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Those expecting some sort of change to happen with the introduction of the new vocalist are going to be disappointed (I wasn't, and I'm not), as this follows the usual Gathering formula, that being atmospheric rock that's a bit mellower then the album that came before. Really, there's not a great difference between this and Home, the new singer's maybe a bit more restrained and dreamier then Anneke but that's pretty much it.
As with most Gathering albums things are best when the band get relatively unconventional. Some of the rockier songs- Treasure, No One Spoke- are great, catchy, really dreamy rock tunes that make you want to run around in the sunshine like someone with Down's Syndrome, but definitely the highlights are to be found in songs like the title track and the really excellent No Bird Call, where e-bow. strings, organs combine to make something spectacularly dreary and beautiful. Quite the tear-jerker! It's definitely tracks like this that remind you that Gathering are great because they know their instruments and songwriting; you could put Tarja as the singer and they'd still come up with something good (maybe?).
Honestly, I wish they wrote more stuff like this; stuff like "A Noise Severe" from their previous album was similarly excellent in it's epic depressing ballad type way, and it's a really unique sound. A shame then that these guys are still writing fairly average (albeit rather catchy) rock tunes; All You Are really didn't need to be on this album, same with most of Capital of Nowhere (although props for them writing a song about my hometown). It's also a shame we've got one closing the album. I dunno, these songs are definitely quality and would be great if a random radio rock band was playing them, but it just seems like these guys are capable of a fair bit more. On a plus side they're more up-tempo and interesting then The Gathering's usual rock-ier tunes, which is great; overall this album certainly has less filler then most albums by these guys.
Overall this is pretty good (very good, even), but like most Gathering albums it leaves me a bit dissatisfied and wanting a bit more from these guys. They just need to get weirder, I guess. (And they need to drop the piano ballads, "You Promised Me a Symphony" is really horrible). Mix the vocals down a bit. Write more long songs. So on and so forth. Having said that for the most part this is a rather killer album, their best for a while, and it'd be well worth checking this out.
There’s a certain section of fans of The Gathering that really irk me, despite being in the minority. These fans are characterised by over-the-top Anneke van Giersbergen worship. I suppose its something that just occurs whenever any, major or minor, loses a talisman/woman that was central to the band’s success. Its no secret that the reputation of The Gathering hit a new stride when Anneke joined to provide her talents on vocals. She took The Gathering from a supposedly mediocre death/doom hybrid to a successful rock band, which is still where they’re at now. Although there is no doubting her obvious influence and stature, The Gathering is a group of musicians, equal on every level. It was never a case of Anneke and The Gathering, its simply The Gathering. Iconic bands like Death lost their vocal point and decided to call it a day, which is fair enough since Chuck passed away, but Anneke hasn’t. She didn’t die, she hasn’t left our world forever. In actual fact, it was her decision to leave the band and find a new challenge which, again, is fair enough. Its her career and her choice to do as she pleases and when the news that she was leaving hit the crowds, people were astonished. It did seem rather out of the blue and even took me by surprise. However, the band’s intentions were to struggle through the difficult time, having lost a major part of the band and their success, and find another vocalist suitable to the band’s style and tastes. Enter Silje Wergeland, also the vocalist of gothic band Octavia Sperati, whom I’m not overly familiar with. The Gathering were never about individual performances and the strength of each record isn’t based on that either. Its all about teamwork and a good team ethic, which is what the band has and will always seemingly have since the acquisition of top musicians since the band’s arrival on the Dutch and worldwide scenes.
I assume its only since Silje’s arrival that Octavia Sperati have been put on hold. The future of that band seems rather uncertain in these troubling times. Whether Silje can maintain the level of high standards she’s used to with Octavia Sperati, and step it up a gear on a larger scale is unknown on the live circuit. The demands of The Gathering may be too much for her to sustain two careers, with two different bands. Octavia Sperati fans probably won’t be too pleased, but the majority of The Gathering fans have seemingly taken in Silje with open arms after this performance of ‘The West Pole’. I held some apprehension in regards to several things; A) Her performance. I had heard snippets from Octavia Sperati and it was decent, but not great. Their material seems to have been well met by audiences of the gothic variety, which bodes well. Would she be able to take her performance to another level and satisfy the fans of this legendary Dutch band? And B) Would the fans accept her despite how good her performance might have been on the record? The answers seem to be leaning towards a yes, particularly in terms of her reception from the fans. As far as I can tell, she seems to have been greeted with outstretched arms. However, although I can see the appeal of her vocals and generally accept that she is a talented artist, I’m an old man now, I’m set in my ways. I don’t think that Anneke’s departure signifies the end of the band, by any means, but it means a certain shift in power. Before Anneke left, The Gathering were beginning to establish a fine trend of repeating the level of performance they had. The performance levels were consistent and special. The band’s atmosphere, although experimental, was set in stone in some ways. You never knew exactly what you’d hear on any The Gathering record, but you knew it would be of a high quality. This record, ‘The West Pole’ is rather mixed. It doesn’t have the same finely tuned balance as the band had worked on for many, many years. It isn’t unusual that The Gathering have taken on a slightly harsher sound, though the record does tend to twist its form around to the complete opposite at times. ‘Nighttime Birds’, in particular, was a ‘heavy’ record (for The Gathering at least).
Although I didn’t immediately take to it, I eventually, over several years, came to appreciate its concrete sound, as opposed to the abstract that The Gathering generally tend to follow. Some of the content of this record sounds like odd fillers, whilst the rest tries to work on a new and previously unheard of sound, giving a rather post-rock ambiance to the atmosphere (crafted especially well by the underlying guitars). The balance isn’t quite right and it shows in songs like ‘No Bird Call’ which, to my ears, is distinctly average and ‘When Truth Becomes Sound’ which acts as a instrumental build up to the rest of the material but only servers as an annoying and disappointing filler. However, this song does show a different horizon from over the mountain for The Gathering. Its about as metal as they’ve sounded in years, bringing a heavier, but ultimately clumsy outlook. The one true mainstay of the performance is from the bassist, Marjolein who has gone from strength to strength in recent times. Her presence is always felt and always greatly appreciated. I’m reminded of many of the post-punk greats, such as Joy Division, when I listen to this outfit nowadays since the bass leads the performance. Or, at least, it outshines the rest of the instrumentation and herein lies the consistent problem - an ironic lack of consistency and flow. The songs writing has taken a dip in form, like a sportsman ravaged by injury struggling to find his feet. Switching between different emotional aspects of the record is risky and doesn’t exactly pay off. When the record truly kicks into gear, like on ‘Treasure’ or the inspiring ‘Capital of Nowhere’, which unleashes a plague of sorrowful vocals and instrumentation upon the listener, once again led by the fantastic bass contribution, the record is a good listen and certainly is enjoyable, but the fluctuation between songs is unnerving.
The backbone that constructed many of the great records from this band IS still there, but is bent out of shape. The bass is phenomenal, which cannot be stated enough and the ambiance can be awesome when those atmospheric tendencies rush to the foreground of the soundscapes, but certain average songs kick the wind out of the sails of this band. It may sound quite harsh as I do genuinely enjoy this piece. I just accept that it isn’t the strongest offering from the band. Like ‘Mandylion’ was to Anneke, ‘The West Pole’ is to Silje, a first attempt - a rehearsal for things to come. I don’t see ‘The West Pole’ as anything other than a stepping stone to better things. A raw, almost previously untouched sounding record is hampered by an angst ridden production, a few mediocre songs and a disjointed construction. The song writing needs to be re-worked, but not extravagantly. Drop the edgy sound and keep the mellow ambiance and this band, with this line-up, could definitely go on to greater things. The Gathering will always hold a special place in my collection and will probably be my favourite act for another few years until something in me and my life changes to alter that, but this is a work in progress as a lot of the instrumentation, bar the bass and post-rock-ish guitars is forgettable. While ‘The West Pole’ might add a heavier touch to the sound of this Dutch legend, the content doesn’t stand up to previous offerings where the band have given themselves a hardened edge, offerings such as ‘Nighttime Birds’ or even the old classic ‘Mandylion’. Never before have the lyrics to ‘Travel’ on the memorable ‘How To Measure A Planet?’ record seemed so apt when applied to the content and history of ‘The West Pole’.
“The crowd waits
and turns their faces
towards you expectantly
you give them what they need
But their useless criticism
makes you die
a bit more inside
Not a subject to control
you call upon a higher power
for help and inspiration”
June 2007…. I and fans around the world where shock to hear Anneke’s departure. Yet being the band they are, The Gathering had the balls to keep on going. Silje Wergeland of Octavia Sperati was announced as Anneke’s replacement. The West Pole is the title, and here is the review.
Taking a quick listen, one can hear a significant guitar presence that has been missing for nearly ten years now. The trip hop influence has basically been left behind…which is a minor bummer. The songs are much longer than “Home,” also….no Anneke!
Silje is an exceptional replacement for Anneke. Mind you that she’s no Anneke, but she defiantly has more talent then the average vocalist. I really hope fans come to except her as part of the band and not be shadowed by her predecessor. Anneke quit the band, she wasn’t forced out…remember that folks.
Like ALL Gathering albums, TWP takes some time to sink in. In the long run, TWP is yet another gem in The Gathering’s discography. Every instrument can be heard. Layers upon layers of music give the listener something to notice with every spin. Songs vary from hard rock, pop, piano ballads, to atmospheric keyboard arrangements. If you’re a fan of bass, Marjolein does an exceptional job on this album…some very sexy bass lines.
TWP starts off with the instrumental “When Trust Becomes Sound,” which is bound to get your attention with its energetic arrangements. This song is vey similar to the heavier sections of “The Black Light District.” Rene strums his guitar like the world is about to end, Hans keeps up with a fast rhythm section, Marjolein’s bass rattles through your speakers, Franks’ keyboards add some structure within the chaos. This song proves that The Gathering is a band, not just a bunch of nobodies behind a sexy lead singer.
“Treasure” and “All That You Are” keep this energy going. The self-titled song slows things down. This song sounds like a mix of the doom aspects from Mandylion-era with the “How to Measure a Planet?” atmosphere and flow. The listener is taken on a journey very similar to the song “Travel.”
“No Bird Call”, “Capital of Nowhere,” and “You Promised me a Symphony” are the mellow songs of the album. These songs feature more keyboard/piano sections rather than the first four guitar oriented tracks which is done in good taste. Nice guest appearance by Anne van den Hoogen on “Capital of Nowhere” which doesn’t seem out of place at all.
Next comes the best track on the album, “Pale Trances.” This seven minute epic features a beautiful vocal performance by Marcela Bovio, catchy rhythm sections, and peaceful violin sections towards the end of the track. “No One Spoke” is the weakest track on the album. It’s your typical four minute rocker, with some nice piano sections lurking in the background but nothing to rave about. “A Constant Run” the second best track on the album. It blasts off with a rocking four minutes then proceeds with a three minute HTMAP?-ish outro with lush keyboards soaring high above the rest of the music.
“The West Pole” isn’t going to win over the hardcore metalheads but should win over fans of the pre-“Nighttime Birds” fans. TWP is actually a step up from “Home,” mixes the atmosphere of How to Measure a Planet?, and Nighttime Birds with the heavy rock of if_then_else with some new twists and turns to keep Gathering fans satisfied.
Please give this album a chance, yes Anneke will be missed but “the show must go on”…The West Pole is hopefully only the beginning of a new and beautiful era for the band. Long live The Gathering!
I've been asked what The Gathering sounds like by curious friends far too much for my liking. It's hard to classify many bands, but for the prolific Dutch quintet, it's bordering impossible. There simply isn't a term for a band that's gone from being gothic metal pioneers to a trip-rock band with their own unique brand of atmospheric rock.
It goes without saying that this is a band that isn't afraid to push boundaries. From their roots all the way to the present, each album of theirs has been unique. Some have stylistic conventions in common, but each album has a distinct direction that keeps their listeners interested and intrigued.
The West Pole is the band's latest album. It will undoubtedly remain a milestone in The Gathering's discography for a few reasons.
The most obvious, of course, is the departure of former lead vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen. It's always a large deal when a vocalist leaves a large band (case in point: Nightwish), but for a band whose main focus is atmosphere, it would have been extremely easy for the band to pick someone who is completely unsuitable for their music.
Thankfully, this isn't the case at all. The band chose Silje Wergeland (of Octavia Sperati fame) to take over the importance of replacing the void Anneke's departure left behind, and she does so very well. Fans of Anneke will be disappointed if they are still mourning for her departure—there is, simply, no way to replace her. What The Gathering did, however, is provide us with a vocalist who is technically proficient and can convey the meaning of the band's lyrics beautifully. To say she fits in with the tracks on The West Pole is an understatement.
The album itself is (as is expected) quite different from The Gathering's previous album, Home. The use of electronics in the foreground is no more; this is perhaps the band's most rock-oriented album to date. This is definitely noticeable in the four-minute opener "When Trust Becomes Sound."
The second track, "Treasure," is perhaps the strongest song from the album. Silje is given plenty of room to shine behind shoegaze-inspired riffs and some of the band's strongest songwriting to date. If you aren't completely hooked by the time you finish this track, then you're hopeless. Sorry.
Our adventure slows down a bit by the time "No Bird Call" begins, but by then we've already been taken to a number of places by the atmosphere this band creates. I do apologize for using that word so much, but it is the epitome of what this band is: atmospheric. Take the time to listen to this as you stare out the window, or as you close your eyes and lay down, and I guarantee you that there will be a magical connection of some sort.
I want to find something wrong with this album, but I just can't. Sometimes albums like this tend to drag on too much (see Souvenirs), but at ten tracks, The West Pole has the perfect length to keep your attention. The songwriting is strong in each individual track, and by the time "A Constant End" ends, the only thing you'll be thinking about doing is listening through the album again.