Caught Live: Delain ft. Marco Hietala (plus Serenity, Cellar Darling), TivoliVredenburg Ronda, Utrecht NL 31 October 2017

This was a gig I booked a long time ago, having decided that once again the Netherlands was easier to reach than the only scheduled UK date for this tour, at London’s KOKO. It was of particular interest since Delain had a special guest in Marco Hietala, appearing on all dates. The Nightwish bassist and vocalist has a long-standing relationship with this band; he played bass on their debut ‘Lucidity’ and contributed vocal parts for some songs, and has since featured on subsequent Delain albums as a co-vocalist. In addition, he has appeared on stage with the band whenever schedules allowed, notably when Delain toured with Nightwish for a US tour in 2015.

It was going to be quite a long day, as Delain had arranged a special screening of their just-released live DVD, filmed a year ago at Paradiso in Amsterdam and marking their tenth anniversary. I was at that show and at the time of writing, am still awaiting delivery of the DVD which was preordered some time ago.  The screening took place at the nearby Louis Hartlooper complex, a cinema and cultural centre. Needless to say I got there a few minutes late (!) and was greeted by none other than Delain singer Charlotte Wessels. She waved me through even before I could show her the email with my reservation on it, with a cheery ‘See you tonight!’ as she pointed me towards the cinema hall. As it turned out, although I had missed a Q&A with her and the band, the screening had just started with a short documentary which also features on the DVD, chronicling the band on their 2016 tour and showcasing a few of their devoted fans.  That was a fun watch as I recognised several faces in the fan meet and greets, thankfully not mine (!)

Following that there was a brief interval, and I availed myself of a much-needed glass of refreshment before the showing of the Paradiso concert DVD. It was great to see that on a big screen, and with surround sound too and it almost felt like being back there. A full review of that DVD will follow once I get it, but initial impressions were that the production was extremely slick and polished, with many cameras covering it there were a lot of cuts from one shot to the next. It actually reminded me of the way Whitesnake’s ‘Live… In The Still Of The Night’ DVD was presented, which was similarly pacy in style. I’d not even been to find my hotel yet, so after catching up with a few Delain fans I know after the screening it was off to find my place and quickly shower and change for the evening’s events.

TivoliVredenburg is a large, multi-purpose venue with several halls inside; built on the site of the old Muzikcentrum it is close to Utrecht Centraal railway station, so is handy for travelling. The old site was the setting for a Dio live concert film released in 1984, but this show would take place in the ‘Ronda’ hall two floors up. With a capacity of 2000, it has good views from almost anywhere in the hall but with a stage set quite high up, so the advice I had been given from fellow fans was not to queue for the front row. I entered the hall and almost immediately ended up in a heap – the doors lead to a tiered section with steps down, and what I thought were also steps turned out not to be. Dimly-lit and with little to distinguish the actual steps from what was actually a tiered standing area, I took a step off into thin air and promptly tumbled down two of these rows! Luckily only my pride was hurt, but that was a bad start to the evening.

Having dusted myself off and found a decent spot across the floor I settled for openers, Swiss folk-metallers Cellar Darling. I only heard of this band in the summer when a track of theirs was featured on a rock radio show broadcast in the Merseyside area, and only later learned that the group were formed by three former members of Eluveitie. On record they are a trio comprising of singer Anna Murphy (who also plays hurdy-gurdy),   drummer Merlin Sutter, and guitarist Ivo Henzi but as the latter also plays bass in the studio, for live work they bring in bassist Nicolas Winter. They do have a unique thing going on in that hurdy-gurdy, though the material was a curious mix of nu-metal rhythm and folky rock. The main soloing came from Murphy’s hurdy-gurdy rather than Henzi’s guitar and from my viewpoint to the side, it looked like she was wielding an overgrown bus conductor’s ticket machine (!) I was still intrigued enough to get their album afterwards, which features a cover of Queen’s ‘The Prophet Song’. I’ll be interested to see whether or not Bus Conductor Metal is the big thing for 2018!

Cellar Darling's Anna Murphy

Cellar Darling’s Anna Murphy

Georg Neuhauser of Serenity

Georg Neuhauser of Serenity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up next were Austrian power metallers Serenity. This was the third time I’d seen them and each time it had been as support to Delain. They’re another band with a long history of working with Delain, they’ve toured together several times and Charlotte Wessels has collaborated, on ‘Serenade of Flames’ (a track from previous album ‘Death & Legacy’) as well as working with Serenity vocalist Georg Neuhauser on the Phantasma project and concept album ‘The Deviant Hearts’. They were their usual bombastic selves, plenty of energy and enthusiasm, some nimble-fingered playing from guitarist Cris Tian and excellent vocal performances from both Neuhauser (a soundalike to Sonata Arctica’s Tony Kakko to my ears) and bassist Fabio D’Amore. For all that I’ve never quite got into these guys, despite having two of their albums on CD I enjoy them more in the live setting than when actually sat down to listen to their studio work. Each time I’ve seen them they’ve had a different guest female vocalist, this time it was Natasha ‘Tasha’ Koch who accompanied Neuhauser on several songs, including ‘Serenade of Flames’.  She sounded good and looked glamorous, as well as having a sense of fun – she is Dutch and laughingly mocked Georg’s attempts to address the Utrecht crowd in their own language! They’re well worth seeing whenever they come around, although by the singer’s own admission they don’t come to the UK often because it is ‘so expensive’, as he once told me.

The current run of dates marks Delain drummer Ruben Israel’s last shows with the band before standing down; and they’d pulled out the stops to make these last few dates special. There was the usual huge backdrop (based on the ‘Moonbathers’ artwork) but this time the ‘moon’ changed to show visuals throughout the set, reminiscent of ‘Mr Screen’ from Pink Floyd tours of days gone by. The set was changed around a little too, in order to accommodate songs not normally performed, especially those which on record featured Marco Hietala. The now-familiar intro tape of ‘The Monarch’ heralded the arrival first of Ruben Israel then guitarist Timo Somers, soon followed by the rest of the group as they launched into opener ‘Hands of Gold’. The first treat for the audience came in this number as George Oosthoek appeared to perform the ‘growl’ vocal parts, another vocalist whose history with Delain dates back to ‘Lucidity’. From there it was a regular-ish Delain show, although they played usual set-closer ‘We Are The Others’ second this time. It was high-energy stuff for the first part of the show, until the band left the stage to just the singer, keyboardist Martijn Westerholt and guest cellist Elianne Anemaat for the gentler ‘Scarlet’. After resuming the bombastic stuff and keeping the crowd on edge for ‘Here Come The Vultures’ and ‘ Fire With Fire’, Marco Hietala was finally introduced for ‘Your Body Is A Battleground’. That sent the crowd into even greater raptures, cheering his name loudly between songs. He stayed for a few more songs (including the seldom-performed ‘Nothing Left’) before leaving the stage temporarily, while Charlotte Wessels urged yet more cheering, saying ‘he might come back’! This crowd needed little encouragement, their crowds tend to be enthusiastic wherever they play and it was certainly no different in the singer’s home city.

Delain's Timo Somers

Delain’s Timo Somers

Merel and Otto of Delain

Merel and Otto of Delain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the material Hietala performed on stage were songs he recorded with them, the exception being the Queen cover ‘Scandal’. On record it is sung by Wessels alone, but here it was presented as a duet and worked better than I had anticipated this night. The ensemble ended with ‘The Gathering’, complete with loads of streamers and then the whole band plus guests took bows, and posed for a group pic in front of the still-cheering crowd.

This was by my reckoning the twelfth time I’ve seen Delain, four of those have been in their own country and this went straight up there as one of the best shows I’ve seen them give – even better than the Paradiso show which we saw again earlier in the day. Charlotte was in splendid voice all night, she has really strengthened her vocal in the last couple of years and is now no longer that slightly shy girl fronting the band. She’s confident, assertive and has a full house like this in the palm of her hand from first song to last. She even quipped after one prolonged bout of cheering that their next album would be called ‘Delain – drunk on power’!  The addition of the Nightwish man was icing on the cake and it was a privilege to see him add his distinctive tenor live to songs he contributed to in the studio. Only minor quibble (there’s always one!) is he could have been on stage with them for a bit longer, I would especially have liked ‘A Day For Ghosts’ played (even though it was Liv Kristine he duetted with on the record, the live band have performed it in the past).

Charlotte Wessels of Delain

Charlotte Wessels of Delain

Guest vocalist Marco Hietala from Nightwish

Guest vocalist Marco Hietala

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all that it was a terrific show, as I do not expect to see the band again for at least a year this and their new DVD will keep me going until then. Whenever that DVD arrives!

Some fan-filmed footage from the show is provided courtesy of youtubers Delain UKTV and TauRush2:

5 – Delightful

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Caught Live: Delain (with Evergrey, Kobra And The Lotus), o2 Ritz Manchester 12 November 2016

Another year, another Delain touring cycle. The Dutch symphonic metallers have put a lot of miles over the past few years, with prestigious support slots with Nightwish in the US as well as headline shows in the UK and Europe. This time around the tour is in support of their recently-released sixth album ‘Moonbathers’ and for their Manchester date they were booked into the 1500-capacity o2 Ritz, a step up from their previous appearances at Club Academy.

With a club night scheduled to follow this gig, it was quite an early start for the show (a three-band bill); following a meet and greet/acoustic performance by Delain for the small group of fans who took up the VIP package (and got first pick of spot on the all-important barrier) the doors opened and plenty were already in place for openers Kobra and The Lotus. A Canadian quintet fronted by the stunning Kobra Paige, their music is traditional Metal with plenty of fist-pumping and shredding solos courtesy of guitarist Jasio Kulakowski. Paige, a classically trained singer who turned to Metal while still in her teens, demonstrated a strong voice and was pleased at the warm reception from the Manchester crowd.

Kobra And The Lotus

Kobra And The Lotus at Manchester

Evergrey were up next, a Swedish outfit based around vocalist/guitarist Tom S. Englund. Their style of Metal is also old-school with plenty of harmony guitars from Englund and fellow axeman Henrik Danhage, and has more than a little Maiden influence. The quintet had a better sound mix (a little less bass-heavy) for me than the openers and went down well with the crowd, some of whom were clearly there for Evergrey as the band’s name was chanted from pockets of the crowd on the floor. The frontman got a cheer when he mentioned that they’d play ‘In Orbit’ which on record features Nightwish singer Floor Jansen, only for him to dampen it down by adding that he’d have to perform her part as she wasn’t there (!) He then got a boo when he announced to this crowd that he was a Man Utd fan (cue some loud boos emanating from my spot, ahem!); presumably he thought that’d go over better than it actually did! (Not everybody there was from Manchester, Tom – those who were could well have been City fans 😉 ) Football banter aside, they gave a very good set and are worth seeing if they play in your area.

Evergrey's Tom S. Englund

Evergrey’s Tom S. Englund

Delain came on at 8:30 sharp with drummer Ruben Israel appearing first to the intro music (‘Monarch’ from the recent ‘Moonbathers’ album), who then started to play along to the intro, joined by guitarist Timo Somers and then the rest of the band. They opened with album lead-off ‘Hands Of Gold’ and were straight into that synchronised headbang routine that has become a familiar sight. Lead singer Charlotte Wessels then made her grand entrance (clad in a glittery 1980s-style outfit complete with shoulder pads) to tremendous cheers. From the off she had the crowd in the palm of her hand, easily getting arms raised, fists pumped and ‘hey, hey!’ chants going. Bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije once again handled the ‘growly’ vocal parts on this track and others that called for it, when not doing those he was all over the stage, frequently swapping places with Somers and fellow guitarist Merel Bechtold.

Charlotte Wessels of Delain

Charlotte Wessels of Delain

Guitarist Timo Somers

Guitarist Timo Somers

The set was heavily weighted towards the current album (always a sign that a band really believes in their latest release) with no fewer than seven tracks from it performed. ‘Suckerpunch’ got the crowd chanting along with its ‘whoa, whoa’ hook, and the singer got the crowd clapping along for the first of many times to ‘The Glory And The Scum’. Their older albums were not ignored however; the crowd were encouraged to ‘keep those hands in the air’ for ‘Get The Devil Out of Me’ and ‘Army of Dolls’. They’re also celebrating the tenth anniversary of debut album ‘Lucidity’ this year, that record was acknowledged with ‘Sleepwalkers Dream’, ‘Pristine’ and ‘The Gathering’.

‘The Hurricane’ (from the current album) was as much a highlight of the live set as it was on record, showcasing both Wessels’ sweeter lower range as well as her stronger vocal in the chorus. She delivered it with real passion and power, on that sort of form she’s as capable as a Floor Jansen of tingling the spine. ‘Fire With Fire’ showed how much more they’re now using Timo Somers’ vocal, he possesses a fine voice himself and since the addition of Merel Bechtold, he seems to have been given a little more freedom in both his guitar playing and backing vocal.

Guitarist Merel Bechtold

Guitarist Merel Bechtold

Bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck

Bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck

Indeed the whole band contributed not just musically but visually too; the focus is inevitably on the singer when it comes to female-fronted bands of this type but from drummer Ruben Israel right through to keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, all were dynamic. Founding member Westerholt is often overlooked, high up on his perch at the back of the stage and stuck behind keyboards, but look up and you’ll often see him headbanging away – all while playing! During ‘Don’t Let Go’ (performed in the encore) everybody was bouncing around the stage (and into each other in the case of Wessels and Somers!) while the crowd also began to jump. The floor of the Ritz is notoriously bouncy and was effectively a trampoline during this number! After the usual closer of ‘We Are The Others’ the band took their bows.

Charlotte wth Martijn Westerholt

Charlotte wth Martijn Westerholt

Delain’s popularity is growing each time they come to this country, they drew around twice as many this time as they did a year ago at Academy 2. Before long they’ll be at the same level as a Within Temptation or even Nightwish, just reward for the hard yards they’ve been putting in over the past five years.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

LP: Delain ‘Moonbathers’ (Napalm Records)

When my copy of this, the fifth full studio album from Dutch symphonic metallers Delain arrived (on the day of release – kudos Napalm Records and the Royal Mail!) the shrinkwrap covering the record sleeve contained a sticker trumpeting this as ‘Delain’s Finest Moment’. It’s certainly had a lot of build-up; as early as January this year I and other attendees at their ‘Suckerpunch’ gig at Haarlem Patronaat were treated to some short extracts from the sessions they’d been working on. Soon after that came ‘Lunar Prelude’; an EP containing two new tracks, some live material and some previously released songs reworked for the EP. Those two tracks (‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Turn The Lights Out’) are also featured on this new album, along with a cover of Queen’s 1989 hit ‘Scandal’. More recently, in the weeks leading up to this release, some other tracks have been getting airplay on rock radio; ‘Fire With Fire’ has been featured on a local radio station’s weekly show and ‘The Glory And The Scum’ has also been released as a lyric video on YouTube. On top of all of that, the band released short extracts from all the album tracks, initially to fans who attended the aforementioned ‘Suckerpunch’ show and later on, to YouTube.

With all this activity, it has heightened excitement for the eventual release but also served to spoil a little of the suspense; we already knew two of the songs (three if you are a Queen fan and familiar already with ‘Scandal’) and by the time this record was out, anyone interested will have heard at least half of it. Napalm Records have done what they usually do with acts on their roster, and have issued this album in a bewildering choice of formats including two different vinyl options (my choice this time was the initial double vinyl issue on 180 gram ‘gold’ vinyl) and, for those who have yet to discover the bottom of their pockets, a wooden box containing the CD in ‘mediabook’ packaging, a bonus silver vinyl 7″ disc and – a flag! Once again, the cover features art by Glenn Arthur, whose trademark style is becoming synonymous with this band. But is ‘Moonbathers’ the band’s ‘finest moment’ as trumpeted on that sticker? Time to shred the shrinkwrap and put those 180 gram discs on the turntable to find out…

Things get off to a good start with ‘Hands of Gold’, a lively rocker very much in the familiar style, with symphonic fanfares and downtuned guitar crunches. They have picked up pretty much where they left off with 2014’s ‘The Human Contradiction’; using the same writing team (lead singer Charlotte Wessels, keyboardist Martijn Westerholt and studio collaborator Guus Eikens) and with production duties once again handled by Westerholt, it does feel like a continuation of that record. They even brought back Arch Enemy’s frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz to contribute ‘death growl’ vocal on this track as she did on the previous album closer ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’. I confess I’m not a fan of that style of vocal, but used sparingly I can handle it. ‘The Glory And The Scum’ is another typically Delain track, one that could have sat on the last album comfortably. All the trademarks are there, I can picture Wessels getting the crowd clapping along to the second verse; they’ve deployed a familiar trick in backing off the guitars, leaving Wessels to sing over a bass drum beat. ‘Suckerpunch’ we know all about, with its Bon Jovi-esque ‘whoa-whoa’ hooks, leading into what I consider to be a highlight of this record, ‘The Hurricane’. A slower, quieter number more akin to what they were doing on ‘We Are The Others’, it has a catchy chorus that lodged its way into my head straight away. The cooling of engines here allows Wessels to use her sweeter vocal, which was what drew her to my attention in the first place, rather than the ‘roar’ she has developed in recent years. Things are taken down still further with the epic ballad ‘Chrysalis – The Last Breath’, once again showcasing the singer’s remarkable voice.

Back up to speed next for ‘Fire With Fire’, as the guitars come roaring back with another high-tempo, but catchy song. The difference between this album and the previous one is that the songs are more ‘hooky’ – with few exceptions they’d moved away from the more pop sensibility of 2009’s ‘April Rain’ but here, it seems to be a partial return to songs you can latch onto quickly, the sort of thing that ‘walks off the disc and into the concert hall’ (if I may steal an old quote from David Coverdale!) ‘Pendulum’ follows, probably their most Metal number on the album and somewhat reminiscent of 2012’s ‘Where Is The Blood’. Towards the back end of the record, it gets a little more experimental; ‘Danse Macabre’ has a strange but catchy ‘eeeyyaahh’ vocal throughout, an unusual hook but effective. I’d been anticipating their cover of ‘Scandal’ since they announced they were to do it.  One of the lesser-known Queen songs (originally from that band’s 1989 album ‘The Miracle’) and from their later period, it was written by Queen guitarist Brian May (although credited to all four members). Its lyric dealt with the relentless intrusion of band members’ personal lives. I did wonder whether that was something Delain also felt hence their decision to cover this track, but it turns out that Martijn Westerholt simply liked the song and was even given May’s blessing to cover it. It’s heavier (the synth riff in the original is now accompanied by guitar), it is a little faster in tempo, but otherwise not too different. However, much as I love Charlotte, nobody beats Freddie Mercury! 😉

‘Turn The Lights Out’ is the other previously released track and is already known (in truth, not one of my favourites) and the album closes with ‘Monarch’. I detect more Queen influence here; the song is mostly instrumental with only a short vocal contribution from Wessels in the middle. Queen did something very similar with the track ‘Bijou’ on the ‘Innuendo’ album; although this song is slower and more keyboard-orientated the effect did remind me of the concept of the ‘inside-out song’ as Mercury and May aimed for with ‘Bijou’.

Following the studio tracks, there are several live tracks presented from a recent show in the band’s home country of the Netherlands; including a live rendition of ‘The Glory And The Scum’. Closing the fourth side of the double LP are orchestral versions of that song and ‘Hands Of Gold’. That’s something they’ve done on previous releases; it is essentially filler material to make up a double LP but the live tracks are more of interest to me personally.

This is a strong album with probably their most accessible songs since ‘We Are The Others’; however I do feel that the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ production takes some of the gloss off for me. One of the things that attracted me to this band some years ago was that their music was less overblown than other bands of this type; the symphonic elements weren’t swamping their vocalist so much. The 2009 album ‘April Rain’ got that balance right for me, but here I found myself struggling to hear Wessels over the wall of sound on some of the heavier tracks. I’ve already heard two of the songs delivered acoustically by her and guitarist Timo Somers; they worked better for me as the strength of the songs was more evident once stripped back. I still think it is a very good album, but one that could have been improved had they left that extra egg from the pudding. (Apologies to Charlotte for the analogy, since she has been vegan for some years now!) 😉

Finally a word about the choice of vinyl this time around; I bought a vinyl LP of ‘We Are The Others’ at a show last year, and on playing it I’d noticed how much more comfortable a listen it was than the CD. I found out later on that it had been mastered differently for that release; further investigation revealed that the CD (and all the others in their catalogue) were ‘brickwalled’; i.e. mastered for maximum ‘loudness’ at the expense of ‘clipping’ of some of the higher frequencies. That makes for an exciting, but wearing listen if played on even halfway-decent stereo equipment, and the vinyl LP proved to be so much more preferable. Since then I’ve bought their subsequent releases (this LP, and ‘Lunar Prelude’) on vinyl and will continue to do so as long as the CDs are mastered that way. (I already had the LP version of ‘The Human Contradiction’.) They’re far from the only band whose CDs have their phasers set to kill, but it is a trend I could do without. If the music can be mastered properly for LP, it can be done better for CD – after all, that format was sold to us back in the 80s as ‘perfect sound which lasts forever’. Not true as we now know, but CD is capable of a far better listening experience than what we are being offered today in the never-ending ‘loudness war’.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Moonbathers cover

Moonbathers cover

 

 

EP: Delain ‘Lunar Prelude’ (Napalm Records)

NB: For reviews, Air Guitar ratings will appear from now on. 5 – Delightful; 4 – Deserving; 3 – Decent; 2 – Dreary; 1 – Dismal. Look out for the inflatable guitars! 

Delain’s next full studio album is currently in progress, but as that isn’t due until later in the year the Dutch symphonic metallers have issued this mini-album. A similar idea to when they issued their ‘Interlude’ compilation between studio albums, the artwork for this release is once again provided by Glenn Arthur, who started working with the band on 2012’s ‘We Are The Others’. The record was issued in both vinyl and CD format, and this time I plumped for the ‘gold’ vinyl edition, available only by mail order. I treated myself to a vinyl copy of ‘We Are The Others’ at their merchandise stall on the last UK run, and found it a better listen than the CD edition; it seemed to have better range in its sound.

The record comprises two new studio tracks (‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Turn The Lights Out’), one song from the last album (‘Don’t Let Go’) reworked and several live cuts, plus an ‘orchestral’ arrangement of ‘Suckerpunch’. It is therefore a shorter offering than ‘Interlude’ (which was a collection of ‘B’ sides, reworked material, live tracks and two new songs) but is intended to serve much the same purpose: to keep the band’s profile high while they work on the follow-up to 2014’s ‘The Human Contradiction’, scheduled for release later in 2016.

Taking the record from its sleeve, first impressions were that the streaky yellow appearance of the vinyl gave a  rather different impression to the ‘gold’ effect that they were going for (!) but the disc itself appears to be heavy duty vinyl; you can’t use it like a wobble board like you could with some LP records back in the 1980s! Disc colour notwithstanding, the needle was dropped into the groove and it was time to pin back the lugholes…

Both ‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Turn The Lights Out’ have been performed live; the latter debuted on the UK tour and the former provided the basis for the theme behind the band’s recent show at Haarlem which I attended. On record they are rather ‘lighter’ in tone than live; there’s not as much emphasis on the guitar, even though the group now boast two axe-slingers with the recent addition of Merel Bechtold as a permanent member, alongside incumbent guitarist Timo Somers.

‘Suckerpunch’ sounds rather like a 1980s pop-rock song, with it’s ‘whoa-whoa’ hook and also using the old modulation trick on the chorus near the end, it isn’t a million miles away from the sort of thing Bon Jovi broke big with 30 years ago. One definitely aimed at the radio, even if the lyrical content isn’t quite the sort of standard boy/girl stuff of typical chart hits (‘Suckerpunch the demons from my dreams’, sings Charlotte Wessels over those Jovi-esque ‘whoa’ chants). ‘Turn The Lights Out’ is even lighter in tone, with the singer’s sweeter side shown on the chorus. Whether this suggests a rather poppier direction for the next record is still to be determined, but if they are going that way then remember to pack the guitars – their best album to date (IMO) ‘April Rain’ was very much in that vein, strong pop songs with enough of a heavy guitar base to satisfy those of a more metallic persuasion.

Next is the reworked version of ‘Don’t Let Go’, a track originally found on the expanded edition of ‘The Human Contradiction’. This one HAS been given a slightly heavier treatment, but is still difficult to distinguish from the original version. Similar to the reworked treatment of ‘Are You Done With Me’ found on ‘Interlude’, you have to listen to them back-to-back to spot differences in production. I’d have liked to see something completely different to the original if they are going to redo a recent track, the differences are so slight as to render this version almost redundant.

The best part of this record is definitely the live section; there are four live tracks presumably taken from a recent show in their home country, as the frontwoman can be heard addressing the crowd in her native Dutch between songs. All the live tracks (‘Lullaby’, ‘Stardust’, ‘Here Come The Vultures’, ‘Army Of Dolls’) featured on their last album , these versions showcase Wessels’ excellent live vocal and feature (I’m guessing) the expanded six-piece line-up. The lead guitar part on ‘Stardust’ does sound a little different in tone, suggesting it’s Merel Bechtold’s six-string we’re hearing. The songs do sound heavier, harder-hitting live than on the record now that they have a twin-guitar attack, and it’s to be hoped they can bring some of that heavier sound into the studio for the next album. The record closes with the orchestral version of ‘Suckerpunch’; again this is an idea reused from ‘The Human Contradiction’ where two songs were given similar treatment for the expanded 2-disc edition. I’d have preferred another live track personally, these orchestral arrangements sound like film scores and are little more than filler in my view.

All in all then a bit of a mixed bag; of the two new songs ‘Suckerpunch’ is the stronger but the live material is the most worthwhile for me, while I find the orchestral number and the remade song somewhat non-essential. One for existing fans rather than anybody new to the group; if you are just finding them I’d recommend starting with ‘We Are The Others’ as that album provides much of the basis for their live show still.

3gtrs

Decent

Delain-Lunar-Prelude-album-cover-delain-39117326-720-720

The artwork for Delain’s ‘Lunar Prelude’ by Glenn Arthur

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.