DELAIN - First Band On The Moon
August 27, 2016, a year ago
Get past the fact the title for Delain's new record sounds like an episode of the Teletubbies, and that the artwork is perhaps better suited for a '70s hippie album than a metal band, Moonbathers is the all-important next step in a career that could have easily - some might say should have - wheezed and died years ago. Diehard fans will argue that Delain's 2012 album We Are The Others yanked them out of symphonic metal obscurity, but it was The Human Contradiction two years later that made Delain big deal players on an international scale. That record stood head, shoulders and elbows above anything Delain had offered previously and set the bar for the follow-up pretty damn high, particularly since the album's appeal led to major tours with Sabaton and Nightwish, guaranteeing maximum exposure. The fan-fuelled jury will weigh in over the coming months on whether the band succeeded in meeting the challenge, but from a former fence-sitting convert's point of view Moonbathers is even more diverse than its predecessor, the song-writing top notch. And give Delain an extra point for having the audacity to cover the Queen classic "Scandal".
Founder / keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, who started his career as a member of Within Temptation way back when, agrees that the 2016 Nightwish tour through North America was one of the best forums possible to introduce new material to Delain's growing fanbase, which was one of the reasons for releasing the Lunar Prelude EP early this year.
"People were asking when we were going to tour again, and they were asking when we were going to release new material. We can only do one thing at a time, but we thought 'Why don't we do both?' and chopped the album production in pieces. That way we had some material for the new tour, and it was a good warm-up for the album. The response from the fans was great. Most of the time, doing a support tour means that you lose a lot of money on it because you have to pay for expenses, but we had amazing merchandise profits on the Nightwish so we were able to cover our costs. That's something that is very rare, so it's a good sign to see whether people like the new music or not."
During his previous run-in with BraveWords (February 2016), Westerholt outlined the band's on-off writing process for what would become Moonbathers. You have to wonder, however, if the band ever considered the danger of coming up with a batch of songs that weren't cohesive in the end. Life can turn on a dime, and the mentality you have at one point may be totally different three months later.
"That's a very relevant question. I didn't regard it like that at all because for me, somehow, it wasn't a big risk. I have to be in a certain mood to write and it’s always been that way, so I didn’t feel the danger of being in a different mindset three months later and getting a different result. There are a lot of factors that make an album cohesive or not. Next time I'd like to be even more extreme and do it like they do with dance music; just write a song, record it and mix it, and then move on to the next song. It makes things a lot more flexible and you can reflect on things. I really like that.”
Delain's sound is largely keyboard / symphonics-based thanks to Westerholt being one of the main songwriters, but that hasn't proven to be as detrimental as it could have been. Case in point with "Suckerpunch" from the Lunar Prelude EP, which also appears on Moonbathers; like Amaranthe, Delain has managed to meld pop and metal as a single super-power.
"I think that even though I'm the keyboard guy, I'm very guitar oriented and I like to move the music more in a guitar direction," Westerholt says. "There's a lot of orchestra in there but we put it more in the background in the mix. There are a lot of pieces in the music and I think that works well. If you have a lot of symphonics and keyboards it can become a little bit cheap, so to say. We're making metal and that's what people should hear. Every record we make, I always say it had to be heavier and more metal. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I think the contrast is interesting for the listeners."
The addition of live session guitarist Merel Bechtold (MaYan) as a full time band member must have had an influence on the sound as well...
"Not at all because I did all the writing with Charlotte and Guus (Eikens / former guitarist), who is not in the band but part of our writing team. This train is rolling anyway and the other band members are invited to jump on, but it's very difficult. In this case it worked really well with Timo (Somers / guitars), and he really put his mark on the album because he did a lot of arranging and riff writing. So, it was like there were two guitarists having input, but Merel joined Delain just a bit too late to be involved. I hope she can really contribute to the next album and she's really motivated to do so."
Bechtold has to have had a major influence on Delain's live sound, though.
"You're right. That's cerainly true. We've never been about compromising so we've always just written what we thought was cool. Later on we had to think about how the hell we're going to pull off some of the songs live (laughs). Now we don't have to worry about that because we have two guitar players."
There's no question vocalist Charlotte Wessels came into her own on The Human Contradiction, and she somehow managed to top that performance on Moonbathers. No longer generic by a long stretch, she uses her voice as a multi-faceted instrument over the course of the new record with (admittedly unexpected) brilliant results.
"That's a huge compliment to Charlotte, and you're right. Her voice is used in many different ways on this album; she even does some growling on 'The Glory And The Scum'. She tried to use her voice in many different ways and sometimes it was hard. Nowadays she records at home, which is a huge improvement, too, because she has more influence on the recordings. It has worked out really well."
It's safe to say the live exposure Delain received for The Human Contradiction forced Wessels to up her game.
"That's true," Westerholt agrees. "Of course, when we started Charlotte was only 17 years old so she needed some time to mature, and I'm really proud of where she is right now. I think in the beginning the band had to carry her a bit, and now it's the other way around."
Thanks to The Human Contradiction and now Moonbathers, Delain finally has an identity and is no longer lumped in to the Female Fronted Symphonic Metal Band slush pile. From the songwriting up through to Wessels' vocal charisma, the band is finally being recognized as an entity alongside rather than overshadowed by Within Temptation, Epica, After Forever, Nightwish and Leaves' Eyes.
"I think you're absolutely right about that. We had an image problem in that regard, and I think the key is to just develop who you are and don't look at other bands. Do your own thing, do what you like, try to mature in that direction, and you'll develop your own identity. You can hear it in Delain's music, in Charlotte's voice, the artwork, the way we write songs, everything."
Speaking of the Moonbathers artwork, it echoes We Are The Others but doesn't really translate as metal. Then again, neither does the album title...
"It's a love / hate thing for the fans, but I'd rather have it that way than in a grey area," Westerholt explains. "That attitude is a very important part of our identity as well."
Delain began as a studio project in 2002 featuring Westerholt backed by a host of guest musicians. There were no plans to create a real band or tour, but even as Delain evolved the door was left wide open to invite friends and guests to participate on each album. This time out, however, only one guest was brought in; Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz for "Hands Of Gold".
"For some reason we didn't get around to asking more people to guest on the album this time," says Westerholt. "Plus, the songs weren't really asking for it. But, there are still a lot of names on my list of people I would love to work with. I'd like to try it again for the next album because I think it's always surprising what you end up with when you bring in other people. "Hands Of Gold" was asking for Alissa's voice. It's really nice that she would come in and do that for us again because her growls are from the deepest pits of hell (laughs). I love her voice, and we run into her in Europe and North America when we're on tour. She joined us on stage in Montreal when we were on tour there, and I think she'll join us for our Amsterdam show at the end of the year. There's a good connection between Alissa and Charlotte so it was a very automatic thing to ask her to guest on the song. We're honoured to have her on the album."
And how does Westerholt feel about Delain not being a small band anymore?
"When we started, Delain was a one-time challenge for me to see if I could do something on my own without Within Temptation. At that time I had no plans to be a full time musician. It was something that grew over time. A couple years back I thought about quitting when we had all the label problems around We Are The Others, but then I thought 'No, this is too wonderful.' We had to fight for this and we're still doing that. Ultimately it's the fans that decide if a band is able to keep going, and they have decided that we can (laughs)."