Review by Sophie Maughan
Release Date: 4 April 2014
Currently in the midst of a high profile tour supporting Within Temptation, Dutch symphonic metallers Delain are back with their fourth and highly anticipated studio album The Human Contradiction. In the two years since the release of 2012’s We Are The Others, the quintet have toured the globe and found a new home in the form of Napalm Records. The band have taken a much more inward look at their selves so to speak when embarking on the writing and recording process for this record which, as Charlotte comments, resulted in a very different feel this time around:
“We relied more heavily than ever on the efforts of the Delain writing team – Martijn, myself and our long time musical partner Guus Eikens, with Martijn back in the producer seat, and basically not involving any third parties until we really had to. It allowed for a creatively free process, which was enjoyable even considering the crazy time pressure.”
With Martijn Westerholt back at the production helm, a top notch mixing team (whose past credits include artists like Slipknot and Marilyn Manson) and a fantastic array of guest musicians on board, The Human Contradiction is a massive sounding collection of songs. That “classic” Delain sound heard on their earlier material is still recognisable but what makes this record ultimately more exciting for me personally, is the underlying darkness which resonates from the music itself. Beautifully elaborate orchestrations and the inclusion of harsh male grunts and guttural vocal contributions are recurring features on this album. The songs themselves are also noticeably longer which allows those darker edges to creep in and really present themselves to the listener. These dark elements run along both the instrumental and lyrical world, of which Wessels states:
“The title “The Human Contradiction” is taken from one of my favourite books; Octavia E. Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood. A post-apocalypse story, in which the fact that humanity did not last is explained by our two most contradictory qualities; the fact that we are as a species both intelligent and hierarchic. This human contradiction causes an ‘us versus the others’ mentality… In a way, “The Human Contradiction” presents a broadening and deepening of the lyrical concept of We Are The Others: ‘otherness’ and how people relate to this. Whether it is otherness within our species, so towards people who are perceived as ‘different’ by other people (which was “We Are The Others” main focus) or in our attitudes towards nonhuman ‘others’, which is the lyrical addition made by our new record.”
Nowhere is this much debated edge of darkness more prevalent than on opening track ‘Here Come The Vultures’ – an aural journey of nightmarish proportions which is as heavy as it is beautiful. As the song kicks in, I am immediately delighted by those pounding down-tuned guitars, rumbling drum snares and the rich passion emanating from Charlotte’s voice. Her vocal range is incredible as ever; the way she just glides effortlessly between the higher and lower octaves could reduce even the most emotionless individual to a goosebump -ridden heap. There’s more than a mere hint of gothic eeriness to the chorus and at 4:13 those repeated “la-lala-la” refrains which Wessels hums over the top are unsettling in the most awesome way. The outro with its crackling sound almost puts me in mind of those old music boxes that you’d keep jewellery in as a child and it injects a new dimension to the song in terms of dynamics. I absolutely adore lead single ‘Your Body Is A Battlefield’ on which Charlotte splits vocal duties with Marco Hietala. The Nightwish maestro is fast becoming a regular collaborator with appearances on two previous albums to date (Lucidity and April Rain) and it is easy to see why from this number – epic and powerful in tone, he complements Charlotte perfectly without ever overshadowing her in the process. Punchy lyric lines and sweeping, bombastic orchestrations segue into fantastic and solid guitar work which all blend together to give the song a cinematic flavour.
‘Stardust’ is lively in tempo as well as being wonderfully heavy but it retains a sweetness due to some stunning melodic vocals whilst ‘My Masquerade’ is packed to the brim with chunky riffs and an incredibly catchy chorus with its half rhyme structure – “My masquerade / My masquerade / If you’re not afraid / To take a step into my world” – you will find yourself singing along in no time. ‘Tell Me, Mechanist’ opens with the delicate tinkling of piano keys but swiftly gives way to the guttural growls of Celestial Season’s George Oosthoek and possibly the most thunderous riffage of the whole record. The operatic tinged “ohhh-ohhh”’s during the intro of ‘Sing To Me’ are reminiscent of Sharon den Adel at times and the delivery is nothing short of hypnotic. Let’s not take anything away from the rest of the band though – this is not simply a one-man (or woman) show and there are plenty of driving rhythms courtesy of Timo, Sander and Otto. And believe me when I say that Hietala’s contribution is as stellar second time round. He employs just the right amount of rasp without sounding too over the top and really encompasses the melancholia at the true black heart of the song.
There is an almost pop sensibility to ‘Army Of Dolls’ – the addition of 80’s influenced electronic beats are a real surprise to my ears but kudos to the band for daring to experiment and step outside of the proverbial box. As the album reaches its conclusion, it is verging on perfection but I must confess to be not completely enthralled by closer ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ and this is largely due to the guest vocals from ex -The Agonist / current Arch Enemy frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz. There is no disputing Alissa’s vocal chops and her two-pronged attack of vitriolic screams versus the melodic / clean line are well executed, but they fail to have the desired effect on me as a listener – although I expect that many others will disagree completely.
The Human Contradiction is a shining example of a band at the very top of their game. It has everything a Delain fan could possibly want with stunning vocals, hook-laden melodies, fantastic guitar work and the grandiose orchestrations that have become synonymous with the symphonic metal sound. They have stayed close to their roots but continue to constantly develop and evolve which is a testament to their creativity as artists. This may very well be the record that catapults them to the very top – and it would be thoroughly deserved. Highly recommended.
8.5 out of 10
- Here Come The Vultures
- Your Body is a Battleground (featuring Marco Hietala)
- My Masquerade
- Tell Me, Mechanist (featuring George Ooesthoek)
- Sing to Me
- Army Of Dolls
- The Tragedy of the Commons (featuring Alissa White-Gluz)