Review Summary: A standard symphonic metal album, but that's by no means a bad thing...
Operatic/symphonic metal is a genre that shouldn't work, but does. The combination of two genres of music that are distinctly polar opposites somehow seems to work, however. It's also a genre of music that is either done very well, or very poorly. Happily, Delain seem to sit somewhere in the middle. The band is the brainchild of former Within Temptation keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, and so it's prefectly clear to the listener as to where the influences are coming from in the band's sound. Originally intended as a collaboration solo project for Westerholt on debut album 'Lucidity', the band are now a fully fledged outfit in their own right. And from this evidence, they're all the better for it.
'April Rain' follows the path of other operatic metal albums closely, echoing Within Temptation in many of the songs. The opening title track begins on a haunting piano line, before breaking into the usual orchestral crescendo with metal guitars in the background. From this first 15 second excerpt or so, one can decide if they wish to continue with the album or not. But a fan of operatic metal is unlikely to have been put off. If the introduction wasn't a signal of the intention of the band, the soaring melodies and the brilliantly uplifting chorus are. The single 'Stay Forever' follows a familar structure (indeed one which is repeated on most songs in this album) and also holds a beautifully engaging chorus. 'Invidia' follows on in much the same way, and a feeling of deja vu threatens to hover over the album. However, there's a welcome change in sound in 'Control The Storm, featuring Marco Hietala of Nightwish fame on vocals. The song follows a similar structure to the rest of the songs, but that familiar howl of Hietala's adds to the atmosphere of the song. He also returns on closing song 'Nothing Left' where his vocals add another dimension to the song. It's not all about surging metal, though, as songs like 'On The Other Side' and 'Start Swimming' demonstrate. The former is a gentle, string driven piece of music with a haunting chorus and the latter is a largely soft song (albeit with some guitar use near the end) with a distinctly hopeful vibe to it. These songs are genuine highlights and aren't just bland attempts by the band to sound different.
The apex of the album comes in the form of the two penultimate tracks, 'Lost' and 'I'll Reach You'. 'Lost' is a song that combines the heavy elements of metal with the twisting and spiralling harmonies of orchestral music. 'I'll Reach You' doesn't have as much orchestral influence as some songs on the album, with the focus being more on the guitar melodies, but it does possess the most engaging and passionate chorus on an album that's filled with them.
Charlotte Wessels is a capable, and rather talented, vocalist. There's nothing unique about an Operatic/Symphonic metal recruiting a female vocalist, but Wessels does a successful job of creating different moods in the songs. It's easy to dismiss her as just a Sharon den Adel clone, but she actually has a lot more range to her voice that is only noticed on further listens. She is able to sound tender and pained on the more emotional songs, but is also able to adopt a 'bite' to her voice for the 'rockier' songs on the album. The rest of the musicians do a competent job, but it's really the orchestral melodies weaving their way around the other instruments that are the real pleasure to the album. No doubt's Westerholt's creation of these is down to his WT days.
However, the album doesn't offer anything unique. Delain are unlikely to ever reach the heights of say, Nightwish, who are a band capable of incorporating all sorts of influences into their music. But...perhaps that isn't what they intend to do.
Too many of the songs on this album follow the same structure, but they are saved from mediocrity by having distinguishable and memorable choruses. It's easy to forgive the 'samey' nature of the songs when they are as catchy as they are on this album.
'April Rain' is unlikely to be thought of as one of the best metal albums ever. In fact, it's going to struggle to even be thought of as one of the best albums of its own genre. However, that doesn't stop the album from being incredibly fun to listen to. It has memorable melodies that it's impossible not to hum along to and its exactly what one would expect from an album of this type. Delain fans may feel that the band have sold themselves short, especially considering the more accessible sound that this has in comparison to 'Lucidity', which had a much more experimental and dark feel. But the songwriting is still sound, the vocals still appealing and the music still pleasurable to the ear. And the accessibility of the album is actually part of its charm.
It's nothing special, but 'April Rain' is a decent album from a band who seem to be content with making nothing but good music.