As the brainchild of former Within Temptation keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, Dutch symphonic metal quintet Delain naturally pride themselves on elegantly lavish arrangements and commanding hooks. After all, lead vocalist Charlotte Wessels—who’s been there since 2006’s debut LP, Lucidity—is easily among the best singers in the scene; likewise, the rest of the current line-up (guitarist Timo Somers, bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije, and drummer Joey de Boer) are equally adept at solidifying a very characteristic sound. It’s no shock, then, that their latest record, Apocalypse & Chill (which threads together the “sense of impending doom and [the] human indifference to it”) nails that chemistry yet again. True, it doesn’t stray very far from 2016’s Moonbathers, but that’s just fine considering its multitude of tempting melodies and hefty complexity.
One of Delain’s strongest attributes has always been their in-your-face catchiness, and Apocalypse & Chill definitely doesn’t disappoint there. Among the most infectious tunes is opener “One Second,” which begins with angelic croons and piano notes to set the stage for a powerhouse of sentimental lyrics, trudging riffs, gripping rhythms, and empowering verses and choruses. Arguably its greatest feature is that last one, as it packs an irresistible sing-along punch by mingling clean male and female vocals with infrequent snarls, demonstrating every facet of the band’s singing strengths in one fell swoop. As such, its radio-friendly pop/rock base, elevated by genre intensity and intricacy, is quite enticing.
The next tune, “We Had Everything,” is just as accessibly alluring, but with an airier and more bittersweet edge to juxtapose its affective bursts of synthy chants. Later, “To Live Is to Die” veers a bit closer to the stylish tonal wackiness and dynamic fluctuations of, say, Dream Theater and Ayreon, yet Wessels’ forceful performance—coupled with a roaring doubled-up guitar solo near the end—keeps it engrossing. Afterward, “Let’s Dance” is perhaps a bit too formulaic structurally, but the density, focus, and sleekness of it all makes it desirable nonetheless. Similarly, the closing ballad, “The Greatest Escape,” leans too far toward maudlin clichés at times, but its classily sophisticated instrumentation can’t help but mesmerize as it goes.
Of course, Delain also emphasize more hellish and difficult passages along the way. For instance, “Burning Bridges” moves at a quick pace while belting out booming orchestration (strings and horns), demonic growls, and an overall sense of multilayered frenzy. Next, “Vengeance” makes good use of guest singer Yannis Papadopoulos (Beast in Black) as Wessels’ foil during its hectic journey, recalling the duets of Avantasia. “Creatures” is relatively straightforward in its djent foundation, whereas “Masters of Destiny” contains some masterful temperamental shifts as it builds from starry sparsity toward majestic panic. “Legions of the Lost” contains enough deep choral backing to fit a Greek tragedy, and the instrumental finale, “Combustion,” is appropriately a tour-de-force of virtuosic irritability.
Delain certainly don’t rewrite any rules with Apocalypse & Chill, as they deliver everything you’d expect given their past works and the overarching style in general. Still, they do enough to make it satisfyingly invigorating and interesting, with a few new tricks here and there to make the record stand on its own. Beyond that, they remain a top-notch act due to their refined commitment, talent, and ability to compose and perform with a shared mind and purpose. In other words, symphonic metal typically sticks to familiar ground—with only marginal variation and experimentation from time to time—and Delain undoubtedly still do it better than most of their peers.