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I'll start this by saying I'm a big fan of The Gathering's atmospheric rock work. They developed a very interesting sound, and thankfully have stuck with it ever since, because they know that's what they're good at. Sadly, to reach that point, the band had to learn it the hard way - the same way poor Anathema learned it - by releasing a couple of extremely bland death/doom albums. Always is just that; bland, inoffensive, full of death growls by a man who doesn't really know how to growl (Sort of like Anathema!). It goes through one ear and comes out of the other, without either leaving good or bad feelings behind.
It truly is awe-inspiring, just how many different riffs and variations this band could manage to cram into a single song, and still somehow end up with something lesser than the sum of its parts. Most songs have various progressions, different song structures, elements that, in essence, should make for an exciting listen. They don't. They don't, not because of lack of trying or talent by the band, no, my theory is that The Gathering didn't have this kind of sound in their minds and hearts since day one. It sounds like they wanted atmosphere, textures, sections that would make you feel like you were floating in thin air - but they were no Lykathea Aflame to accomplish it via a metal medium. The result is a sound that doesn't seem to find its way in life; it doesn't know where to belong, it's so sad and lonely and helpless, because its creators weren't looking for it in the first place.
What we have here is an extreme case of gender confusion; bigger than an eighteen year old boy who kind of looks like a girl and doesn't know whether he likes guys or girls, but looks too much of a girl to have any success with either. It's like that, but with metal. There's an instance of female singing in the middle of "King for a Day" which sounds like if she were trying to sing USPM, but it just comes off as a mess. The female vocals themselves are rather weak, too; she's no Anneke, obviously, but even with that fact in mind some notes sound flat at times, and once again, like they wanted to do something entirely different from what they ended up with. They're used very sparingly, though; which sadly doesn't allow me to actually go all the way and hate them. How else would you explain the random synth-poppy keyboards that pop in at random intervals? You don't put those in a death/doom album and try to pass them off as completely straight.
Aside from the female vocals, we have the death growls. In the introductory paragraph I mentioned how they sound like Danny Cavanagh's back when he believed those to be a good idea. Mix in a bit of After Forever's debut album growling, and you get the ones in Always. The male vocals are at times replaced by a melodramatic whispering/talking thing which doesn't really suit the music below, which doesn't even try to change the tempo a lot. Everything is middle of the barrel; it's not slow, it's not fast either, it's eternally mid-paced. The music doesn't grab you, but it doesn't really lose you by being horrid. Sometimes everything will lapse into acoustic sections which are much more in line with the album's general feeling, just to go into mid-paced death/doom again.
In general, The Gathering's debut is plain bland. It's not good, but there's nothing overly bad about it either. However, you can just see how much they were struggling to keep playing death/doom even when they clearly didn't want to do it. It would take a few albums more and a change of singers, and getting rid of their tube amps, for their true sound to really shine through. It's not a case of the band evolving with time, it's a case of the band knowing what they wanted to do from the start, but being shy about it. So basically The Gathering rule but they suck at metal. The end.
Its 1992 and a young band called the Gathering would release their only death/doom album thus far. Yes, most fans might be turned off by this release since the majority of vocals are death metal growls. Yet fans of early death/doom metal will dig this up. The problem…fans of death/doom might not know of this release, leaving Always sitting on the shelves in many CD stores.
Like all Gathering albums, the music is simple yet effective. The songs are mid to slow pace similar to Amorphis’ “Tales of the Thousand Lakes” except longer. Franks’ keyboards are hidden in the background for atmosphere rather than the dominate role they play in newer releases. Some cheesy keyboard sections such as the intro on “In Sickness and Health” could have been taken out completely.
Rene and Jelmer’s guitars are slow and simple, yet catchy. There are few thrash like solos scattered throughout the album…which are pretty funny knowing how out of character they are with this band. Hugo’s bass is present like all Gathering albums. Nothing to complicated but that doesn’t mean its bad.
Bart’s vocals are similar to early Amorphis, guttural yet understandable. Marike’s female vocals are one of the biggest problems, awkward and off key. Thankfully she isn’t used that often. The lyrics are your typical Gothic romanticism subject matter… no Cannibal Corpse subject matter here.
All in all, Always.. is a hidden gem in this bands amazing catalogue. If you’re not into death/doom metal but love the Gathering buy this album for the amusement of your favorite band doing death metal. If you’re into old Amorphis, My Dying Bride, Katatonia, & Anathema buy this now!
So, this is where it all began for The Gathering. The first record of many and a very different acquisition to my collection of The Gathering records, and just in general really. When I first came across it, having not heard The Gathering records in order, I just assumed that the line-up was practically the same throughout their history as a band. I wasn't aware of the numerous changes the band have gone through before and after this record came out. In actual fact, I didn't know much about this Dutch act at all when I first started listening to them, as you may be able to imagine. So, when I picked up 'Always' I had assumed it was fairly similar, or as close to something like 'Mandylion', which has gone down in history as a very important record. However, much to my surprise, 'Always' is immensely different from the aforementioned record.
I, like many others no doubt, was disappointed when I heard 'Always'. I was used to hearing Anneke's stunning vocals over some of the best gothic inspired music i've ever heard. However, in her place, which is probably quite unfair to say, was a male vocalist, Bart Smit's. As time progressed, I actually learned to appreciate 'Always' for what it was, the first The Gathering record essentially. I attempted to avoid making comparisons because the band on this record are completely different to the band we saw on the last outing, 'Home'. So, with this newly found mindset, I proceeded to listen to 'Always' again, after ignoring it for several months. The more and more I heard it, the more I began to enjoy it, though I suppose the same could be said about a lot of things in life. With time and patience, it grew on me. I feel 'Always' is probably one of those records that will remain underrated simply because of the astounding achievements that were made after 'Mandylion' hit public ears.
'Always' is a very different slab of The Gathering material, as I said. It's perhaps a little more doom inspired than the latter material. This can be seen in several different ways. The down tuned nature of both the guitars and the bass. The guitars are particularly effective. In some instances, they tend to create some very atmospherically pleasing riffs, but not as much as the keyboards tend to do. The keys are without a doubt an up-and-coming instrument. The influence they have on 'Always' is undeniable. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect about them is how well they work alongside those ethereal guitars, simply superb. 'In Sickness And In Health' seems to be a particularly good example of this.
The way the soundscapes of the keyboards oozes through those of the guitars is brilliant. Also, with the addition of a female vocalist, Marike Groot, The Gathering have several different dimensions they can play with at ease. Opting for female vocals, with male backing vocals. Male vocals leading the way with female vocals following behind. Whichever way The Gathering choose to do it, it's done well. The vocals of Marike are good, not as good as Anneke, but she is a different kind of vocalist. Marike's range is good and she's always in control. Bart's vocals suit the gothic paradise The Gathering are creating, with those doom laden riffs weaving in and out of the free space.
The Gathering's brilliant musicianship is showcased further by the use of a variety of instruments which all add something fresh to their sound. This is very appealing. The percussion has a tendency to become lost in the brilliance of the other instruments and vocals, which is sad because 'Always' needs a penetrative percussion sound, but doesn't always get one. This and the fact that some of the songs lack flair is the only downside to 'Always'. However, they're quite big downfalls, so I can understand why people may have a problem with this record in comparison to the latter records which are seen as almost flawless by many. In terms of highlights, i've picked 'In Sickness And In Health' as well as 'Stonegarden'.
At first, seeing things in historic perspective. Back in 1991/1992 the gothic metal we know now in 2007 (After forever, Nightwish, Epica etc) wasn’t around yet and The Gathering were truly a groundbreaking and trendsetting group. If they hadn’t played their part together with for instance Orphanage, the Dutch scene would probably have developed very differently.
Still firmly based upon the 1991 Paradise Lost album ‘Gothic’ but incorporating keyboards in a more important way and writing some lengthy songs. There were death grunts and additional female vocals which these days have become quite mainstream but were refreshing back then. The Gathering were pioneers, so don’t expect the style to be perfected yet on a pioneering debut album. In 1992 ‘Always’ received 100 points in many magazines.
Having said that, the album in a way has lost a lot of impact over the years. This has two main reasons. First an entire scene in this subgenre emerged and later incidentally surpassed this album but secondly the band themselves made some changes later on in their career and broke through to the mainstream audience with their third album ‘Mandylion’ and vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen.
Still, ‘Always’ is a beautiful and very important album if you are into the genre. With some lengthy songs, a lot of diversity and – in contrast to contemporary gothic bands – the emphasis really on DOOM. Bart Smits has a monotone voice but suits the material well and Marike Groot (ex-Little Mary Big, Wonderlust) did a great job with the female vocals. I’ve seen the old Gathering perform live once without their keyboard player and that performance made it very obvious how important the keyboards were on these songs, namely indispensable. The keyboard add an important touch to the atmosphere as well as a lot of melodies.
Verdict: Impact in 1992: 100 points. Historical value: 100 points. Quality compared to 2007 standards: 70. Performance: 80. Result: 88 points. But I’ll just give them 90 points since this important album cannot get anything less. Best songs: the lot. It’s a trip from start to finish.
Mediocrity be damned, The Gathering found a way to unite lackluster songwriting with sloppy musicianship to produce this downright abomination of an album. The focus for each song seems to be some kind of quirky artificial sound effect injected into the rhythm guitar melody, repeated every measure ad nauseum. Each such loop is further combined with uninspired drumming and sloppy lead guitar work to form a synthesis of annoying elements sure to disappoint any listener.
But The Gathering didn't stop there! They further pollute the tracks on "Always" with three (!) forms of poorly executed vocals. There's death metal growling, done in an amateurish manner that sounds forced and deliberate. These growls occasionally give way to a male spoken voice, delivering lines in a phony, overly dramatized style. But the worst of them all are the clean female vocal parts, which are so far off key I literally cringe at every syllable. And believe me she hits every foul note with unabashed emphasis and remorseless conviction. I don't want to put too much blame on her, because after all there are six band members pictured on the back of the album, and I can't imagine it escaped the attention of every one of them how dissonant and just plain awful her vocal track is. But then again, each of them has their own clumsy performance to feel shame about.
“…birth, age, death…”
The only thing pre-Anneke The Gathering seems to gather nowadays is dust. It’s bewildering to me that somehow anything in this band’s portfolio prior to ‘95’s Mandylion has been enveloped by some great (over)shadow, doomed to be overlooked and unremembered like when your family went on vacation when you were too young to know or care. Since ’92, I’ve heard this sextet’s early sound wrongly described often enough (i.e. brutal, basic) that I’m convinced opinions about the band’s particular time period are as educated as the last lazyass who regurgitated info from the last lazy website or zine writer who may have never actually given the record a full, attentive half a whirl in the first place.
So, um, at this point The Gathering is merely doom/death metal, eh? And only with the arrival of Mandylion did the heavenly elegance of atmosphere adhere like angel wings, soaring their sound to higher planes of dignity and exaltation. With that known, on Always, Frank Boeijen does his best Captain & Tennille impersonation and only pretends to play keyboards and grand piano while Hugo Prinsen Geerligs adds flute and triangle to his resume to make his bass duties seem less banal. Drummer Hans Rutten brought his wind chimes from home because he likes they way they sparkle in the studio’s lovely fluorescent lighting, meanwhile his brother Rene and Jelmer Wiersma bring their regular and 12 string acoustic guitars along to merely laugh at the serenity and grace they propose. Henk van Koeverden and Marike Groot aren’t guest musicians, but visiting buddies of the band. With nothing better to do, Koeverden happened to drag his Korg MS 10 synthesizer into the studio for kicks and Groot practices her bird calls out of the clear blue. What…a bunch…of tricksters.
Admittedly, the Dutch group’s debut didn’t open to the fanfare of trumpets. The outpouring of keyboards that were remindful of ‘80s new wave ala A Flock of Seagulls and Human League didn’t thrill some fans. Complaints of clandestine ‘happy’ elements arose from others. Fans of whatever available prog-power metal there was despised Bart Smits’s cavernous growl, but is possibly the sole grounds for the death metal realm to even consider this for comradery. And of course those fans ready to pounce on Immolation-level death metal were grumbling about a loss of ten bucks. Consequently, on several levels many wouldn’t recognize the band’s authentic atmospheric verve, an embryo to the semi-symphonic that was already in labor on Paradise Lost’s effigy Gothic. Always can be considered misunderstood much like Frost’s Into the Pandemonium, but how these two discs differ from the funereal strides of Paradise Lost and pubescent My Dying Bride and Anathema is in their darkness and heaviness, or dismissive use thereof.
Overflowing this lp are keyboards running the gamut of the lushly sublime to the mysterious to the oddly chipper, unseating the guttural crunch guitar sound and limiting it to the background where heaviness is strangely more an imposition than a factor – not an option people saw coming and an alternative that’s either an affliction or a consolation, depending on who you talk to. True, Smits’s frightful vocals aren’t enough to quell death/doom expectations, but that’s not its point. Featured throughout these eight fairly long tracks, the death vox may seem a focal point but it’s more a disguised lifeline to the darker metal realm, an old friend wrestling with the sway of progression. And what do we do for friends who are in trouble? We sleep with their significant other. No - we help, and if we can’t help, we root for them. Aficionados of the gravel-mouthed gather 'round with eyes hopeful, but the truth of it is Smits’s thick throat is the last thing the band wants you to dwell upon. They’d rather your curiosity be piqued by the piano-backed cleaner tones he surreptitiously implies in “In Sickness and Health”. They’d rather Groot’s uncommon soprano peel the death grip from your thoughts in “Second Sunrise”, “King For a Day”, and “Gaya’s Dream”. They’d rather the chill of wind chimes tingle your cognition in “Stonegarden”. And of course the keyboards’ sometimes chromatic (“Subzero”, “King for a Day”), sometimes blissful (“…Aways”) mien is not merely an adventure steady and fulfilling, but the uncharacteristic backbone of the effort.
Getting back to those ‘happy’ elements, they do exist – not gaudy Katrina and the Waves or even late ‘80s Bad Religion happy, but exquisite, gaseous stuff that can resemble an ambrosial aural aroma that is much more celestial sounding on Mandylion. Most things murky or malignant are deadened by layers of ethereal coloring - the color of light, the sky, the ocean, and all the hues that can come from them.
Lyrics are rational and linear with streaks of poetic complexion, feeding off the Frostian umbilical cord less than other bands in the youthful genre that were finding it cardinal to do so (and I wasn’t complaining).
I know this isn’t for everyone, but anyone worth their metallic salt should at least recognize what helped forge the atmospheric, orchestral, symphonic, and even gothic genres.