Review Summary: The next step in the logical progression of The Gathering's sound.
The Gathering’s 2003 release, Souvenirs, is a divisive record, it’s undeniable. Any time a band makes drastic changes to their sound, some fans will love it and other fans will hate it, while at the same time, hopefully, they will gain many new fans. The Gathering surely knew this while they were recording this album, but any sensible fan must realize that change, in this case, was unstoppable. From their first record, 1993’s Always, through If_Then_Else, released in 2000, The Gathering’s sound was constantly moving away from metal towards alternative and Goth. If_Then_Else had its share of heavy moments, such as the frantic “Shot to Pieces” and the monstrous “Analog Park,” but on Souvenirs the band makes a rather abrupt departure from loud music altogether. As a result, listening to Souvenirs for the first time may be a bit of a disappointing experience for some, as it is natural to just keep waiting for the album to start rocking, only to discover that it only has brief flare-ups at the most. That said, those who can accept this music for what it is, and not dwell on what it is not, will most likely be greatly pleased.
It should be understood that just because this is not a "heavy" record in the traditional sense, that does not make it some kind of bubblegum pop; the music is dark and ominous, and should appeal to fans of metal who are looking for a break from all of the noise and chaos. The opener, “These Good People,” is a good example of the music of the entire record; the title may sound pleasant, but with lines like “you’ll turn our limo into a hearse; weighing just enough to run it over your curse” being sung by the beatific voice of Anneke van Giersbergen over mostly just drums and piano, the results are a creepy, sinister song. The next track, “Even the Spirits are Afraid,” is really a five-minute-long gothic groove, and a true stand out. The guitar and bass are evident, but they never explode, they just churn and swell slightly, simply complimenting the rhythm. “Broken Glass” finds the band picking up the pace and the dynamics, closing with a guitar solo that may appease some older fans, but it sounds much more like Sigur Ros
. The next track, “You Learn About It,” is another treat; a beautiful ballad and one of the catchiest songs on the record, where Anneke is allowed to gently display her impressive vocal abilities.
After the title track and the highly experimental “We Just Stopped Breathing” comes the album’s late highlight, “Monsters.” It is easily the most rocking song on Souvenirs, with Anneke and the band finally releasing some of the tension that drives many songs on the album. This song is definitely the heaviest number here, but is also lighter than a lot of music one can find on any earlier Gathering album. What also sets it apart from the other tracks on Souvenirs is that it is easily one of the catchiest songs the band has ever recorded, as the lines “if you come closer; I’ll show you how it feels” strike the listener during the song and then stick with them long after it is over. Following “Monsters” are “Golden Grounds” and “Jelena,” similar in that both songs are slow, dark, and almost industrial in sound. Following them is the closer, “A Life All Mine,” which is almost startling as the vocals enter with a male voice singing along with Anneke. This is the voice of Garm, who is the vocalist of the experimental Norwegian band Ulver
. The duet takes a few listens to get used to, but it works once you get over how out of place it seems, even if it is not an entirely satisfying conclusion to such a fine album.
Now that Anneke has left the band, this may end up being The Gathering’s last great moment, but it’s pretty damn excellent. It is not quite as good as some of their preceding albums overall, but at the same time it also provides a different experience than those albums do, which is maybe why The Gathering is such a good band: they have music for almost any mood. So if you’re not in the mood to rock out and you just want to listen to some chill, yet chilling music, Souvenirs should definitely be one of the album’s you grab.