Review Summary: The Gathering's debut album... those looking to hear Anneke's voice need not apply.
The silence is broken by the sound of a keyboard melody that seems oddly similar to the one on “In Motion #1” from the album Mandylion
. After a few moments, the guitars and drums come in and also seem vaguely similar to that very same album, only slightly heavier and with more bottom end. The various elements of the song continue to come together and it sounds like this is going to be another great song from The Gathering
, the only thing left to complete the picture is the vocals of Anneke van…. what the hell was that!!!
That is how I’d imagine the scene playing out for any fan of The Gathering
who didn’t know of their past and just arbitrarily picked this album up due to the band name. They’d start to listen to the first track and the music would seem vaguely similar to Mandylion
, but then at roughly the 1:41 mark instead of Anneke’s beautiful melodies, they would be suddenly jolted by low guttural growls. After a little research they’d discover that The Gathering
wasn’t always so listener friendly, in fact, on their first album they share more in common with My Dying Bride
and early Paradise Lost
then they do Evanescence
Earlier it was alluded to that musically the songs off of Always
could have been on the Mandylion
album due to their similar elements, but there are minor differences. One big difference is that the band seems to be more willing to break into a faster speed then anything they’ve done since this album. That doesn’t mean that they’re incorporating blast beats or anything, it just means that occasionally they will get into a rhythm that could almost be considered fast. In addition to the faster sections, The Gathering
are also more inclined to add some very slow, Doom inspired parts to the songs as well. In fact, the music sticks very close to the slow Doom vibe for a considerable amount of this album.
It should come as no surprise that the riffs themselves are simple for the most part, and that they stick to a lower tuning similar to any common Doom band. Despite the lower tuning and the occasional faster or slower pace, the riffs are still of the same catchy and energetic type that fans of Mandylion
would expect. In fact, the riffs aren’t all simple chord progressions on this album; the guitars will actually occasionally take the lead roll and play some good harmonies, or lose the distortion entirely and play cleanly to add to the song’s atmosphere.
Just as in later releases, though, it’s not the guitars that provide most the melody or atmosphere, it’s the keyboards. On this album the keyboards stick entirely to a strange sci-fi type of sound that allows this album to really stand out from its peers. For lack of a better term, the keyboards almost feel kind of “spacey”, which give this album a very bizarre, almost fantasy-like, atmosphere. When you combine the low-tuned riffs with the odd other-worldly keyboard sounds you end up with an atmosphere that feels almost like each song is a journey, with the various parts and sections adding up to something that couldn’t really be considered dark, but isn’t entirely uplifting either. That is the unique mood that The Gathering
has created on this album.
The unique nature of the music is carried over to the lyrics as well courtesy of Bart Smits who does all the male vocals and also wrote all the lyrics for this album. Lyrically his style is actually quite similar to that of Anneke, except he really does come off as more intelligent. His lyrics are very well thought out and attempt to answer questions he seems to have about the world around him. Each song’s lyrics begin with some sort of philosophical musing and then the song itself expands upon that original thought with a story of some kind. It may seem strange, but it works, and is also another element that helps them to avoid sounding like any number of other doom bands.
One way that this album does sound typical is in the vocals themselves. Bart’s voice isn’t anything to write home about, it’s your typical low death growl, but not so low or guttural that it’s impossible to understand what he is saying. Despite the typical nature of his vocals, he avoids falling into the hazard of sounding two dimensional due to the fact that he does include inflection and annunciation to his voice, as well as adding the rare spoken word part to a song. Additionally, foreshadowing The Gathering
’s future, there are also occasional female vocals within a lot of the songs that help to break them up and add an additional element. The female vocals here are no where near as good as their eventual full time vocalist, but they’re not bad within the role they’re used either.
It’s a hard thing to decide who might be into the first album by The Gathering
. It’s not too far of a stretch to think that those fans of their later works would hate this, but it’s also not too hard to think that those into doom might not like this due to the more upbeat nature of the lyrics and music. So, it really falls to those that are more open minded and willing to take a chance on something slightly different to experience this album and potentially enjoy it. Another small group that could be into this are those that liked the music of Mandylion
or Nighttime Birds
, but that generally like things heavier then those two albums. At any rate, this is a great album that even at this early stage in their career shows the unique elements and their attention to the small details that made later releases the awesome listening experiences they are.