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Now this album was quite the surprise for me. I had absolutely no previous knowledge of the band apart from the fact that they had led a path similar to bands like Amorphis, Therion, Anathema and the like i.e starting off as a metal band back in the 90s and then subsequently going softer with each release dabbling in more rock and alternative based genres of music rather than metal.
Now before you think otherwise, let me assure you that if this approach to music is done right without any poseurdom and ideas of a sell-out to gain bigger bucks, the end-result is quite fascinating provided you have an open mind towards other genres. I think it’s quite sufficient to say that the three aforementioned 3 bands aced it in that department whereas Metallica and Queensryche of the late 90s, early 2000s are both prime examples of this approach going horribly wrong, with both bands attempting to cash-in on (almost) every popular genre of music over the past two decades. St Anger and American Soldier, need I say more? Anyways on to the review.
On this album, from the first track onward, it is fairly apparent that this is not a metal album at all. Rather a wondrous tapestry of electronic music, beautiful post-rock and trip-hop. I can already see your jaw hit the floor. Just remember people; don’t have any preconceived notions about this album whatsoever and you’ll probably end up enjoying it a lot more than usual. The atmosphere the band conjures up is truly stunning and the impeccable soundscape conjures up images of ethereal space and an addictive psychedelic atmosphere to immerse yourself in. This is an album you can enjoy literally any time of the day. Parts of this album sound close to the soundscaping and cascading music of Massive Attack and Tame Impala, which is a big plus in my book.
The vocalist is simply stunning and I can’t imagine any other voice fitting this kind of music better than hers. A soulful croon and sublime singing that soars over the music like the spell-binding Aurora Borealis spreading across the sky. There are even male vocals on “Afterwords” and “Tuning In Fading Out” that are sung in the lower register making for quite a fascinating display of variety and musical colour. Yeah some of you might find that choice of vocabulary odd, but trust me I mean every word of it.
This album is all about minimalism and how it can be used to the fullest, without compromising on the integrity or brilliance of the music as a whole. If you can’t stand a lot of repetition in your music and are expecting a lot of time signature changes/choruses/guitar wankery, stay far away from this one. Really hard to pick standouts from this one but I have to say that “Areas”, “Sleep Paralysis” (man, that build-up) “Echoes Keep Growing” and most of all “Tuning In, Fading Out” (the male vocals crooning is just unbelievably epic) stick to me the most. Unfortunately the last song “Bärenfels” doesn’t really fit in and kind of drags far too long for my liking. Fortunately it’s a small issue that can easily be overlooked.
Conclusion: One heck of an album. Overflowing with brilliance and atmospheric perfection, if you happen to be a fan of any of the genres mentioned above, you’ll be a fool to pass this album up. Now it’s high time I dig into this band’s back catalogue and find out what all I’ve been missing all these years.
Released in October 2013 to very little fanfare was the 11th full length album from the Dutch forward thinking five piece, The Gathering. Interest in the band has unfortunately declined ever since the departure in 2007 of well loved vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen, though they still have a staunch fanbase of devoted die-hards. They have found a fantastic replacement for Anneke in the form of the lovely Silje Wergeland, a singer with a dreamier softer voice compared to Anneke’s bold and powerful style within the band, and as such they are still going strong, having released their third post-Anneke full length in just four years, following on from 2012′s “Disclosure” and 2009′s “The West Pole”
If there is one thing to say about The Gathering for people not aware of the band, it’s that they are not one to make the same album twice, in fact ever since their atmospheric death metal debut album “Always…” came out all the way back in 1992, they have approached each subsequent album with a different style, yet still retaining the unique atmosphere that made them one of the best bands in contemporary music. Covering genres over the years from Death metal, gothic metal, space rock, ambient, trip-hop, progressive and contemporary rock music, and shoegaze, each flavoured with the band’s own special crafting of atmosphere, the career of the band has been an interesting and engaging one. Because of their constant evolution and change in style, they haven’t gained as much popularity and fame as their contemporaries such as Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation, instead choosing to evolve and make the music they’ve wanted to create . They admit themselves that due to their evolutionary and artistic approach they aren’t the easiest band to sell, and now self-release all their own material on their own Psychonauts records label, after leaving Century Media following the release of If_then_else back in 2001.
To review the bands latest album “Afterwords”, I first need to start with discussing the release of 2012′s Disclosure. Quite an introspective album, it featured a wide range of styles across its 8 tracks, from the electronic beats and vocal approach mixed with a modern rock edge found on Meltdown, to the simply epic 11 minute soundscapey dreampop track “Heroes for ghosts” to the bright and shiny brilliance of paper waves. Overall the atmosphere of the album was one of dreamy melancholic soundscapes, with a lot of dreampop influence across it, and lyrically dealing with troubled former relationships of the singer Silje.
Afterwords is something of a continuation of Disclosure, containing remakes of five of the songs. De-constructed to just a few main elements, a melody and perhaps a few lyrics retained, they start almost from scratch and build up completely different songs. It’s a very interesting idea, and is much more refreshing than a band just remixing the songs and passing it off as something new. Some fans might claim that the fact that half the album is remakes of their previous album, means that trying to pass this off as a new full length is something of a con. This isn’t the case though, and the difference is staggering.
Continuing from the shoegazey soft vibe of Disclosure, Afterwords seems them evolve once more. and stray more into the direction of trip-hop, electronica and post-rock on this release. Vocals are the least centre stage they have ever been on a The Gathering release, and instead the soundscapes created by the band are given more room to breathe. From the first track S.I.B.A.L.D. (sometimes it’s better a little dusty) we get treated to a lovely ambient soundscape crafted through echoey guitars, trumpet and the the beautiful wordless vocalisations of Silje, building itself up into a post rock epic when the drums and synths kick in. The atmosphere continues into Echoes keep growing, a remake of “I can see four miles” with lush electronics used to create an atmosphere of beauty with a hint of dread, while Silje’s vocals from the original are used across it, all building up to a simply MONSTROUS sludgy distorted riff with crazy electronic noise and echoing vocals behind it. Truly one of the best on the album, and of the year
Areas presents a beautiful ballad, with dual vocals from Silje and Frank. A really nice, very trippy love song, before moving onto the rather sparse, downbeat title track, featuring former singer Bart Smits reprising his role as vocalist from the very first album. His vocal style has changed a lot in the intervening years since leaving the band, sounding close to Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance, rather than the death growl of the early days. The second half of the album gives us a return to Silje’s vocal,and continues to the atmosphere in this way, with four more alternative versions of tracks from disclosure, one of which being a different mix of Disclosure ballad Gemini II, as well as a short lush ambient instrumental separating the two. Sleep Paralysis provides us with an unusual atmosphere and some completely unhinged vocals, before the closer Barenfels gives possibly the most experimental track the band has produced in this century, being reminiscent of the space ambient vibe of how to measure a planet?, while retaining the haunting trumpet of Heroes for ghosts, the track it was based on. Overall this is a fantastic experimental album, seeing the Gathering flirt with electronics and soundscapes more than they ever have before.
Fans of the band will know to expect the unexpected when it comes to The Gathering, even with half of it being remakes, this sounds very different to anything they’ve done before. New listeners should be entranced by the atmosphere created, and fall in love with their completely unique approach to music. I can’t sing the praises of this album enough, and it was my favourite album of 2013.
Originally written for swirlsofnoise.com