There’s always a challenging balance to negotiate when a band goes through a major change—facing a combination of support for the new members and nostalgia for the previous longstanding incarnation of Delain. Over 16 years into their career a line-up change brings a major shift however, Dark Waters shows a new era of the band that doesn’t attempt to conceal the past but rather build on it, taking the opportunity to venture along untravelled paths and embrace unexplored waters. Going back to their roots, with the return of original guitarist Ronald Landa and original drummer Sander Zoer, the new members bassist Ludovico Cioffi and vocalist Diana Leah see the merging of the band’s distinctive sound with an intriguing evolution.
The number and variety of singles released ahead of Dark Waters have certainly helped to establish the new sound and introduce Diana’s vocals so that now approaching the album, there is an element of familiarity. This also comes in part from the distinctive melodies, guitar tones and chord progressions that have become part of Delain’s songwriting staples. Hideaway Paradise kicks off proceedings with beautifully atmospheric synths that highlight Diana’s vocals in the gentle lead, all before bursting into the full ensemble of heavy instruments. The catchy elements bring that distinctive singalong quality alongside soaring melodies and powerful metal. Followed in the track listing by the two singles The Quest And The Curse and Beneath (featuring Paolo Ribaldini) these tracks all retain the band’s recognisable character in the songwriting style and even the vocal performance with the choice of melodies.
As the album progresses, the band’s newer sound comes through to a greater extent. Tainted Hearts brings a darker breakdown section with a haunting impact. The addition of orchestral strings emphasises an the eerie mood even though the chorus remains somewhat more uplifting. It’s a dynamic balance of contrast. Moth To A Flame is a curious track—the ‘80s pop vocal intro, ludicrously catchy chorus hook, signature heavy verse guitars and unusual key change transition do not feel like they should work together… and yet somehow, the combination works exceptionally well. Invictus is an unexpected gem on this album. It’s a heavy operatic type track featuring vocals from Paolo Ribaldini and frequent Delain guest Marko Hietala. Thrilling dramatic choir vocals, orchestration and thundering metal tones results in quite a track. Ethereal symphonic vocal melodies are joined with high momentum rhythms, and Marko’s distinctive vocals inject a dark and powerful quality.
Dark Waters is an album that carries a weight of expectation amidst recent history but it also, and more importantly, marks an exciting chapter. It remains true to Delain’s sound in so many ways while whole-heartedly embracing the new. From the fantastically catchy, ‘80s-esque racks to the cinematic, symphonic compositions, Dark Waters delivers far more than perhaps I, and some others, anticipated. • HR
For fans of: Within Temptation, Epica, Sirenia
‘Dark Waters’ by Delain is out now on Napalm Records.
Distant are purveyors of the ludicrously heavy delivering deathcore that shatters from the depths below. The outfit have been producing decimating sounds since their formation in 2014, growing stronger as an ensemble with each release. Heritage continues this trend, building on their sci-fi infused thematic narrative, the album also sees a legion of vocalists from the deathcore scene brought together in the ultimate collaboration.
Synth-fuelled atmospherics open the album. Acid Rain forms a dynamic intro setting the soundscape backdrop for the heavy. When Paradigm Shift hits, it’s an explosion of thundering percussion, fierce guitars, and utterly guttural vocals. Dissonant electronics segue the two tracks seamlessly, seeing the metal instrumentation then take prominence. The track ebbs and flows with moments of full instrumentation and pauses of diminished layers. This alternating contrast gives a harsher impact when the immense wall of sound hits. Exofilth brings ludicrous speed, intricate guitar riffs and demonic harsh. This track showcases Distant’s power with a concoction of musical textures leading to a heightened impact.
Argent Justice makes for an intense deathcore ‘opera’ with sixteen guest vocalists. The collection of brutal styles produces an epic sound with each vocalist’s individual sound adding something extra into the mix. And yet, the whole track still maintains a cohesive feel—transitions between features are not jarring or overloading. Eerie dissonance weaves its way throughout with guitar leads adding extra details throughout the instrumentation. Switching focus between the driving rhythmic forces, haunting atmosphere and high-speed riffs, Argent Justice unveils a relentless attack of heavy music—the perfect backdrop to the display of brutal vocals. At over seven minutes long and situated at the centre of the album, the track is a monumental feature of Heritage. The band’s talent for heavy descents manifests across the album’s track listing. From the outro of The Gnostic Uprising which ventures ever lower, even when you think the end has been reached, to the obliterating darkness of the title track. Heritage unleashes a merciless, anguished attack. Vicious lows and banshee-like highs make for a thrilling contrast in the vocals, supported by the savage instrumental parts beneath.
Distant pour the dark and monstrous into every release. Stepping up each time, Heritage does not disappoint. It’s an ambitious and incredibly successful album building on their previous work and experimenting with something new. • HR
‘Heritage’ by Distant is out now on Century Media Records.
Life’s A Bench, Then They Put Your Name On It
You wanna know why some local bands just never seem to make it? Well, there’s a number of factors—lack of funds or connections; never developing past their clear influences; just plain old bad luck. As for Knuckle…it’s not for a lack of hard work or ambition, seeing as this new album is apparently the second in a trilogy of releases. Rather, it might be more because that ambition hasn’t gone too far past that, into the actual music. It’s scabby, shredded-to-ribbons garage-rock via some of the more arthritic arms of the classic rock canon, i.e. two styles that click together but offer no amnesty from the total dearth of colour or vibrancy.
It’s kind of like The Lemon Twigs’ approach (minus songs about the ‘joys’ of incest, thank fuck), in an unashamedly crusty throwback venture with no interest in anything outside of that. That comes in through the dippity-doo classic-pop of Imaginary Friends or the ancient prog glances taken on Pills, both sounds that gate themselves off so unwaveringly from any kind of vitality. At least Knuckle have some command of variety, even if very little escapes that particular hole. Most often, they’re reliant on the blown-out trappings of modern garage-rock to sound even remotely exciting, by means of punk or noise-rock building blocks that, after being used so much, just begin to sound pedestrian. Jonny Got Knocked Out and Shite Denim strive to be scrappy and raucous but end up as yet more runoffs thanks to the billion other exact permutations of the sound. Elsewhere, opener Better Door (Than A Window) aims to crank things up with how fuzzed-out and wildly distorted it is, almost to the point of obnoxiousness.
If you want obnoxious though, look no further than frontman Jonny Firth to sate those desires, with a vocal style pulling from any number of shrill, caterwauling fogies and their revivalist spawn, complete with the lack of appeal of any of them. This is a performance that practically pins you down to pay attention to it, seeing how the oversinging and mercilessly forward mixing are perpetually inescapable. The unfortunate thing is that all of this feels like Knuckle’s intention as well, seeing as they do appear to have more of a production budget than others in the same strata. It’s just not one that sparks any kind of impetus to dig deeper, when the form it takes is of countless other smaller-scale names, slogging away with songs about the scagged-up, working-class everyday that, like on Guestlist or Sick At The Fair, can be overtly mundane.
There’ll be some for whom all of that isn’t an issue in the slightest, and more power to them, but in terms of where the most exciting rock music is right now—hell, even in the garage-rock and throwback circles—Knuckle are still way on the outskirts. It’s that sort of thing that radiates their ‘local band’ energy; otherwise, from a technical perspective, they’re undoubtedly punching above their weight. That can’t immediately save something with the chronic desire to not match it though, the glaring weakness of a band who already feel stuck in that unfulfilling loop. Not too impressive, really. • LN
For fans of: The Lemon Twigs, Allusinlove, The Black Keys
‘Life’s A Bench, Then They Put Your Name On It’ by Knuckle is released on 17th February on Philophobia Records.
Words by Holly Royle (HR) and Luke Nuttall (LN)