The news that DELAIN had reverted back to their original incarnation as keyboard maestro Martijn Westerholt's one-man project was met with a degree of bewilderment by the band's ever-growing fan base. Last year's "Apocalypse & Chill" album was a certified smash, arguably the strongest DELAIN album yet and a neat side-step away from the symphonic metal norm, with vocalist Charlotte Wessels, in particular, in the form of her life. But regardless of the ins and outs of band politics, one very welcome result of that unexpected shake-up — coupled, as ever, with recent pandemic-related circumstances — is that Wessels has grabbed the opportunity to make her first solo record, noticeably free from expectation or the burden of past glories. Appearing almost from nowhere, "Tales From Six Feet Under" heralds the arrival of a singular talent, and one with no desire to pander to any particular crowd. Put more simply, Wessels's debut is guaranteed to thrill DELAIN fans while simultaneously delivering anything but the expected.
Recorded in isolation, "Tales From Six Feet Under" is entirely Wessels's own work, all instrumentation included, and these songs exude studio-bound intimacy and the gentle hum of perpetual experimentation. But what really startles is the sheer diversity of the singer's approach: every one of these ten songs possesses its own robust identity, while arrangements and choice of instrumentation vary wildly throughout.
"Superhuman" is a sublime starting point — all shimmering, glacial sweep, chamber pop grandeur and bittersweet melodies. "Afkicken" flips the script, embracing a bubbling glam-rock pulse and healthy doses of theatrical pomp and noirish menace, with Wessels as the ghostly chanteuse leading a glamorous dance of death. "Masterpiece" is pin-sharp electro-pop with disarming acoustic guitars and a chorus as infectious as a warehouse full of unmasked dimwits. In contrast, "Victor" is a hazy, stuttering folk rock fever dream, rich with sugary vocal harmonies and thrillingly light on its feet, while "New Mythology" sinks majestically into simmering gothic soup, like some artful echo of musical theatre's past and present. "Source Of The Flame" skitters along on a faint techno pulse, before morphing into a stately barrage of post-punk tension. Meanwhile, the album is rattling by at a manic pace, ideas bouncing off the walls and no attention span left uncatered for.
A cover of "The Lost Boys" banger "Cry Little Sister" (originally by Gerard Mcmahon, under the pseudonym Gerard McMann, apparently!) does grand, ingenious things with the original's '80s pop framework, and Wessels is clearly relishing the reconstruction of such an iconic celluloid moment. Likewise, she duets with ARCH ENEMY's Alissa White-Gluz on the sumptuous melodrama of "Lizzie", and both vocalists are audibly in raptures as Wessels's epic but oddly claustrophobic musical backdrop throbs and clatters behind them. A closing brace of "FSU (2020)" (wherein Wessels appears to invent symphonic punk rock) and the adorable hugeness of heartfelt, dark-Disney parting shot "Soft Revolution" add yet more depth to the record; its final moments left to Wessels's disembodied but endlessly warm and believable voice, slowly spiraling into the void.
Again, this is definitely not what most fans will be expecting, and it's all the more exciting and absorbing as a result. Left to her own devices, Charlotte Wessels has seized the day and delivered a genuinely great first solo record. Bravo.