical ability to the mix, and so Delain had become a razor-edged blend of great ideas.  Dark Waters, from its god-awful artwork to portions that sound lifted from past Delain albums, feels very much like Martijn running face-first into a fucking wall.  He wasn’t the only essential member of the band, after all, and he can only produce the same sort of swelling fantasy sound that, while beautiful and good, needs something more to set it apart from a million other bands.  He failed. This is a plastic façade, corporate to the core, not the middle finger to his ex-band mates that Martijn thought it would be.

And I don’t blame Diana for this.  I feel like she is being asked to give her best Charlotte impersonation, which will hopefully change on future albums.  Her voice is good, but different, and this album doesn’t play to her strengths.  I think songs like “The Quest and the Curse” and “Mirror of Night” are just trying to be older Delain songs.  Other songs, like “Moth to a Flame” and “Queen of Shadow”, are simply weak.  They have no meat to them.

For what it’s worth, I appreciate “Hideaway Paradise” and “Beneath”, especially the cool riffs on the latter.  “The Cold” has some interesting moments, and “Invictus” is pretty good with the addition of guests Paolo Ribaldini and Marko Hietala.  “Underland” sounds alright, though it feels like Delain trying to clone Epica. The album is certainly listenable, even likeable, but usually just makes me want to listen to older Delain albums.

Look, diehard Delain fans will probably eat up this offering.  Dark Waters has all the generic thrills of the genre, after all, and maybe other fans are simply more positive than I am.  When I look at this album, it sounds remarkably bare, like most elements of Delain have been removed, and only the standard symphonic metal remains.  And that problem is compounded by attempts at simply delivering reskinned versions of older Delain songs, to my ears.  I hope the band can become something more in the future, but, for my two cents, this album is the worst they’ve ever produced.


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3 responses to “Delain – Dark Waters

  1. Hiya, I think all you say is correct. Delain with Charlotte were just about to go into the big league. They could have been touring with arena bands and then got huge. Charlotte had charisma and a terrific voice. I wish the new line up well but it just doesn’t have the spark.
    Fair review I think.


  2. I must disagree with this review. To me, Dark Waters is the best work Delain have produced since The Human Contradiction. Martijn Westerholt has always been the heart and soul of the band, and this album proves it. It is much more focused and memorable than their last two full-lengths. As for how crucial Charlotte was to the Delain sound, just check her solo work – most of it is practically unlistenable, the rest is simply forgettable.


  3. so basically you “read between the lines” that Martijn was toxic and narcissist and made it unbearable for the rest? Well, I think he was very classy and educated. If the instrument players I’d have hired in my project along with my partner the vocalist/ lyricist would have become so greedy to try to overbook the band when it was not apptroproate – then try to hijack my project and kick me out of my own professional “house I built” I would have definitely been less classy about it.


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