Review Summary: The first release with Anneke on vocals. Still more metal than experiemental and catchy as hell.
The Gathering started their career as a doom band complete with a death metal vocalist. They set themselves apart due to the nature of their lyrics and the interesting sounds used by their keyboardist. After losing their original vocalist and releasing a musically interesting, yet vocally horrible second album they began yet another search for a new singer… enter Anneke van Giersbergen. Anneke has a very good vocal style and one that sets her apart from the majority of other female metal vocalists. The best way to describe her voice would be to say that she has a similar vocal style to Bjork
, but that Anneke exercises a lot more restraint. An interesting thing to note is that the band had already written most of the music for Mandylion
before deciding on Anneke, which means that it is a lot more metallic and not tailored around her voice like subsequent releases. This is actually a good thing because it’s that fact that allowed Mandylion
to be the most metal The Gathering would ever be again, since tailoring their songs to Anneke’s voice apparently meant mellowing out considerably.
Although this is a metal album, the riffs are generally pretty simple and repetitive and are not at the forefront of the music too often. They never get heavy or crazy, instead choosing to just provide the backdrop for the main players on this album. The main players on this album are the keyboards and Anneke’s vocals. The keyboardist deserves a mention anyway, as he uses sounds and influences not usually found on a rock or metal album. His parts are always interesting and seem well thought out allowing songs to reach a higher level of quality. The keyboards are also usually the source of melody and variation within the songs and play more of a lead role as opposed to just providing some background sounds. It should be made clear that “lead role” does not imply that he’s out there doing keyboard solo’s and playing things that don’t fit within the context of the song, its just that he’s the main melodic source. Of course, the main focus of each song and of most fans is Anneke. Her voice is strong, clear, and powerful when it needs to be but can also become soft and fragile as well. Her vocals on this album tend to run up and down the higher octaves similar to what Bjork does on her albums, but it never gets to the point that you feel as if you’re listening to a dying cat when listening to Anneke (which is something I can’t say about Bjork). It’s that unique vocal style that sets her apart and has helped them to avoid most comparisons to other female-fronted metal bands.
As for the songs themselves, they are almost always played at a mid-pace without guitar solos or shredding. They tend to focus on the mood the song is trying to create and leave all the extra fluff out and it works great. The moods found on this album are either a feeling of sadness or a feeling of happiness and innocence. The two best songs on the album are two that stay more within the mood of sadness; those songs are "In Motion #1" and "In Motion #2". The first one starts with a simple keyboard melody and guitar riff with Anneke's voice conveying the emotions of the song perfectly. In the middle of the song it slows down. introducing another guitar melody, a subtle keyboard line and in the background you hear the sound of crickets. It's little extras of that nature that set The Gathering apart from the pack; it’s simply their great attention to detail. The band doesn't just wallow in depression for the length of the album though, they also have upbeat songs such as the opener, "Strange Machines", which is about Anneke wanting to take a time machine to all the different eras she finds fascinating.
As much as I’ve had nothing but good things to say so far, all is not perfect on Anneke’s first run with The Gathering
. The first issue probably isn’t even her fault, as it’s actually the two songs "Mandylion" and "Sand and Mercury". Both songs are lacking any real vocals, move at a snail’s pace and both don’t seem to have really taken you anywhere by the time they’re done. What’s worse is that they’re played back to back and "Sand and Mercury" is almost ten minutes long. These two songs totally destroy the pacing and quality of the album if they’re not skipped. The other issue is directly contributed to Anneke and that would be the lyrics. The lyrics, for the most part, come off as kind of juvenile and simple. It doesn’t really take too much away from the song if you just focus on the vocals themselves and not the words they’re speaking but I do wish they could have been worked on a little more - but it’s a minor complaint.
Overall, Anneke’s first attempt with The Gathering
could definitely be considered a success, especially since most see this as their peak. It was because of her vocals that The Gathering became more than just another run-of-the-mill metal band and it was because of this album that people started to take notice of the band’s quality compositions. Although I don’t see this as their peak, I could still recommend it to someone that is interested in The Gathering as it is high quality music, and is also a little easier to take in than subsequent releases.