Delain, a symphonic metal band from the Netherlands, are the sort of band where if I had a hat I'd have to eat it, as I'd written them off a couple of albums ago as a band that I was never going to enjoy. Then along came The Human Contradiction (2014) and it was clear that Delain had really stepped up their game and I ended up positively surprised by the album. So I've been interested to hear how their music may continue to evolve since then and Moonbathers (2016) is the result. The band have expanded their line-up to six members since the album with the introduction of a second guitarist, Merel Bechtold (also of Purest of Pain and MaYaN). Moonbathers also sees a guest vocal from Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy, ex-The Agonist) on its first track, Hands of Gold. She also appeared on The Human Contradiction. The album additionally includes a cover of the Queen song Scandal while fans may already be familiar with a couple of the album's tracks which were also featured on the EP Lunar Prelude (2016).
It's pretty easy to try to compare Delain with what Within Temptation does. After all Delain was formed by Martijn Westerholt (keyboards), whose brother is Robert Westerholt, guitarist/harsh vocalist of Within Temptation and was in the band himself before having to quit for health reasons. Maybe some of Delain's earlier work could have been put on the same page as the commercial sounding symphonic metal that Within Temptation currently makes, but in a reversal of situations Delain actually seems to be moving further and further away from that sort of thing, even more so with Moonbathers than ever before. Though still very different bands, I feel as if Moonbathers is a step towards what a band like Epica produces, especially in regard to some of the instrumental work featured on the album, as heard in a track such as The Glory and the Scum. Now, I love me a bit of Within Temptation regardless of era, they're very good at what they do, but I can only see this as a positive thing for Delain. It makes them more interesting to listen to – my issue with their early work was not that I thought it was bad, more like unremarkable. Whereas these days they hold my attention much, much better.
So on that note I think it's safe to say that I find Moonbathers to be the most accomplished Delain album yet. Issues that I still had with The Human Contradiction have been improved upon here, especially their actual symphonic elements which I find much better this time, with some nice melodies and powerful bits. They do of course include an obligatory softer ballad in the form of Chrysalis - The Last Breath and some parts, notably the Queen cover, still push towards a commercial sound, but I think that's to be expected with some metal genres more than others, symphonic being one of them, though to my ears Delain have thrown off the more alternative metal elements that were present on the last album with Moonbathers. I certainly can't help but be drawn into infectious anthemic tracks like Suckerpunch, but it's ones like The Glory and the Scum, Hands of Gold and Fire With Fire that hit the spot the most.
Moonbathers is not a perfect album by any means. Apart from Alissa White-Gluz's vocals on Hands of Gold I don't find the other uses of harsh vocals on the album to be that strong and as such I don't feel that they add as much of an extreme metal edge as the band seem to be going for, and most of the time I don't feel that their songs need it either, as lead singer Charlotte Wessels handles the songs well on her own. But it is Delain's best album to date that the first one that's really drawn me into giving it several quick successive listens (in fact I've already played this one more than any other Delain album); I did enjoy The Human Contradiction quite a lot, but it wasn't able to hook me quite like this one has.