Dutch symphonic metal veteran band DELAIN continues to deliver a confident expression of orchestral melodic metal that's exactly what the group's peers wish they could create. A high degree of talent is prerequisite for anyone even considering to tackle this style. Most bands end up failing, however, due to poor attempts at marrying traditional heavy metal with staples of symphonic music, despite the musicianship that may be at hand. But "Moonbathers", DELAIN's fifth studio outing, sounds natural and organic unlike the band's third-tier peers who sound lost and as though they're trying too hard.A casual pace and core of heavy metal guitars propel the entire album, most notably on tracks like "Fire With Fire". However, there's a contemporary appeal in terms of production with various moments of clean, jagged djent-style riffs and sounds that emerge on tracks like "The Glory and the Scum". This juxtaposition of classic metal with contemporary metallic clarity sounds awkward on paper, but it works because of thoughtful sequencing and phrasing within individual songs. "Pendulum" is relatively more intense with a tasteful and appropriate degree of aggression, which adds contrast to the flourishes of keyboards and orchestration. Charlotte Wessels's soaring vocals are delivered with a clear sense of authenticity. The triumphant and hopeful nature of "Suckerpunch" showcases Wessels's improved vocal capabilities compared to previous efforts. Wessels, who formed the band in 2002 with former WITHIN TEMPTATION keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, is joined by ARCH ENEMY's Alissa White-Gluz on opener "Hands of Gold", a track that includes segments of Oscar Wilde's poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol". This song sets the tone for all that follows. "Moonbathers" is an exercise of confidently played contemporary symphonic metal that's accessible and evocative throughout. "Moonbathers" isn't weighed down by filler, per se; although the album's best ideas could have been squeezed into an EPs worth of material. The group's rendition of QUEEN's "Scandal"" stands out as a treat that stays true to the original whilst being encapsulated by the qualities that make DELAIN what it is. "Moonbathers" is as epic as symphonic metal fans would hope for in the genre. The production captures the jam room vibe that lacks the pretense and pomp that can often plague the genre. Again, the group doesn't seem to be trying too hard; it all sounds sincere. Depending on whom you ask, the upbeat tone musically and vocally either stands at odds with the lyrical focal point of death, inspired at points by film and comics, or Wessels has taken a brave perspective upon death. Whatever the answer may be, it's always a good sign when art makes you think.
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