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When an album has one song that stands out so far from the others that it transforms the feel of the songs that come after it, you know it's a special song. I'm talking about 'Third Chance', from The Gathering's 'Nighttime Birds'. I'm not saying that this is the best song by The Gathering, or even that it's the best song on the record, but it's a dose of pure joy for me and can snap me out of depression in an instant. The fact is, though, that it doesn't really fit on 'Nighttime Birds' - it's an utterly different kind of song.
This album for the most part trades in the sandstone and desert wind doom of 'Mandylion' for a more relaxed, atmospheric adventure. The pace is slow, the heaviness minimal, and most of the emotional intensity comes from Anneke van Giersbergen, not that the instrumentalists are lazy or their performances lacking. The guitars sweep and hang, with a lot of piercing high end that sounds like bird calls coming across the sea; the keyboards build an atmosphere of magic and airy lightness; the bass wanders thoughtfully in the shade of the guitars; the drums are calm and sage-like, never saying more than they need to. If it helps you picture the prevailing sound on this album, it's saved in my Itunes with a genre tag of "progressive rock". It's got that kind of feeling: diverse, explorative, gradual.
The opener 'On Most Surfaces' is probably the best song on here, with its piercing, soaring guitar motif, chugging momentum, and a climactic chorus. It's the sonic equivalent of the cover image, with a single tree in a field of untouched snow, which the band explore with all the spacious wonder of wise children adrift and alone in winter. The other songs tend to follow this pattern, using slow rhythmic footsteps to move through the drifts of snow and dreamy vocals and keyboards to gaze up at the flurries falling from above. The whole mood is one of being set free from the world and seeing everything anew, as if it's covered by the formless envelope of snow. There are some moments that startle the listener into half-consciousness, like the powerful vocal peaks in 'The Earth is My Witness', but there's always something soothing to follow. It's beautiful music for the most part, and very relaxing too.
Then 'Third Chance' happens. I don't know what it is about this song, but there's suddenly an air of excitement and urgency (even though the band drift through the chords and only have time for two choruses) that kicks the album into another gear. Maybe it's the insistent one-two drumbeat that powers the wash of chords and boards along, maybe it's that frantic build-up of Hammond that ushers in the chorus, maybe it's just that Anneke finally lets rip at medium pace with the whole band behind her. It's just sheer release and energy and it feels glorious after the ebb and drift of the first 25 minutes.
The problem is, of course, the last few songs lose out a little bit in comparison. There isn't a drop in quality at all (although 'Shrink' is the least gripping), but having heard the intensity that The Gathering can play at when they want to, the otherwise stately title track doesn't have the impact it should. Really, it's just an issue of balance, because I wouldn't take 'Third Chance' off the album for anything, though it's difficult to know where to put such an upbeat song on such a reflective and dreamy album. In the end, most of the songs here pull their weight and have a lot of musical merit, even if 'Nighttime Birds' does feel like a very short day out and a lot of bedtime stories.
After the enormous breakthrough that was Mandylion, not only commercially but also in terms of the newfound identity of the band, it was expectable for The Gathering to proceed accordingly and release a new album that would build up on its predecessor. This eventually happened and so Nighttime Birds was released two years later, much to the glee of some and the disdain of others. This somewhat disrupting harmony that the new release caused could be seen in the light of it being yet another female fronted metal album, a new trend that was setting in and being considered as the new “cancer” of the hour by many. Be that as it may, I think that what truly made some heads nod was just how much of a disappointment the album is after Mandylion. In a way it has been seen as little more than a lesser sequel rather than a strong subsequent album. And I can agree for the most part with these critics, since I also find the album to be rather unidimensional and almost dumbed down when compared to the magnificent preceding effort.
Whereas on Mandylion most of it worked brilliantly because it was a pretty unheard of and exotic mix of an enormous array of elements, Nighttime Birds drops much of the solemn and introspective atmosphere in favour of a more lighthearted approach. A more rocking and guitar oriented display of much of the same tricks that made the album before it so great. But to be honest, if I compared Mandylion to Tiamat’s Wildhoney, making a parallelism between those two albums and how they bear a similar use of instrumentation and atmosphere, I can’t surely compare Nighttime Birds with A Deeper Kind Of Slumber. Granted the album takes indeed a step forward into becoming something else, but unlike on Tiamat’s case here it sounds more like a small deviation of a set course, rather than a complete departure from the earlier shores in favour of new routes. This is not to say that I dislike Nighttime Birds or find it a weak album for that matter, but it does sound like it could’ve gone farther than it actually did.
And it’s actually kind of strange to be complaining about this being a lesser take on the preceding album, when such a bombastic opener as “On Most Surfaces (Inuït)” hits me literally in the face. The initial riff that opens the song, laced by atmospheric keyboards and that acquainted drumming style is pretty awesome, as is Anneke’s sudden rampant entrance with the first vocal lines. Keyboards are now used slightly differently, in a way that they still guide the song onwards but the guitars are given a more important role and shown at the forefront, whereas the drums serve now as that extra rhythmic layer. The build-up that explodes by the fourth minute is completely endearing, and the impressively sexy vocal lines seduce you into slowly waving your head back and forth to the rocking rhythm until the song ends. But the album slows down almost immediately with “Confusion”, a mid-paced ballad that again leaves the drum/keyboard interplay behind in favour of a guitar/bass driven song. This tendency revealed on the first couple of songs reappears constantly, or better said it’s now the common practice as pointed out above. There’s a larger emphasis on string arrangements and riff driven music than on rhythmic dynamics and foreplay with silent instrumental breaks, and in a way it can be said that Nighttime Birds is actually the closest the band has ever been to gothic metal.
The album is still very beautiful in its display on almost pop/rock nuances, although ridden with a metal coating to avert being completely outside of the closet. But even here the band already started showing an appetence for another coming change in their sonic palette. “The May Song” is practically a radio-friendly single, I simply can’t describe it any other way, although there are indeed a few heavier songs that will grab you by the collar and demand your full attention. “The Earth Is My Witness” is such a case, and like the opening song it draws you in with an immense palm muted riff that keeps being repeated at every turn of the verse-chorus structure. The bass is beautifully woven into the more gentle passages, as is, again and always, Anneke’s vocal delivery, especially in that pre-chorus high tone she puts out. The keyboard arrangements are again vibrant in colour, and the whole album reeks of an imagery of the centre piece on the cover art, a frosty landscape that still presents a glimmer of hope in the form of its living tree. But this has all been done before, and dare I say better, on Mandylion. Most of the album just follows the trend set, a mutual exchange between the busier more upbeat songs and the softer more atmospheric pieces that bring little doom to the table.
Even the structuring of the album and the order in which the songs were placed makes this further stand out. After the softer atmospheric piece “New Moon, Different Day”, another rocking and upbeat song is presented in the masterful “Third Chance”, which has this very distinctive drumming style that is disparate from the rest of the album. Its interaction between snare and cymbals, mainly during the chorus section, is pretty off-kilter and even brings to mind some of the more psychedelic bands of the seventies. And what do you know?! The following song is again a subdued piece of warm atmosphere, waltzing around the vocal abilities of the leading lady, and working its way through soft guitars and harsher crescendos towards the choruses. Remember when I said above that the album feels way too unidimensional? Upbeat song, atmospheric song, poppy song, rinse and repeat and there you have it. Maybe I’m being overly critic since I find myself enjoying the album each and every time I play it, and even the vocally driven songs are amazingly conceived and executed to my ears. But I can’t seem to feel a bit disappointed after the level of greatness that Mandylion had set before.
Even though this review reads as an open criticism to the album in question, I have to restate what I’ve said, I like it a lot. When I’m searching for that escapade into a romantic land of warmth and incense this is where I go to. And the smell of incense does take me high, just not as much as I’d like to. Still, this isn’t your verbatim copy of Mandylion as I’ve pointed out above, and not only the use of the instruments is contrasting but its mood is also on a completely different plane. I have to say that this is still a recommendable effort, just not much of a demanding album, and neither close to what the band has been best capable of presenting us with during the Anneke era. They did better before and would do so again in the future, albeit in an entirely different context. Nighttime Birds is just a piece of romance and a scented candle over a fiery place, one that helps you share a moment of affection better than anything else. And don’t worry about your street cred, we all need a bit of love in our lives.
In a genre as perennially disparaged or, at most, marginally tolerated in most serious metal circles, The Gathering are one of the few and probably the most noteworthy of the slew of metal bands with a gothic undercurrent featuring a female vocalist that have managed to retain not just continued critical acclaim, but a genuine sense of 'coolness'. If one of these newer corset donning acts pumps out quality material, the comparisons to The Gathering are frequent in reviews. Hell, I've done it. If the band in question is some disgraceful by-the-numbers toss-off, Evanescence and poor Lacuna Coil often get dragged out yet again as scapegoats to the demise of the genre and as progenitors to the glut of these terrible bands despite Lacuna Coil once possessing amiable qualities over a decade ago. The thing is though, when I listen to an album like Nighttime Birds, or the majority of The Gathering's releases, I don't see any fit comparisons since hardly any gothic metal band actually sounds remotely like them, then or now.
How they held on to their cred while other acts squandered theirs can be traced to forging their own destiny. From their beginnings as a full-fledged death/doom act back when similar seminal gothic doom acts were just hitting their stride, to the heralded gothic metal classic Mandylion which first featured Anneke's superb pipes, to ditching metal altogether for more alternative and experimental waters with 'How To Measure A Planet?' well before the goth-metal scene became over-saturated with pop leaning imitators of the more successful acts, The Gathering have always capably stood apart from their peers. To this day, Mandylion and 'How To Measure A Planet?' are highly acclaimed albums and usually regarded as the group's most pinnacle and important works. Nighttime Birds perches itself as the in-between 'chirper' sandwiched by these two monolithic creatures, and often gets left out of conversations concerning positive accolades attributed towards the band, not because it isn't good, but it's simply not glorified as crucial. It's a bit of a shame too, since by my own quirky estimation, Nighttime Birds is not only their best album, but their most unusual and fascinating as well.
The album wastes no time in proclaiming to the listener that The Gathering are still playing metal music. The guitar tone is still thick and heavy, and doom riffs are unquestionably present. The drumwork remains organic with emphasis on a good snare sound. It's metal, but the outside influences are already seeping in within the first number and by track three it becomes apparent that The Gathering were on the verge of transmogrifying their sound towards entirely new directions, but somehow managed to reach the outer fringes of what can be construed as metal without losing the necessary qualities which define it. What makes Nighttime Birds special is not entirely the experimentation involved while retaining a metal status, but rather the particular outside influences themselves, entwining throughout this album seamlessly in such a way that The Gathering have practically created a style of their own design here. It's hard to pinpoint the outside elements and inspirations attributed during the songwriting process, and listeners will certainly vary to some degree in their assumptions, but I hear a strong sense of post-punk akin to The Joy Division, The Cure's Seventeen Seconds era and groups like the early Psychedelic Furs, in which album track "The May Song" consistently brings to mind the Furs' best track, and one of the few I actually enjoy, "Sister Europe".
There's another level of distinction to the band's enigmatic presence at this point, which is of course Anneke's singing. Possessing an accomplished flair for capturing dreamy and haunting moods with clarity and a strong but not overstated vibrato, her vocals exude trip-hop characteristics which swoon over the instrumentation. Vacillating between a languid, ethereal vibe and the more forceful though equally bewitching delivery, her voice espouses lyrics that work well enough within the context of the music while remaining unsuitable for a poetry reading class. At least they are a significant improvement over Mandylion's prose.
The pacing throughout this disc flutters between slow and mid-paced tempos, which in fact do not negatively affect the listening experience of the album's full duration thanks to some fantastically written chord progressions and harmonies that remain completely engaging whenever I'm in the mood for this release. Almost akin to very heavy renditions of the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen fronted by a session vocalist from This Mortal Coil, Nighttime Birds to me is their most unique work in that it's metal, but honestly doesn't sound like metal depending on my mood, if that makes any fucking sense. It's a tricky bugger. After this album, they would shoot directly into alternative territory with their outside influences suddenly becoming their main reference points to amalgamate into the band's new creative stew that doesn't exclude metal (if_then_else for example utilizes the genre on some occasions), but regulates it as merely one of the band's numerous properties. They would still be an exceptional act, but I would be hard pressed to tag them as a metal group by the 2000's. Thus, by my reasoning, Nighttime Birds represents the swan-song of the band's metal era, and a hell of a good one at that.
A lot was expected of The Gathering after Anneke took the band to another level with her recording debut 'Mandylion'. And while this album definitely expands on the sound/style created on the aforementioned record, its ultimately lacking in over all quality.
The production is arguably a little better than ‘Mandylion’. Generally this should push the songs to new levels but sadly it doesn't. The guitars sound as if they are still tuned to 'D' but they are treble heavy. There is an equal amount of palm-muted to open chorded playing with perhaps more emphasis on melody. As par for the course there are no solos. There are plenty of leads however and this somewhat makes up for it. The distortion sounds about the same as the last album as well.
The bass is still as good as it was on ‘Mandylion’. It seamlessly plays in and out of each measure while the drums and guitars battle for the foreground. The drums are relatively creative too. The Keyboards are a little more prominent in the mix as well; and while not necessarily dominating the soundscape they make their presence known. They are perhaps the most varied instrument on the album adventuring out just a little more than the others.
Annekes’ Vocals are in fine form on this and easily the best thing about the album. Their haunting, soul saving quality lulls the listener into Anneke's world; effortlessly drifting from the corporeal to the non-corporeal within the space of each song. The lyrics are more or less a carry over from ‘Mandylion’. The music is executed flawlessly adding a slight urgency to the laid back tunes. The atmosphere is very romantic and inviting as opposed to the prior album's darker vibe.
All in all this is a pretty good album but it has a major problem. Its painfully boring just after the midway point. While those in the mood for some mellow Doom Metal will find much here, the songs drag badly and blur together. Other than that this is a pretty decent release and (sadly) the last Metal album, Doom or otherwise from The Gathering.
The Gathering have always been a kinda guilty pleasure for me. I do love their mid paced, progressive metal, but it's the later albums, where they venture close to pop, where you start listening to it only when no one else is around, lest your metal cred be lowered by a few notches.
Ok, I kind of jest about that. And while the Gathering's newest offerings are pretty damn solid, there's no denying they're real mellow, and lack a bit of punch. Of course, this record isn't the heaviest record ever, but it's a fair bit heavier then say, Home or Souvenirs, which is a very good thing.
The sheer rocking out-ness of the first track caught me by surprise. It's the heaviest thing I've yet heard these guys do (bear in mind, I haven't heard any of their earlier stuff yet). The vocal melody is exceptional, the riffing is quite heavy, and the keys are subtle yet unbelievably effective. Third Chance is relentlessly cheery and pretty up-tempo (a very nice change from the usual mid paced stuff), and builds up to a very dance floor friendly style flavour- and somehow it still manages to sound awesome. The May Song is another great tune, albeit in a very different kind of flavour, with some very effective keys and drums opening the tune, before some rather nice, mellow guitars come in to show you how it's done. It's songs like this that show you just how good The Gathering are. Sure Anneke's got a great voice, but the rest of the band is exceptional too- keys that are always real melodic and pretty with no cheese whatsoever, versatile guitars that are always perfect in their place, and a subtle yet skilled rythym section, unobtrusive, yet always playing whats needed.
Of course, Anneke's vocals need to be mentioned. I'm sure a lot of people upon hearing the Gathering are instantly turned of by the female vocals, and I don't blame them, as I haven't heard of any other bands that do female vocals tastefully. (With the exception of Jucifer, maybe- but that's a completely different style of metal.) Thinking of Female metal vocalists conjures terrible images of the operatic wank in Nightwish, or Lacuna Coil, or even Evanescense. Well, I would like to assure those female vocalist haters out there that this isn't like that at all. First off, the vocals are seamlessly integrated. Some bands will go "Look at us! We've got metal, and then we through some female vocals on top!! YAY!!!11!!!1" But The Gathering have no use for that. There's no deliberate juxtaposition of female vocals and metal riffing- it all fits and flows perfectly. Second, the vocals aren't terrible, opera lite style things- Nightwish being the obvious example. Yeah- Anneke can get her operatic vocals going once in a while, but it's not overdone by any means, which is a very good thing.
This is probably the first Gathering record I've got that could really be defined as metal, and well, that's a really good thing. Heavy enough to keep all you metalheads interested, yet still incredibly melodic and gorgeous. Also recommended for people who thought they'd never hear good female vocals in metal.
"This is a re-review of The Gathering’s ‘Nighttime Birds’, the Dutch legends fourth studio full-length, and another evolving record. When I initially came across ‘Nighttime Birds’, I was hugely disappointed. I remember the time well. I had heard ‘Mandylion’, my first record from The Gathering, and was impressed with it, therefore I decided to check the rest of the band’s material out, expecting it all to be similar to one another. I was in for a shock. ‘Nighttime Birds’ is extremely different to ‘Mandylion’ and every other record The Gathering have produced. This Dutch band have evolved from a lowly doom metal band, who were given much criticism for their amateurish sound, to this, an atmospheric gothic/rock band. The transformation was sudden, to me, as I didn’t follow the bands transition from doom to gothic rock, or even their career at all to begin with. Having picked up on The Gathering in 2005, or so, I was out of my depth and the impact of ‘Mandylion’ on my life, as well as my journey through metal, was immense.
So, to hear ‘Nighttime Birds’, a far different record to the aforementioned, and the one’s after it that I also loved, I was shocked and disappointed. The more aggressive style didn’t suit my needs, having heard records like ‘How To Measure A Planet?’ before it. I was taken aback and felt as if this record lacked a certain punch, as well as any characteristics that set it apart from other bands of a gothic nature, bands like the lacklustre Lacuna Coil, or the lackadaisical Nightwish, both of which I’m not fond of. ‘Nighttime Birds’ originally struck me as lacking in creative juices but, in actual fact, this is a creative piece and a good one at that. Musically and emotionally I have matured. I have discovered what it is I like and why it is I like it. This very fact has established The Gathering as a sort of coming-of-age band for me. As my tastes evolved, The Gathering evolved with them and kept me satisfied for a number of years, in fact, they still do. It remains to be seen whether the Dutch outfit can maintain it’s fan base due to the departure of Anneke, but regardless of that, this material will always exist, stretching out into history and beyond. Tracks like ‘The Earth Is My Witness’ with it’s fanciful ambitious nature establish the Dutch act as a experimental band without many limitations.
‘Nighttime Birds’ is, as aforementioned, a lot more aggressive than it is progressive in it’s structure. To me, this record represents a new era for The Gathering. ‘Mandylion’ should be viewed as experimental, sure, but also a naïve effort. The band weren’t as established as musicians as they are now, or even when this effort was put out. One can tell that The Gathering have managed to find their sound and are shaping it into a form that suits their needs, as well as the audiences. Again, vocally, this record is strong. Anneke is known as one of the finest female vocalists in the industry, and even outside of it where she is involved in now. Although she may be participating in projects outside of this band, I will always remember her for her performances with The Gathering as they’re so pivotal to the band, and her reputation as a leading artist. ‘Nighttime Birds’, to me, doesn’t represent her best work (that would be on ‘How To Measure A Planet?’) but it does symbolise her own personal transformation as a singer. She has developed her own emotive style which, when situated next to the instrumentation, is neigh on perfection.
Songs like ‘The May Song’ with it’s fantastically bass driven soundscapes and stunning mellifluous leads, conquers over my initial perceptions of this record. From being largely disappointed, songs like this indicate to my fragile sense of knowledge, the inner and outer essences that make The Gathering as good as they most definitely are. The bass, for example. I never really took much notice of their bassist at first, not until recently actually, but now, wow. His performance on this record is top notch. The bass is always audible, due to the crystal clear production, and often leads the soundscapes by the hand on even more evocative emotional journey’s. Whilst it is important to recognise the fact that The Gathering consist of more elements other than the vocals, it is still imperative to recognise the impact of the vocals. Instrumentally, this record is far from perfect, but it encompasses an astral sound, which makes me feel both nostalgic and reflective over my life, that is what makes this record a cut above the rest.
Exhilarating, crushing yet beautiful; a lot of words can be associated with the Gathering’s fourth output, Nighttime Birds. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Mandylion, the Gathering retained the approach in its music: weaving a tapestry of dreamy waves, the mesmerizing atmosphere of colliding guitar riffs and thriving drumbeats, coupled with the rich sound of keyboards and the touch of amazing female vocals, unified in unmasking the beautiful secret that is the Gathering. The main difference that this has with its precursors is that it rocks harder on most tracks. Opener ‘On Most Surfaces’ and ‘Third Chance’ display their rock chops, as it clearly shows the band intent on rocking your socks off…
…which leads to the problem of this album. One cannot help to feel that Anneke’s voice is not completely comfortable with some of the hard-edged track on the album. Unlike Mandylion, where even the heavy parts gracefully dance with Anneke’s vocals, the rock-heavy tracks somehow limit the vocals into long howls and oooooh-aaaaahhhhs. Not bad by any means, but the magic found in Mandylion is obviously wearing thin in this album.
With that out of the way, what carries the album are the soft songs, which clearly exhibits the band’s talent of coming up with catchy hooks and memorable passages. Single ‘The May Song’ is a moving, yearning song, a little lovelorn on the verse but eventually releases a surge of energy come chorus time. The title track is a sprawling masterwork, again building with soft, gentle verses, courtesy of Anneke’s searing vocals, but crushes with emotive fury of the rhythm and the drowning effect of the keyboards. Finale ‘Shrink’ emanates a desolate relief that only the Gathering can do, where Anneke’s haunting passages and harmonies are accompanied by doom-like keyboards.
I would oblige you to purchase a copy if you are into brooding, passionate, and stunning music. Recommended.