Back in the spring, Dutch symphonic metallers Delain announced a short run of four UK dates (in actual fact, all took place in England) as part of their autumn European tour. Having been a fan of this band for some years now, I was eager to get tickets and booked for both the Birmingham show and this one at Manchester, the next night. Fast-forward several months and I find myself actually skipping the Birmingham date, something that appeared unthinkable back in April. Reason? The gig scheduling gods had clashed this show with at least three others that tempted me on the same night, but the one that lured me away was by punk covers act The Sex Pissed Dolls, who were playing a special show at Warrington which was to be shot for an upcoming live DVD.
So the supreme sacrifice was made to miss out on Birmingham, but with the prospect of this show at one of the better halls in Manchester University the blow was softened just a little. The last two times Delain have performed in this building, they have been put in the ‘Club Academy’ basement, a small bar venue with dreadful sight lines and pillars in inconvenient locations. If you aren’t at or near the front, this is a poor experience. However, this time they were booked for the Academy 2, or the Main Debating Hall as I know it from many years of attending shows at this building. Along for the ride were fellow Dutch act The Gentle Storm, and for this show local act A Mouth Full Of Matches were selected as openers, following a contest run by Delain in the weeks leading up to this tour where they would select a different opener for each UK show. Shortly before the tour took place, Delain announced that Merel Bechtold, who had been touring with the band providing additional guitar, had been elevated to full band member status making them a six-piece band. This meant that she would be pulling ‘double duty’, as she is also regular guitarist with The Gentle Storm.
For the first time on a UK tour Delain offered a ‘VIP’ package to a limited number of fans. I’m not usually keen on this kind of thing, as it incurs additional expense if you want to meet the band (Delain are normally very good for coming out to meet punters after their show) but I caved in on this occasion. For one thing, it gave you first access to the front and so you had a chance of getting the all-important barrier, and for another thing the band (or at least two of them: guitarist Timo Somers and singer/face of the group Charlotte Wessels) were to perform two songs acoustically exclusively for VIP holders. The rest of the package included the usual photo for the band to sign, a laminate pass to show off and the meet & greet/photo opportunity with the band members. Following this, we VIP holders were permitted to remain in the building while a massive queue started to build outside. (We later learned that there was another queue, for legendary synth-rocker Gary Numan who was playing the main Academy 1 the same night). There was little to do but wait, and chat to pass the time until the staff lined us up for the promised priority entrance to the venue in the meantime.
Sure enough, we did get onto the front of the hall and on the barrier, which was needed in my case following the energetic gig the night before (!) and I settled in my spot for openers A Mouth Full Of Matches. Knowing absolutely nothing about them beforehand, I was surprised somewhat to see a mixed-gender line-up with a female drummer and guitarist. Even in 2015, that’s an unusual thing to see and it does give them something of a unique selling point. (Usually, women in bands are lead singers – as was the case with the other acts on this bill (!) or bassists.) They are a five-piece band, with sisters Jane and Helen Hebenton on guitar and bass respectively, second guitarist Mark Holden, drummer Laura Cornell and lead vocalist Tom Buxton. They looked to be a very young band, although the vocalist came across as being a little more experienced, a bit more accustomed to a big stage than the others. They played anthemic alternative rock and Buxton was an impressive frontman, handling the difficult task of warming up this crowd expertly. I treated myself to their two EPs following the show and chatted briefly to Tom and also Helen Hebenton, whose self-designed ‘satanic’ style top had caught my eye! I’d see this outfit again if they came anywhere near Liverpool, which is likely given that they all hail from the Manchester area apart from the vocalist, a Midlander.
Next up were The Gentle Storm, fronted by Anneke van Giersbergen and as mentioned earlier, also featuring Merel Bechtold on guitar. A lot of fans in the hall were eager to see this act, as the singer is not often seen in the UK and is regarded as one of the big names in the European symphonic metal scene. They were good live, but not really my kind of thing – a little too operatic and the songs a bit too drawn-out for my taste. I found myself observing the pedal board Merel Bechtold was using during this set, and how she got several effects (including a string section emulator) from her guitar (a red Bo-El) with this setup! The band also featured Streams of Passion singer Marcela Bovio on backing vocals, who occasionally got to come to the front to join van Giersbergen. The set went down well with the majority, but it wasn’t for me.
I was eager to see Delain again, as it had been a year since their previous visit to this city. Then, the band were forced to play without bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije, as in a well-documented incident, he sustained an injury in an unfortunate place the previous night (and on that occasion I was at the show in question!). To get around that problem, guitarist Timo Somers had hastily put down a bass track to use in that night’s show. This year, with the bassist fully recovered, he resumed his place in the line-up and this time, the group had pledged to perform a few songs that they hadn’t done in some time. When the group came out it was to predictably huge cheers, and Merel Bechtold had swapped her red guitar for a natty purple number for this set!
Opening with ‘Here Come The Vultures’, singer Charlotte Wessels sounded excellent as usual, but the sound I was getting from my position was noticeably bass-heavy. I put that down to early teething troubles, expecting it to settle, but it never did. One punter near me even shouted ‘Turn The Bass Down!’ as it wasn’t just ‘The Baron’ who was louder than everyone else, Ruben Israel’s kick drum was also thudding its way into my skull. Consequently, although this set was indeed a mixture from all their albums as promised, and even though they played ‘Start Swimming’ from the ‘April Rain’ album (one of my favourite songs and one that had been much-requested prior to the tour), because of that bass-heavy sound I wasn’t enjoying this gig anything like as much as I have done on previous occasions. They unveiled a new song ‘Turn The Lights Out’ in this set, but it rather sailed over my head since I was being juddered into a blancmange by that bass. Otto did stay well clear of the streamer cannons this time during ‘The Gathering’ (I did notice they were much less powerful this time, Delain!) and despite my skull being shaken and not stirred, they were going down very well with the Manchester crowd, with the singer having to pause to take in the loud cheers.
‘Mother Machine’ and ‘We Are The Others’ closed out the show, and I was actually struggling to hear Martijn Westerholt’s electric piano intro to the latter song, so muddy was the sound I had been getting all night. I have since had reports that the sound was better a few rows back, but I’ve seen this band from the front row many times before and have never had such a shuddering experience as I got at this venue. Whether it was the room, my position or just a duff sound mix I don’t know, but it did take the gloss off this show for me.
My next Delain show will be in Holland in the New Year, as they play a special set to wrap up this touring cycle, I hope for a better sound mix there, as their undoubted quality was definitely spoilt for me by the sound on this occasion.