Metal bands sure like to take baths in a wide variety of places, be it in the sun, in blood, in ghosts, in wombs, in entrails, or in whatever “slaughtb” is. Me, I’m more of a shower guy. A nice cold shower helps you think, and tons of great ideas come to be in there, but sometimes you get this introductory bit. It seems that the Dutchmen and Dutchwomen in Delain have suggested a new place for our metallic hygienic niche to take place on their fifth album: the moon. Soon enough, if the trend continues, we’ll get bands or records named after taking a bath in all of the heavenly bodies of Plato’s Timaeus; what a time to be alive. Run a bath – preferably one filled with regular water – for effect, and let’s see what Moonbathers has to offer the curious listener.
Moonbathers is unsurprisingly focused on simple, unobtrusive, and mostly chugging riffs and grandiose keyboard parts in order to showcase leading lady Charlotte Wessels’s vocal talents as strongly as possible. Also unsurprisingly, Wessels gets the lion’s share of the hooks here, which isn’t a bad choice as she’s quite the capable singer. The music itself sounds like symphonic female-fronted Eurocore á la Nightwish1 and keyboardist Martijn Westerholt’s old band Within Temptation, which means that it’s big, hook-oriented arena rock with a metallic flavour and some melodic sensibilities that are generally more in line with modern Dark Tranquility than, say, classic Whitesnake. It also sounds like Delain’s other stuff, so if you were a fan of these guys and gals you’ll immediately recognize and probably like what’s going on here.
I was immediately struck by opener “Hands of Gold” and its Pirates of the Caribbean style bombast; it reminded me of Alestorm a bit, was plenty catchy, and made a good first impression overall. The sappy balladry of “Chrysalis – Last Breath” gives Wessels a ton of room to maneuver, and her impassioned midsection performance is a treat to hear, even if the chorus is too close to the soundtrack of pick-a-Disney-princess-flick for my liking. “Fire with Fire” is poppy hard rock and the best song on the record, embracing simplicity, hooks, and conciseness to make a quality cheeseball tune. Delain covers Queen’s “Scandal” admirably well, replete with an instrumental that sounds like something Trond Holter would give Jørn to do his gloriously gratuitous vocal magic over. This Jørn-ness must’ve been picked up on by Wessels, as she puts on a wonderfully over-the-top performance which exudes confidence and vocal talent.
While she played a pivotal role in the best parts of Moonbathers, Wessels is also responsible for the record’s most outright irritating moment. “Danse Macabre” has overbearing wordless vocal wailing, and it immediately torpedoed my enjoyment of the whole song as it appears right at the beginning. While her voice is good, it isn’t Frank’s Hot Sauce and she’s not an elderly woman; she can’t arbitrarily put it on everything. Closer “The Monarch” sounds like the love child of the Metal Gear Solid 2 and Frozen soundtracks, a mere kernel of idea that abruptly ends the record on an unsatisfying note because it goes nowhere and does essentially nothing. “Turn the Lights Out” sounds like Wessels is auditioning for Floor’s spot in Nightwish while the rest of Delain is trying to score a place on a Japanese video game soundtrack and then doing a (Metal Cover) of their own work when it kicks in to the comparatively heavier bit. It’s not terrible, but it’s not exactly a winner either.
Delain kept the Eurocore status quo in production with Wessels dominating the mix, guitars cleanly distorted, bass boosting the bottom end, keyboards prominent, and drums about as polished and risk-averse as possible. Clean, loud, and quintessentially modern would be good descriptors of the sound here. For what it’s worth, I have trouble picturing what they’re doing being produced any other way, so it works wonders in that regard.
Despite all of the soundtrack references and criticisms, I enjoyed Moonbathers for what it is: a simple, catchy, but ultimately lukewarm record. While the writers at the various leather-and-spikes flavours of Pravda around the metal blogosphere will likely bristle or write a six-thousand word op-ed at the following association, there’s a glass ceiling for this type of record. It can’t be great, because it relishes in being somewhere around the good mark. This is the difference between a band succeeding organically and one consciously trying to appeal to as many people as humanly possible, or the band which has die-hard fans acting like raving lunatics at small or medium-sized venues and the band which people passively enjoy at a big European festival. Delain is the latter in both examples, and the one thing they’re great at is being okay.