DELAIN - Off The Deep End
March 1, 2023, a month ago
With all due respect to symphonic metallers Delain and their fanbase, the band was barely a blip on the radar prior to 2014 outside of their native Holland and neighbouring Germany. At that point they had been kicking around for eight years, an ambitious project from former Within Temptation keyboardist Martijn Westerholt that became a band along the way. The international success of country(wo)men The Gathering, Ayreon, After Forever, Epica, and Within Temptation had set the bar ridiculously high, however, relegating Delain to reserve status at best. The release of the powerful single "We Are The Others" in 2012 - dedicated to 20 year-old British murder victim Sophie Lancaster - was the first sign that change was in the air, and two years later Delain unleashed The Human Contradiction. Reviews were varied, but the album was well-received by the fans and attracted new followers thanks to strong, compact, heavy songs and vocalist Charlotte Wessels, who had put in her best recorded performance to date. From there they sky seemed to be the limit, with the band releasing two more albums and two EPs between 2016 and 2020, as well a live record / DVD in 2017.
Sadly, it all came crashing down in early 2021, with Westerholt announcing that Delain's other members "have chosen to pursue different paths." In a separate statement, Wessels confirmed the split, saying it was "the sad conclusion of more than a year of trying to find solutions to built up grievances." Almost two years later, Delain has returned with a new singer, a new band, and the new album, Dark Waters.
Rather than pester Westerholt with a predictable line of questioning, we invite him to share whatever details about the break-up he cares to bring to light.
"What happened was, at the end of 2019 we had the US tour, then a European tour, and then a video shoot," he begins. "At the end of the day, I'm responsible for what happens with Delain, so if there's a problem, I'm the one that has to solve it. At a certain point everything came down all at once, and basically, I had a burnout. We had to figure out how we were going to proceed. I spoke to Charlotte about it, and the initial idea was to go easy on booking new shows and take a step back for a while. You have to learn from a burnout, so you can't do 100 shows a year anymore; you can only do 50, let's say. It was case of picking our battles to keep things healthy."
"We were getting ready to go to the three guys about this idea, but they kind of beat us to it and said they wanted to talk. Their request was that they wanted to tour without me. I understood why, because if someone is dealing with a burnout it spoils the vibe, but the case of Delain it's pretty much impossible to do that because if something goes wrong on tour, they're at my doorstep because it's my company, so to say, together with Charlotte. Besides that, I like touring; I just needed to recover. So, it was pretty tough for me."
"We really talked about it for about a year," Westerholt continues, "and I got to the point where I said 'Okay, we'll do it your way. Let's think of a solution.' At first, I decided to retreat completely and focus on the production part of Delain, but I realized that wasn't going to make me happy. Then the idea was to have them start a live company, which would make them responsible for whatever was going on, and I would turn up every now and then. It wasn't my ideal solution, but in Dutch we say that sometimes you have to put water in the wine. But at that point, they kind of wanted it all (laughs). That was a kind of a coup d'état."
Westerholt chooses his words carefully, unwilling to throw anyone under the bus. He doesn't portray his former bandmates as the bad guys, and readily acknowledges it was important to take their perspective into consideration even though Delain is his baby.
"In hindsight, I took things too far by offering them everything," he says, "so it was my luck that they declined the offer to buy the Delain name. Charlotte's position always was 'You guys have to figure it out.' It would be a big change for her either way, and she was starting to focus on her solo career at that point. Ultimately, Charlotte didn't want to leave Delain, but it just made the most sense once it was clear there was not going to be an easy solution for the rest of us."
Given the band's forward momentum since the release of The Human Contradiction, the split came as a huge surprise to the Delain fanbase.
"It was a surprise to me, too," Westerholt admits. "The thing is, a lot of people look at a band as if the people in it do everything together. In practice, that is often not the case. In our case, I composed the majority of Delain's music Guus (Eikens), my co-writer, and Charlotte wrote the lyrics. At a certain point she developed into co-writing the music a bit as well, but in general it was me and Guus. So, the other guys in the band didn't write anything up until the last album."
"The live band is a completely different discipline compared to a studio production, and in our case, there was a discrepancy. That doesn't diminish the quality of the work by the previous members, because Otto (Schimmelpenninck van der Oije / bass) has an amazing stage and Timo (Somers) is an insanely good guitar player; on the last album Timo did a lot of the guitar arrangements and wrote two songs. There was a misconception that I fired the rest of the band to make it my project again, but that was complete nonsense. They left, and I started thinking about whether it was the end of Delain, or was I going to continue? And if I was going to continue, how would I do that?"
Westerholt decided it made sense to go back to the beginning, and in the same breath announcing Delain's break-up, revealed he would continue working under the same name as a personal project that would feature special guests. This plan was eventually scrapped, and months later Delain returned to full band status, albeit with a different line-up.
"First of all, I decided that to continue as a band there had to be enough Delain DNA present. In the beginning, when it was project status, I already had contact with Sander (Zoer), our original drummer, and Ronald (Landa), our original guitar player. But then, Ronald and Sander convinced me to continue as a band. They really wanted to and that surprised me."
Having recovered from a burnout that essentially brought Delain to a grinding halt, wasn't that a case of tempting fate?
"That wasn't the problem because I had Delain as a band for more than 15 years," Westerholt explains. "I'm a team player and I love to work with people; the problems only showed up when I wanted too much. We really talked about that part of it, and it came down to wanting to make it a band again but not do 100 shows a year anymore. That fit their lives perfectly, because that's why they left Delain in the first place."
The search for Charlotte Wessels' replacement was done quietly, everything kept under wraps until the new Delain was ready to release its first single, "The Quest And The Curse". Wessels may not be the most dynamic singer, but she certainly came into her own from The Human Contradiction onward, cementing Delain's identity. Dark Waters features newcomer Diana Leah as Wessels' successor, and Westerholt likely could not have made a better choice. Dark Waters sounds like business as usual for Delain, which is a good thing.
"For the sound of the music I had no doubts about it still sounding like Delain," says Westerholt. "That part was business as usual for me. Finding a new singer, that was the million-dollar question. I started asking around because I am blessed to have a lot of friends that are in professional bands, but I also started checking out YouTube channels of people doing covers. One of those channels was Diana's; it's not a big, well-known channel, but I was really impressed by what she did. I wrote down her name, and as coincidence would have it I saw a comment from her on one of our Instagram posts a week later. She said something like 'If you guys are still looking for a singer, let me know...' but she wasn't being serious (laughs). I thought it was bizarre, so I contacted her. She wasn't expecting that at all. We had a chat and I sent her 'Masters Of Destiny' and 'Burning Bridges' to sing on. That was a little bit mean because those songs are tough to sing - the vocal range goes everywhere - and I got them back within a day. I though 'Jeez, that's really fast. Can it be any good?' I listened to the tracks and they knocked me off my chair. And now here we are (laughs)."
And what was Diana Leah's reaction to being invited to join Delain?
Following the summer 2022 release of "The Quest And The Curse", Delain played a few shows as warm-up gigs for the band's new line-up. Testing the waters, no pun intended, for the future once their new album surfaced in 2023. Westerholt was equally excited and apprehensive leading up to the gigs.
"I was scared to death for the first two shows, and the first single. That was the most nerve-wracking time in my career. I had the idea to do some tryout shows. We are blessed with a loyal fanbase, so we reached out to people and asked if they wanted to come. It was by invitation and free, so we had about 150 people in a small venue. It was really emotional, and they welcomed Diana. I'm so proud of Diana because there is a lot of pressure on her. She's really tough mentally and very sober about the possible criticism from people. It's amazing."
"I'm actually really hungry to show people the old songs with Diana singing them," he adds. "I have so much confidence in her singing the old songs and doing them justice. Charlotte did an amazing job with those songs, of course, and nothing beats the original, but we do want to play those songs live and do them justice with this new line-up. I don't want to let them die. I think it will be a 50-50 mix of old and new stuff when we go out and play live again."