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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.