Review Summary: Anneke Who?
The Gathering has been around for twenty years and in that time they’ve had seven members leave (or be removed). That number is pretty amazing on its own, but the more significant statistic is that five of them were vocalists. Of course, four of those vocalists were removed as pairs over the course of the band’s first two albums and are mostly forgotten. The vocalist that modern fans will obviously remember is Anneke Van Giersbergen due to her unique voice and her longevity within the band. Of course many fans felt losing Anneke would be the end of The Gathering but The West Pole
ends up showcasing a revitalized band delivering one of their best works in almost a decade.
With that kind of statement it should be obvious that Anneke’s replacement turned out to be a perfect fit. In case it wasn’t clear though, let it be stated that Silje Wergeland is a perfect fit for The Gathering’s sound. Her voice is similar enough to Anneke’s that live shows won’t suffer when playing anything from previous albums, yet unique enough that it should be apparent that she is not trying to emulate the departed vocalist. In fact, after quite a few listens her vocals might even be preferable to Anneke’s (blasphemy, I know). For one, her voice is a little smoother without the subtle nasal quality of Anneke’s and she is also not prone to the pitch acrobatics that didn’t always work out so well in the past. The main reason she might be preferable is because it seems that her presence has inspired the band to be creative again.
Some may have liked the minimalist delivery of Home
or the goth/shoegaze of Souvenirs
, but for many the band was slowly removing everything that had made them appealing in the first place. The band seems to have finally realized this because they have brought back the kind of lush melodies that haven’t been present since Nightime Birds
. In addition, they have dropped the grungy guitar sound of the past few years in favor of a sharper, almost metal, approach. That statement shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that they’ve brought back actual metal riffs, only that the guitar tone is edgier. That’s also not to say that they are simply repeating themselves or disregarding their past few albums either. The basic alternative rock structure of Home
is still present but it’s catchier, fuller and generally more energetic.
The album opens up with an instrumental song, “When Trust Becomes Sound”, which quickly displays the band’s return to lush sounds and striking melodies. The amusing thing about beginning the album with an instrumental is that most people are going to be eager to hear the new vocalist, and the band makes them wait four minutes in order to do so. When the following song “Treasure” begins, it is clearly obvious that the wait was worth it. This song is easily one of the strongest of The Gathering’s career. It has a huge, catchy chorus accentuated by a violin melody, a strong beat and positively stunning vocals. The more surprising thing is that the band manages to maintain this level of quality throughout the rest of the album.
The album is able to maintain this high level of quality by beginning quick with a few energetic songs before gradually easing into slower, more sprawling numbers such as “The West Pole” and “Capital of Nowhere”. These slower songs contain an abundance of lush atmospherics and instrumental sections that allow them to continually build upon the foundation laid down by Silje’s vocals. After these more expansive offerings the band picks up the pace again with “Pale Traces”, ending with two more of the album’s best tracks, “”No One Spoke” and “A Constant Run” which close the album in an upbeat and solid manner.
A lot of the time the loss of a vocalist spells the end for a band, but every once in a while it’s exactly the kick in the ass that a band needs. Fortunately, the inclusion of Silje Wergeland on vocals has turned out to be a good kick in the ass instead of the beginning of the end. The Gathering have returned with one of the strongest albums of their career and although the return to lush melodies has a lot to do with it, a large amount of credit must be given to their new vocalist. While I don’t think that fans will ever truly forget about Anneke, Silje Wergeland definitely makes it easy for her to slip your mind for the duration of the album and the music makes it very easy to forget about the misstep that was Home