Why Did It Have to be Snakes?
Delain’s newest album, Moonbather, sounds like the score to a hypothetical Indiana Jones film. Mystery, intrigue, adventure and other adjectives that might normally be used to describe film are some of the ideas most strongly evoked by Delain’s string-heavy symphonic approach to heavy metal.
Death metal growls by guest vocalist Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy about two-thirds of the way through opening track “Hands of Gold” and an uncharacteristically heavy grindcore-esque riff accompanied by more death metal vocals in the opening of seventh track “Pendulum” both feel like assertions of heavy metal credibility in an album that is otherwise characterized by prominent string and piano sections and pop music-sounding vocals. Outside of the context of the rest of the album, fifth track “Chrysalis – The Last Breath” could even be mistaken for an outtake from the Frozen soundtrack.
It should be said that Delain performs their occasionally Disney-evocative take on metal very well. Song structures are varied and their level of musicianship is high. This is an album that, if placed in a time machine, could be a big hit with the early 2000s DeviantArt crowd. Much of the band’s talent is not in their ability to craft traditionally well-executed metal, but music that sounds exhilarating. It almost begs for film accompaniment.
Eight or nine songs into the album, they do seem to be running out of ideas, with some of the latter tracks sounding like little more than cookie cutter versions of the mini symphonic epics Delain has made their modus vivendi. Even the album’s final track, “The Monarch,” which is structured with a lengthy instrumental intro and atmospheric string outro, falls short of the epic closer that would feel well appropriate for an album defined by its symphonic grandeur. The notable exception to the relative sameness of the album’s second half is Queen cover “Scandal,” which opens with techno synths, hair metal guitars and operatic vocals in what might be the most self-assuredly uncool moment in an album that already strays far from conventional ideas of cool.
Moments like these will either register as heretical or as a breath of fresh air depending on the listener. Since Delain has already found success in their symphonic metal niche, there’s no need whatsoever for them to appeal to anyone but the latter group. The very idea of a metal band with a prominent strings will likely divide listeners into one of these two camps at the outset. For anyone intrigued or delighted by the band’s very premise, Moonbather is well worth a listen.