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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'.