ARCHIVE POST Caught Live: Within Temptation/Delain, o2 Apollo Manchester 11th April 2014

NB This is a repost of a gig write-up posted to my old blog; I will periodically republish content as and when time permits. This was also my last visit to the Manchester Apollo to date, a venue I have no plans to visit ever again, irrespective of the band.

It’s probably unlikely that when keyboard player Martijn Westerholt was forced to quit Within Temptation, the band he formed with guitarist brother Robert, he imagined himself back out on the road with them again but with his own act as support. He started Delain as a studio vehicle while recovering from the illness which led to his departure from Within Temptation, and released the album ‘Lucidity’ in 2006. One track, ‘No Compliance’, featured WT vocalist (and his sister-in-law) Sharon den Adel. In the years since, Within Temptation have become the leading lights in the symphonic Metal scene, alongside Nightwish, while Delain grew from a studio project into a fully-fledged touring band, and a whole host of other similarly-themed acts have sprung up in their wake.

This tour of ‘double Dutch’ has been eagerly-anticipated by fans of the scene since it was announced almost a year ago; the dates were originally scheduled for January of this year but as Within Temptation’s release date for their sixth album, ‘Hydra’ drew closer, they put back the dates to April. This also affected Delain’s own touring plans as they quickly confirmed they were still down to support Sharon den Adel’s outfit despite the reschedule. In the meantime, ‘Hydra’ was released with the lead-off single ‘Paradise (What About Us)’ featuring a guest vocal from Tarja Turunen, while Delain pushed ahead with the release of their ‘Interlude’ CD, a collection of B-sides, live tracks and unused material, and toured extensively. They also commenced work on their fourth album proper at the end of last year, which has come out just in time for this tour. ‘The Human Contradiction’ features substantial guest contributions, in a partial return to the style of Delain’s earlier work and is already receiving some positive reviews.

The tour dates saw the two bands playing in larger venues; the tour included a date at the prestigious Wembley Arena in north London. For Delain, this represented a large step-up from the club-sized venues fans are accustomed to seeing them play in, although for me it was unusual to see them play as support to anybody else. The last time they opened for another band in the UK was in late 2009, when they supported Finnish power metallers Sonata Arctica.

I was able to reach the venue in plenty of time to get into an already-lengthy queue outside the Apollo, and as I joined, it started moving pretty rapidly indicating the doors had opened. I got in to find myself about five off the front, a better position than I’d expected considering I’d travelled straight from work. We were greeted with the sight of a spaciously-laid out stage, with a huge new backdrop featuring the Delain logo and a Glenn Arthur-designed winged, masked creature flying over it.  It was almost an hour before Delain went on stage, at around 8pm drummer Sander Zoer slipped into position behind his kit almost unnoticed, then the intro tape kicked in to a roar from the crowd, many of whom had got here early to see the support. The rest of the guys appeared before the intro gave way to the strains of opening number ‘Go Away’ from their ‘April Rain’ album. Singer Charlotte Wessels then emerged to a big cheer, clad in a wraparound snakeskin-pattered dress. The band had limited time and made it count, only two songs from the new album were played, with the band instead opting to deliver a selection of material from all their records before a larger audience, containing many who won’t have seen them before. They gave most prominence to the previous album ‘We Are The Others’ with four played from that record,  before performing the title track the singer gave a shout-out to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.

The bigger stage suited the band and especially their vocalist, they seemed to be driven on by the short time they had and gave it everything. It is easy to envisage Delain themselves headline on larger stages more regularly in future, and the prolonged cheer they received towards the end of the set told its own story. For me, although I have enjoyed every set I’ve seen this band play since I first saw them in Leeds four years ago, this was a performance that was up there with their best.

There was a very short turnaround between the end of Delain’s set and the start of Within Temptation’s; a ‘Hydra’ backdrop had descended in front of the Delain one but it wasn’t until the lights dropped that we got to see the full set revealed. The backdrop fell and we could see a true arena-rock setting, complete with a video screen, stage ramps, elevated platforms and steps for vocalist Sharon den Adel to strut her stuff on.

It’s been almost seven years since last I saw Within Temptation, across the city at the Academy, and there have been a few changes along the way since then. They’ve changed drummers, with Mike Coolen coming in, but more significantly guitarist Robert Westerholt decided to stand down from live work in 2011, in order to spend time at home with his and Sharon den Adel’s young family while the singer continued to tour. The band selected Stefan Helleblad to tour in his place alongside existing axeman Ruud Jolie, while Westerholt reverted to the role of songwriter and producer in addition to contributing guitar to the band’s albums still. The band has also diversified in its musical directon, as the symphonic metal style of ‘The Heart of Everything’ became less prominent on subsequent albums ‘The Unforgiving’ and ‘Hydra’.

The set played featured a lot of material from the new album, with ‘Paradise (What About Us)’ coming early in the set. This featured Tarja Turunen appearing on the video screen for her parts of the song while den Adel sang live around her. The same approach was taken with other songs featuring guests, as an image of ex-Killswitch Engage man Howard Jones appeared for ‘Dangerous’ and US rap star Xzibit was seen on screen while the band performed ‘And We Run’. This approach isn’t one I’m entirely comfortable with as an old-school rocker; while samples are an accepted part of this style of Metal I still don’t much care for seeing vocal parts being delivered on screen. The rap bit, I can deal with – it’s unlikely one of the band could pull off an Xzibit-style delivery! Still, I’d rather it be done live where possible, even if it means den Adel sing Tarja’s part or a guitarist take over a male vocal part live, say. This is how Delain operate; they also have guest vocals on some of their songs but when they did ‘The Gathering’ live, Charlotte Wessels sang the whole thing including the parts done on record by Marco Hietala.

Despite this, Within Temptation gave a very good performance, and it was nice to see both the guitarists given a decent piece of lead guitar soloing in the songs, something that is often overlooked in the symphonic Metal subgenre. That said, because I’d really gone to see Delain and had been treated to a barnstormer of a performance first, this felt a little like ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ to me – I couldn’t really get into it because I’d already got what I’d come for. The amount of new material didn’t help matters either; I do prefer their older symphonic stuff and it wasn’t until they did ‘Our Solemn Hour’ that I started to warm to this performance. There was a slightly bizarre break in the set when den Adel regaled us with the story about why the Apple Computers logo has a bite from its ‘apple’; she told the local audience that it was in tribute to Manchester-based computer pioneer Alan Turing. However, this is merely an urban myth; not that it stopped her from getting a cheer. She is a better singer than storyteller, and it wasn’t long before she was back in her stride.

Had Within Temptation been supported by anyone other than Delain I would probably have enjoyed their set more; as it was, Delain had already given me the satisfaction and enjoyment I’d craved and nothing Within Temptation could do could make me feel any more ‘full’ as it were. So yes – symphonic Metal royalty, but very much upstaged by the pretenders to the throne to these eyes and ears.