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Female fronted metal fills most people with a strange sense of despair and hopelessness. It has been known to cause physical pain, and to see such a band live can cause loss of eyesight and bleeding from every orifice. In Guantanamo Bay, it is quite common for prisoners to be broken by playing through the prison sound system a mix tape of Nightwish, Arch Enemy and Epica.
..But as with most things, there are exceptions to this rule. In this short little series of reviews, I'll be attempting to find and review some female fronted metal bands that don't make me want to kill myself and everyone around me.
So, we'll start with this rather excellent band. Based off their 'Always' album, it appears that the Gathering started off as a really quite terrible gothic metal band, and based off their later albums, they became a quite terrific 'trip-rock' (band's description, not mine). It seems logical to me that their first outing with a female singer would be one of epic fail- the band swerving wildly between normal big riff action and some sort of ethereal enya-worship, and the vocalist just sort of standing there and wailing. However, that's not definitely not the case- Anneke's vocals are really, really excellent, but most importantly, the band is in excellent form- kind of doing that whole 'swerving wildly' thing but somehow pulling it off.
Indeed, it's hard to believe that this is Anneke's first album with this band- it just seems so natural- perhaps they jammed secretly for a few years? Strange Machines is probably the only Gathering song I've heard that has 'big riffs', and indeed, it's quite a crunchy little song, with some rather nice, sort of mid paced doom riffs, some excellent synths and pretty nice vocals. The synths throughout this album really deserve a mention- they're just really fantastic, never sounding cheesy (I thought non cheesy synths was a recent invention, but I guess not)- in the title track, In Motion #1 and Fear the Sea they really stand out. Eleanor features some really nice guitar vs synth interplay- it's kind of a cheesy power metal vibe (double kick and all) but it's still a lot more mysterious and, I dunno, 'otherworldly' then your usual Sonata Arctica song. Still a great song though- it seems that these guys can pull of most genres with aplomb. They even manage to make the perplexing new-age world music thing of the title track sound palatable, which must've been a challenge indeed.
Anyway, all of this talk about guitars and synths and world music might be seeming a bit strange considering this is meant to be some sort of 'female fronted metal' series! But here's the thing with this band- everything is a team effort. Basically all of the instruments have some pretty interesting lines, the guitars stepping out for the occasional bit of lead action here and there, but generally everything just meshes perfectly into this sea of chilled out gothic-doom-metal stuff. The vocals are fairly soaring, and operatic, true, but they're not crammed into every freaking part of the song, they aren't *that* warbling, indeed, Anneke is a very unselfish vocalist. Perhaps that's a good thing, because despite some rather excellent vocal melodies (Strange Machines, Sand & Mercury, and In Motion #1 for example), the lyrics are really, really bad. Check it:
"My dear, don't leave me now
Close at the edge of my end
All this time you have been my friend
Don’t go, stay for a while "
Yep, pretty awful. Again though, her vocals are really quite excellent, not quite as powerful as they would be later, but refreshingly free from any sort of melodramatic-ness. She has a strange way of forcing lyrics into rhythms, (In Motion #2), but won't notice as you'll be too busy trying to sing along then to actually analyze what they're about.
So! To conclude, this is a rather excellent gothic/doom thing, quite a unique album and possibly the heaviest thing these dudes/dudettes ever did (not that that is saying much.) I won't say this is a must buy, indeed most self respecting metal heads would probably use it as a frisbee or coaster, but, if you want something atmospheric and female fronted that won't totally make your balls shrivel up, then you should totally get this album.