Review: Delain – Dark Waters

Review: Delain – Dark Waters

Napalm Records (February 10th, 2023)

Reviewer: Jason Hopper

Many people thought Delain were finished when Charlotte Wessels – and everyone else except the keyboardist – announced their departure from the band in 2021. Considering Delain is never mentioned without also bringing up how it was Charlotte’s voice that made them special, I had no expectations when Martin Westerholt promised to continue. However, we all owe him an apology, because he brought original guitarist Ronald Landa and drummer Sander Zoer back into the fold after a multi-album absence and recruited new singer Diana Leah and bassist Ludovico Cioffi to fill out the roster.

So how did this old/new incarnation do? Does it sound like Delain? One minute into the first track, ‘Hideaway Paradise’, and I thought to myself, “I hadn’t heard Charlotte had returned. This sounds quite good.” This is not to say Diana is trying to mimic Charlotte; they sound similar, but she does a good job differentiating herself by the time we are done.

Second track, ‘The Quest and the Curse’, almost about knocked me over. I am not usually a fan of growling vocals, but this song has everything else I like about symphonic metal – bombastic pounding drums, orchestration, chants, keys, gang vocals, etc. I couldn’t help but love it. The third track, ‘Beneath’, also impresses with an outstanding chorus bolstered by Paolo Ribaldini on guest vocals (wish he was even more prominent) and a stellar job by Landa and Cioffi. There is a little too much autotune on Leah’s vocals, but this is undeniably an excellent song.

By this time, I’m getting excited, and the good news is the music keeps coming on strong. ‘Mirror of Night’ is Delain at its best – a vocal only intro overtaken by the full band. Guest guitarist Ruud Jolie from Within Temptation is a powerhouse, and the decision to have the chorus hook slow down rather than speed up is a great choice.

I’m not going to praise every song – though I could, because how long do you want to read this review before buying the album and enjoying it for yourself? However, this review would be incomplete without singing the praises of seventh track, ‘Moth to a Flame’. While it is the least symphonic song on offer and most commercially accessible, it is also the heaviest. After a vocal intro the music hits you in the face. The vocals are multi-tracked in the verses, and the sing-along chorus brings a smile to your face. In fact, I would say the proper way to enjoy this song is to bang your head, smile, sing along, and repeat. This song is truly special.  Napalm Records were wise to release this as a single.

We’re done, right? Thank goodness no! ‘Invictus’ is a masterpiece! Think Nightwish meets Powerwolf and Amaranthe. This is no surprise considering this is an awesome, fast-paced duet with Marko Hietala (formerly of Nightwish) who sings opposite Leah and then gets his own verse. The orchestration is powerful, and at times I would swear I was hearing Tarja in the background. This is a heavy workout that even comes with a little cool down period at the end.

Final track, ‘Underland’, may be my favorite, though several other tracks (including the previous) could take that title on any given listen. This song takes you on a wild ride: Headbanging Sabaton-like choruses, plus verses, bridges, lead breaks (and a prominent solo by Landa) all blending together in a whirlwind to make your head spin. Wow! Simply wow! I just shook my head in admiration when it was done.

As a bonus, we get a piano and orchestra version of ‘The Quest and the Curse’ to close things out.  It’s just what I needed to catch my breath before I hit repeat. Unlike some acoustic bonus tracks, this is by no means a throw-away.  It’s beautiful.

If you are still reading this, stop right now and buy this album! I really enjoyed those first three Delain albums, and ‘The Gathering’ from the debut will always be my favorite Delain track, but ‘Dark Waters‘ is hands down my favorite Delain album. Well done, Mr. Westerholt and company – with a special shout-out to Ms. Leah. You blew me away!

Track Listing:

  1. Hideaway Paradise
  2. The Quest and the Curse
  3. Beneath
  4. Mirror of Night
  5. Tainted Hearts
  6. The Cold
  7. Moth to a Flame
  8. Queen of Shadow
  9. Invictus
  10. Underland
  11. The Quest and the Curse (piano version) – Bonus Track