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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.