Review Summary: Welcome back Anneke, we’ve missed you.
It’s both a blessing and a curse when artists peak, in the eyes of their fans, early in their careers. Anneke van Giersbergen was fortunate and talented enough to build a strong chemistry with The Gathering some 20 years ago that offered us several incredible albums. More importantly, along with Liv Kristine, she was the reason that female fronted metal was so popular in the mid ‘90s and along with few other vocalists broke a male dominated field. She was so beloved that the news of her leaving The Gathering alienated a number of fans who never saw the band as the same again without her in the forefront. At the same time, her decision to follow a more commercial path towards alternative rock deprived us of an iconic metal vocalist.
So the news of her working with Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) on a metal project where she would be the sole vocalist and main contributor brought enthusiasm to the hordes of her longtime fans. However, this is not her first collaboration with Lucassen as she was one of the guest vocalists on Ayreon albums Into the Electric Castle
. Nevertheless, what separates The Diary
from the aforementioned albums is that on this release both artists are equal contributors; Arjen Lucassen is responsible for the music whereas Anneke has written all the lyrics.
is in essence a concept album that describes the communication between two lovers in 17th century via post through the form of a diary that the female character maintained and was found in a wooden chest long after her death. In addition, the album is a highly ambitious effort as it consists of two interpretations for each song; a gentle one and a storm version that symbolize the female and the male character of the story respectively. The gentle version recites the story with the use of instruments such as acoustic guitars, flute and piano in a folk/classical environment. On the other hand, the storm side replaces acoustic with electric guitars and heavier drums while leaning towards symphonic metal similar to bands like Ayreon, Within Temptation and Epica. In addition, although the instruments used are different, the arrangements are quite similar. For example on “Heart of Amsterdam”, the flue solo of the gentle side turns to a guitar solo on the storm side. Moreover, there’s a number of high points such as the middle eastern vibe on “Shores of India”, the catchy melody on “Heart of Amsterdam”, the epic element on “Cape of Storms” and “The Storm” or the emotional “The Moment”.
A lot has been said about Anneke’s return to prior form and specifically a performance reminiscent of albums such as Mandylion
and Nighttime Birds
. This is not very accurate though as she does sing on a more metallic setting than her solo work but in a manner that reminds latter albums by The Gathering with a few hints from their doom/gothic days. She doesn’t sound as melancholic/trippy as on How to Measure a Planet"
or as powerful and doomy as on Mandylion
. However, even though she lacks her distinctive delivery of the aforementioned albums, she’s easily more powerful than she sounded in a good 15 years now. In a nutshell, this is Anneke van Giersbergen circa 2015; a highly trained and emotional vocalist and a major reason for checking The Diary
. For some reason, she had been restraining herself for so long that some people (including the author of this review) had lost hope. Her performance is that good that this album would be far less enjoyable with another singer to the point where it possibly wouldn’t warrant more than a couple of listens.
On the other hand, the combination of symphonic metal with The Diary’s
subject matter results in a number of cheesy moments that might annoy those who aren’t into the genre. Moreover, since each version of every track represents one character, it would have been nice to use different lyrics so as to enhance the feeling of communication between the couple of the story. Lastly, Anneke’s performance on the metal side of the album leaves something to be desired probably because of the high expectations she has set on albums like Mandylion
and Nighttime Birds
At the end of the day, how one feels about this album is also a matter of perspective; whether you see the glass half empty or half full. The Diary
by itself is a great achievement with numerous high points and emotional highlights coming from two brilliant artists. At the same time, the standard of quality we have come to expect from Anneke and Arjen is sometimes unfairly high. Personally, and unfortunately, I’m a half empty type of person and a realist but hopefully the 15 year old boy who wakes up every time he listens to Mandylion
is an idealist. So I enjoy The Diary
for what it is and feel optimistic by the fact that Arjen has put Anneke in the spotlight while giving her the opportunity to come out of her comfort zone since 2000.