At the end of 2012, Delerium returned with what is, if you believe Wikipedia, their fourteenth album, the delightfully named Music Box Opera. For an act which once released three albums within one year (Spheres, Spheres 2, and Semantic Spaces in 1994), the six year gap between Nuages du Monde (2006) and their latest release were long and agonising. But they had promised something new and different, and so it was.
The soft reverberating piano chords of Consciousness of Love open the album, followed by a brilliantly gritty vocal from Stef Lang. Not only is it a great opening track, but also a welcome new sound for Delerium, mixing darker, more contemporary sounds with beautiful vocals and the familiar pads of previous albums.
Lead single Monarch follows, actually one of the weaker tracks on the album. Nadina brings a competent – if not entirely intelligible – vocal performance, and many of the ingredients of classic Delerium tracks are there, but somehow it doesn’t quite seem to work as well as it should.
Delerium spend so much of their time collaborating with female vocalists that in many ways it is the songs with male vocals that are the most interesting, and so it is with the second single Days Turn into Nights, featuring Michael Logen. Besides the slightly deeper than normal vocal, this isn’t the most drastic departure from the Delerium of old, but it is one of the strongest songs on the album nonetheless.
The third single Chrysalis Heart follows, again familiar but with some cleverly concealed contemporary influences. This may lack the ingenious “world music” sampling which made some of their early albums so unique, but it does contain much more accessible and enjoyable songs. Chrysalis Heart is definitely one of their best.
Light Your Light is another very sweet song (as I said in a previous review, members of the old Front Line Assembly forum would probably go with “cheesy”). At their best, they do have a good line in big, catchy, synth-based songs. Perhaps that’s a formula, but it is a good one.
The instrumental Raindown brings us to the halfway point of the album in pleasant form. It’s not as overwhelming as some of its predecessors, but it’s a nice piece nonetheless. Sky (Tears from Heaven), on the other hand, is another moment of total perfection. A return to their formula, perhaps, but when that formula involves great vocals and an adorably catchy melody, who’s complaining?
Hammer doesn’t quite work as far as I’m concerned – there’s an ear-piercingly high chime sound all the way through it which is a little offputting, and its chorus tries really hard to be annoying. It doesn’t stop being pleasant, but neither does it ever really become more than that. And while Awakening is far from being annoying, it somehow seems to lack the passion that Delerium have when they’re on full form.
Sadly Frostbite doesn’t entirely work for me either, but Keyless Door does, and is another beautiful song, drawing the album gradually towards its closing point with the title track Music Box Opera.
This may not be Delerium‘s finest hour, but it’s generally a strong album. Although the later tracks in particular may not quite live up to the legendary status that they have built up over the last couple of decades, it’s still got some great moments.
Seemingly ready to help kill off physical media, they were kind enough to include three bonus tracks on the download edition of Music Box Opera, the best of which is the brief foray into dubstep with Stargazing, perhaps a little too radical to include on the album itself.
The best version of Music Box Opera to buy is the download edition, available widely.