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You could almost liken this to As the Flower Withers. It's really early death doom stuff, musically it's not perfect but the occasional lapse in songwriting is made up by the sheer weirdness of the whole thing; just as there aren't really any bands doing stuff like embryonic My Dying Bride there aren't heaps of bands doing albums similar to Moonlight Archer. To think this was released in '91! If this stuff was released nowadays it'd still be weird and futuristic.
Overall this is a rather unusual album; full of synths, some melodic death metal riffing (not gothenburg-ish, but certainly quite accessible) and with a noticeable rock influence throughout. Vocals are all over the place; there's terrible semi-clean stuff in "Second Sunrise" (indeed, that whole song is the definite low-point vocal wise) but for the most part things are a solid cavernous growl. It's definitely a bit unfocused and sounds a lot like a band trying to find its’ feet, and the production is raw, unpolished and way too synth heavy; but since it's a demo all of that's definitely to be expected.
“Subzero” would be my personal favourite; it's probably the heaviest thing these guys have ever done, and if you can block the fairly pointless (and loud) synth line then there's some mean riffing to be found here, and some good songwriting too. Indeed, the moments where the musical ideas match up with things like structure and coherency are really great- it's well heavy, really, there's many a good riff, and throwing out a bass solo and sort of thrash-y bit in the middle of a death metal song (“Downfall”) remains to this day a rather unexpected move. Obviously I'm fairly happy with the direction these guys took, but you can't help but wonder just how good things could've been if The Gathering had pursued this vision of weird, atmospheric death metal instead of taking routes dreamier and airier.
Not to say this is perfect, of course; certainly the synths need a bit of work done to them, guitars could be a little bit angrier, songwriting could be sharper, the band as a whole could be a bit more competent (certainly the drums struggle to keep things moving when the tempo is up) but again, that's all to be expected. Not everyone needs this, but if you're a Gathering completist or are keen on death/doom or early death metal in general you'll find this fairly interesting; historical artefact value aside this is pretty decent music.
Following on from the struggling ‘An Imaginary Symphony’, The Gathering entered the studio once again, a year later, to create this demo, ‘Moonlight Archer’. One must establish the fact that this demo, as well as the previous demo, were both recorded during the opening stages of the bands career, just in case you’ve somehow managed to miss that fact. This demo includes three songs that made it on to the first full-length, ‘Always’ but were reworked on the final cut and remastered as, once again, they’re in poor shape on this particular demo. ‘Moonlight Archer’ contains many of the same problems that the first demo held over the music. First, the production. This element of the demo is the stand out aspect that creates a superfluous sound that spans across each song. The production, which doesn’t do anything to hide the weary and lo-fi sound, is detrimental to the soundscapes, which are better developed this time in comparison to the last outing, which was recorded a year prior to this one. Aside from the production, there are concerns with instrumentation, which has several limitations by this stage, especially in the vocal department which fails to live up to the standard that The Gathering fans expect in this day and age.
This demo, as well as the previous, should be viewed in stark contrast to latter day recordings, which aim to signify the leaps and bounds that the band came on in as Anneke established herself as the leading woman to take the music to new levels and immunise the band from the plague of mediocrity that swept through the instrumentation at this point. The three songs which went on to contend on the full-length are, essentially, punching above their weight at this stage. These three songs consist of the best developments that the demo has to offer. There are some striking soundscapes provided by these songs, particularly in ‘In Sickness And Health’ which puts to good use the keyboards that set up a purposely stuttering soundscape around the music. The guitars play in support of the keyboards, as do most other aspects of the instrumentation. Its strange how, back in the day, the keyboards were a central figuring to The Gathering and their music, particularly on ‘Always’, which took the death/doom hybrid to new grounds with impacting keyboards that established a comparison between the harsher tendencies of the guitars and the vocals, which are generally conveyed in deep growls, although they do stretch to a rather whining type of clean vocals which isn’t as stylish as they are on ‘Always’.
At this stage, it is easy to accept the fact that The Gathering aren’t as good as they are nowadays, or in the past decade, but what one has to keep in mind is the fact that nobody knew the Dutch master class musicians would go on to inspire not only a genre, but a wider ranging scale and audience. This demo doesn’t do justice to the fact that The Gathering are a profoundly inspirational outfit, but it should be judged along the same lines as the rest of the material. In comparison to the first demo, this one is more successful at creating a sense of satisfaction within the listener and on the basis of much of the material within this hybrid genre at the time, it is innovative due to its use of keyboards, but there are way too many primitive features (‘Downfall’ is a good example) to allow instrumentation like what is present on ‘Moonlight Archer’ to be perceived as quintessential to the genre. The guitars sound too synthetic and lack general substance in comparison to the keyboards. More so often than not, the guitars are too repetitious and sub par. They create little positive emotion and hinder the progress of the bass and the bassist, who eventually becomes an accomplished musician. The percussionist is limited in his ability at this stage and his double bass work needs maturing and tightening up. The production sounds cheap and out of date, but the expectations of this department perhaps shouldn’t be so high. Lacks charm but is a much better experience.