Delain – Apocalypse & Chill (Napalm)Sunday, 26th January 2020
While there’s been some material from Delain in the four years following 2016’s Moonbathers, such as last year’s Hunter’s Moon EP, there’s been a bit of a wait for a new full-length for the band. Apocalypse & Chill then comes with some anticipation for followers of the act, and with an attention-grabbing title that seems a stark contrast from some previous efforts, it has the potential to ruffle some feathers. Something that holds true when listening to the material, but it’s also nothing that should cause trepidation for listeners. In fact, the changes showcased here display a band that is still hungry and looking for a change of pace that still falls in line with what Delain has always stood for.
With some notable differences and tweaks to the Delain formula, it allows for a vast array of songs. Truthfully speaking, it’s one of those albums that you could take the time and dissect each track because they all have some unique qualities to them. But some of the main things fall into a few categories. The synths are the most readily identifiable change to the formula. The band has always used them, but there’s a number of ways that they are used here that stray from the norm. Tracks like “One Second,” “We Had Everything,” and even “Let’s Dance” simply bounce with a more pop-like energy. Some may be up in arms about some of these, but Delain has always flirted with some pop elements in their music, and this simply takes it to the next level. Other songs, like the already released “Masters of Destiny” and “Burning Bridges” capture a more grandiose and epic vibe to them, while the haunting and ethereal “Ghost House Heart” is carried almost entirely by keys, strings, and Charlotte Wessels’ enchanting vocals – a truly unique piece that will send shivers down one’s spine. In either the soaring or intimate side of things, there’s a cinematic quality that not many bands can aspire to that’s displayed with flair here.
In contrast to the enhanced role of the keys/synths, the guitars have some more weight to them. Even a thrilling, bombastic track like “Legions of the Lost” augments this feeling – the guitars have that live ‘headbang-along’ sensation to them and give it a healthy punch. On the poppier side of things, “Chemical Redemption” uses the heavier riffs to give the song a more modern metal sound, particularly with the forward synths. Even if they do bow out at a few points, there’s a fantastic solo later on. “To Live is To Die” also echoes these sentiments (even down to the solo), with a heavy guitar presence at times that tangles nicely with the electronics. Of course, guitarist Timo Somers gets to really steal the show to close things out in the surprisingly “Combustion,” where tasteful leads come to heads with some massively heavy progressive riffs (especially from Delain) but it provides a soaring and playful conclusion to the album.
Charlotte Wessels’ voice has always played a major role in any Delain release, and much like the rest of the band, she is doing some experimentation and trying some different things. Obviously, the aforementioned “Ghost House Heart” is a gorgeous and emotive piece, but some subtle things make a world of difference. Wessels’ bow comes with “The Greatest Escape,” with some word-less vocals, more akin to a coo than a hum, provide a moment of complete bliss as the combination of her voice, synths, and strings takes the track to a serene conclusion. Choirs are excellently included as well, notably on the soaring “Vengeance,” which follows the tradition of vocal collaboration with Wessels, with Beast in Black’s Yannis Papadopoulos contributing some excellent vocal interplay. It could quite possibly be one of the band’s most enigmatic tracks featuring a guest vocalist. She continues to be both playful and emotional all at once, and “Creatures” and especially “Legions of the Lost” see her really stretching those vocal boundaries into something breathtaking.
Wrapping things up nicely here are the lyrics, which move from the more relationship-based to growing concern about the world around us – some of the strongest Delain has penned to date. The same sentiment could be applied to the rest of the facets of the band when you look at Apocalypse & Chill on the whole. It’s a genuinely moving and emotionally driven trip that still manages to capture a fair bit of fun at the same time. It’s a daring release from a veteran act that will justifiably shake up the fanbase, but when viewed on a completely objective lens, it still openly carries the sound that Delain has strived for since the beginning. Those who are open to some change are going to treasure the mark that Apocalypse & Chill leaves.