Review Summary: Keep it simple.
After lending her voice to albums by Ayreon, Amorphis and Devin Townsend in more recent times, it's pretty understandable that Anneke van Giersbergen's solo material is pretty tame (in a good way) by comparison. When you consider how bombastic and in-your-face the musicianship of albums like Addicted
and The Electric Castle
are in relation to Anneke's sweetly sung vocal delivery, it's probably a nice breather for the Dutch singer/songwriter to be writing simpler music and keeping it that way throughout latest solo effort The Darkest Skies are the Brightest
The best thing to be said about The Darkest Skies...
is that it's a pretty pleasant experience. If you want to find a soothing album to relax to, lie down and take in the spring weather, then it's a gentle enough record. Most of the album revolves around delicate acoustic musicianship, Anneke's calm vocal work and a generally uplifting experience. Opener "Agape" is as slow and serene as things get, Anneke harmonizing with those beautiful backing violins and essentially singing you to a cosy little slumber. It builds into this classical focus as the violins are given more room to breathe, but essentially it does the job of settling you into the album immediately. "Hurricane" notably has a more sinister tone, with the heavier acoustic work becoming more prominent and Anneke's vocals taking on a deeper drawl, but it still ends up being as accessible as its predecessor. The vocal work is a little more versatile with those almost unexpected ululations throughout, but things hold back just enough to ensure the song doesn't go a full 180, instead settled by an interesting trumpet placement. The same can be said for most of the album actually, in that the musicianship and vocal arrangements are the simplest they can be. There's even a song called "Keep it Simple", a title which unintentionally reflects the songwriting direction in The Darkest Skies...
Whilst there's nothing bad about this latest solo effort from van Giersbergen, it does hit a bit of an inspired slump in its mid-section. Whereas the album's first three songs demonstrated hints of Anneke exploring different musical styles, "I saw a car" through to "Keep it simple" really drag. It's mainly due to the forgettable nature of these four songs that the album becomes a bit too monotone for its own good, and even Anneke sounds deflated as a result. "The soul knows" and "The End" really hold back a lot more than they needed to, and eventually it becomes so watered down that you'll be wondering which song is which, so similar do they sound to each other. At least "Keep it simple" attempts to bring some form of substance, those almost tribal-like drum rhythms echoing a bit of World Music influence before Anneke's voice soars and cuts through the acoustic haze. That said, the song still dwindles when it should shine, and it's ultimately left to "Lo and Behold" to bring back the inspired sound the album began with. Whilst this song is still fully acoustic and doesn't spread its wings very far, Anneke's vocal work is doubled up to incorporate a multi-faceted experience and offers one of the most exciting choruses of the album.
The Darkest Skies are the Brightest
is a pleasant album at best, and a pedestrian album at worst. What you make of that is really up to you, but considering this is the first Anneke van Giersbergen solo album in 8 years-not to mention after a lot of guest spots for some of metal's most renowned artists-it seems as if keeping it simple is the order of the day. Like I say, this isn't a bad thing at all, but try not to expect too much from it and you'll find The Darkest skies...
a nice 40-minute experience.