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your music was to stay forever - 95%

TowardsMorthond, May 22nd, 2012

Not so much a reaction to attempts by media and label to misrepresent them as a gothic doom metal band as it is a moment of definitive self-realization, How to Measure a Planet?, The Gathering's fifth album, and third with vocal extraordinaire Anneke Van Giersbergen, marks a significant shift in the band's sound and presentation. The music on this effort is more experimental in form and instrumentation, particularly in guitars and keyboards, featuring frequent electronic nuances and a few programmed percussive sounds to add texture to the organically produced drum beats, drenched in atmospheric bliss and richly melodic, and is much closer to shoegaze and 1970s-style progressive rock than doom metal; bathed in a warm, refreshingly organic sound that is a dramatic change from the embellished and polished Woodhouse Studios production jobs of the previous two efforts, the language of motion and orchestration of the music is pure feeling given musical shape according to the rhythm and spirit of human aspiration. What has not been altered is the enveloping atmosphere and melody that this band has become known for, although here these components are even more powerful and enthralling due to more confident songwriting, featuring excellent arrangements emphasizing the band's strengths in a natural and self-sure form revealing tremendous growth in compositional vision and conviction of creative identity.

"I have heard this mental search
has made them all
take a look along the border
Having the urge
For their minds
to be lifted
to something new
I'm running to meet
my higher self"

Giersbergen's heavenly voice is the primary feature and expressive source of emotional energy of these songs save for a couple of instrumentals, and as brilliant and stunning as it is on the two previous albums, her singing is more consistently harmonious with the music here, which is rich in instrumental texture, mostly slow and reflective, with intense rises to emotive eruptions, allowing her voice an enhancing level of flexibility with very fluid, naturally flowing arrangements. René Rutten's guitar playing is more experimental, entirely in the tradition of ambient guitar rock and progressive rock, using a heavily fuzzed-out distorted guitar tone for louder sections, with a variety of effects to color the sound, and absolutely fantastic lead playing during the transcendent coda of the vastly life-embracing "Great Ocean Road", and "Rescue Me", a reflectively intimate track given an astounding sense of ascendant yearning by his thickly distorted, hazy-toned mid-song lead.

"I feed you balance
We will not rest
Until the search ends"

One gets the sense that the expansive conception of this double-disc release was the product of experiencing an abundance of creative inspiration, not just in the amount of fantastic music offered here, but in the theory of its organization which reflects the parallel of the direct (song-oriented disc one) and abstract (psychedelic space-rock disc two) in fundamental human observation and discourse. This sequential arrangement is important, but an underlying reinforcement of the music's feel and portrayal of the trip that is human existence in the ceaseless but beautifully diverse movement of the world, considered from the affirmative position that is this band's natural creative character, in their most definitive, ambitious, and inspirational expression.