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You have to wonder sometimes what The Gathering is doing in these august pages. After all, the death metal inclinations have all but disappeared since the arrival of Anneke. Is “How to Measure a Planet?” really a metal album?
Viewed another way, though, the telluric forces that powered the band’s earliest efforts are still there and bubble occasionally to the surface. In a sense they are even more evident when held in check: there’s a feeling of dark, restrained power even in the dreamiest ballads here, such as the gorgeous “My Electricity” and “The Big Sleep”. So, The Gathering remains “metal”, albeit camouflaged, like a Tiger Tank.
The Gathering, with Anneke on board, could easily have gone in the “beauty and the beast” direction of so many other bands such as Evanescence and the mighty Nightwish. This would have been a disaster. Anneke is not Tarja. Her voice is much airier and folkier with its characteristic yodel trill and would have been swamped by the panzer grind. Instead, the band pulled back on the power creating a unique symbiosis between band and singer. Nowhere is that more evident than here on “Planet”, and, several albums further on, the band’s decision has proved enduringly successful, both artistically and commercially.
If “Planet” – and, indeed, The Gathering as a whole – deserves any criticism it is that the band is predictably medium-paced. They rarely step on the gas and go for it. In fact, the only time on this album that they do slip the leash is with the marvelously anthemic “Liberty Bell”. You could also say that Anneke’s scales become somewhat repetitive, as hauntingly seductive as they are. Even so, each song on “Planet” has its own unique identity, something that becomes apparent after several listens. Any tendency to plodding sameness disappears as you go with the flow and enjoy each track for its own delicious pleasures. It’s a bit like the Botticelli Room in the Uffizi Gallery: you’re not looking for the Warhol.
The two-CD format of “Planet” has earned the band a little criticism. Judicious editing would have rescued the music, some say, from the self-indulgent dreamscapes that especially characterize disc two. There’s an easy answer to that: just play disc one, a very satisfying record in its own right. Disc two is really, “oh, alright, another won’t hurt; I might be run over by a bus tomorrow”, perhaps best held over for those special times when too much of The Gathering is never enough.