If I were to pick any single Gathering album that would be *the* definitive album from the band, it would be IF_Then_Else.
Coming off of the heels of 2000's successful and incredibly interesting experimental departure, "How To Measure a Planet"", If_Then_Else sounds to me like a consolidation of all the band had done in the past, combining the heavier and more straight forward emotional elements of their first few albums with the creative innovations of "...Planet." It is therefore the perfect "midway" album, the segment between the band's energetic and emotional beginnings to the darker, more mature sound perfected on "Souveniers."
On If_Then_Else, the band sounds confident and as powerful as ever, without scaring away new listeners with harsh or confusing passages. Three major European singles came from this album, a statement of its accessibility, and just about every track on it is played regularly at Gathering gigs, a statement of the album's longevity.
The album's opener, "Rollercoaster," kicks off after a brief ambient passage and an eerie multi-tracked Anneke announcing "Outrun the fight, I used to hide in quiet spaces." There's alot of interesting recording tricks going on with this track, and it would definetly be one that I would recommend. For example, during the song's chorus, three seperate vocal tracks sound, varying in dynamics as well as melody, all sung in multiple takes by Giersbregen. The freaky thing is that the 3 vocal tracks do not come together in harmony, but rather sound like echos of eachother, echoing and swimming around the song, granting a kind of trippy vibe. The lines eventually DO line up, however, to back up the main track. Sounds freaking awesome.
The next tune is called "Shot To Pieces," and it's an upbeat rocker set against a soaring Giersbergen. More interesting experiments with multi-tracking abound, and, remaining true to the album, the song is very interesting and, above all, unique.
After that, the band settles into the mellow, relaxing, and ridiculously awesome "Amity." This is a track that I frequently recommmend to people interested in the Gathering, because...well...it's awesome. The lyrics are, as with most of the album, somewhat vague and cryptic, but well written and poetic, and it is arguably one of Anneke's finest vocal performances, with extraordinary precision and dynamics and a voice just bursting with emotion.
Rather than track by tracking the full album, I'm going to pick a few select tracks to focus on from now on.
"Analog Park" is another track I frequently recommend to new Gathering listeners. The song opens up with a pulsing ostinato bassline theme that remains throughout most of the song under a trippy, eerie musical background with Anneke souring as usual. Hearing the music together, it works, but I remember thinking the first time I heard the song "you know, that bass line would sound awesome as a metal riff...but they wouldn't take it there from such a mellow track, would they..""
Oh, how wrong I was! They in fact DO take it there and beyond, and the way they get there is nothing short of brilliant. The music settles for a moment, leaving only the same ostinato bass line...a kind of...hard to describe, trippy crackling sound issues forth from Frank Boeijen's keyboard/synthesizer rig, and after a few introductory crunches, the guitars join the bass line, turning that sucker into a full blown heavy crunch that then transitions into an almost Adam Jonesish riff before resolving back into the mellow chorus feel of earlier in the song. Wow.
The final track I'll examine in detail is one of the Gathering's biggest songs, "Saturnine." This track stands out for me on the album because of it's remarkably straight forward and simple delivery - a stark contrast to the elusive, cryptic musical and lyrical themes explored in the rest of the album. This is pure emotional expression, a cry against an estranged lover's apathy. I've spent quite a bit of time examining the song's lyrics, and I've concluded that it is actually a dialogue between both sides of the relationship, represented by chorus and verse. The verse is a stricken lover's bitter cries, desperately trying to break the shell of apathy that her lover has put up around him.
In reply, the lover replies "You don't need to preach. You don't have to love me all the time..." When Anneke sings this line....*phew*. I can't quite explain how important those two lines are, there is so much said with so few words, but I'll try.
The two people view the relationship in a completely different way, and so cannot communicate with eachother because they don't understand eachother. The verse character feels immense amounts of pain and rejection because the chorus person treats her terribly, but the chorus person feels that the affect he has on her is not his fault, because she "doesn't HAVE to love him." It's not his fault that she loves him, and he can't help the way either of them feels.
Very emotional, very powerful song off of an incredible album.