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For some strange reason this album seems to get lost in the shuffle. I’m guessing it’s shadowed by its predecessor How to Measure a Planet? On if_then_else, the band decided to take a more direct approach as compared to HTMAP? This album is actually a good way to introduce new fans to the band. The album is still experimental but not as intimidating as other albums.
To sum this album up there are two types of songs, heavy rock songs and trip hop/soft rock songs. Rollercoaster, Shot to Pieces, Saturnine, Colorado Incident are louder than anything found on HTMAP? The bass and guitar tones are a nice meaty mix of hard rock and metal.
For the trip hop/soft rock influenced songs you have Amity, being one of the bands most haunting songs, is next. This song is dominated with keyboards and Anneke’s beautiful vocals. If you heard this song before the beat will forever be stuck in your head. Analog Park starts off mellow, with some cool keyboard sounds. Then about ¾ of the way through we hear one of the loudest guitar riffs of the bands career. As a matter of fact, I believe it’s the heaviest. Warning...headbanging may occur.
Herbal Movement is the weakest track on the album. Actually, the weakest track of the Anneke era, because sad to say Anneke sounds a bit annoying on this track. She simply over sings, which is the only blemish of her entire career thus far
The album then comes to a close with Morphia’s Waltz/Pathfinder…which together eases the listener down and gives some much need breathing room. This is when you find out what the band was attempting to do on this album. Picture a cityscape about two in the morning, when everybody is home. A few people walk down the roads but still is pretty calm. The album is filled with ambient sounds which add to this. Again like every album, The Gathering layer these sounds into the background making the listener find them.
Overall this album is kind of a prequel to Souvenirs . This is when the trip hop elements became an important factor in the music. Anneke’s vocals are still in transition from the female-fronted Goth metal to the modern jazz/rock. All of which became perfected during the Souvenirs recordings. Yet if you’re a fan of the band or want to get into them, this good place to start I would highly recommend this album.
It’s hard to believe that The Gathering have been around as long as they have. ‘If_Then_Else’ is the sixth full-length and once again, offers a different perspective on proceedings and at the time of it’s release, made many fans wonder what direction the band were going to take next. This record isn’t the strongest when you consider what else The Gathering have shown us down the years, but again, it is still good enough to be praised and enjoyed. To me, the previous effort, ‘How To Measure A Planet?’ was almost flawless in it’s evolved approach. Although there were some minor flaws, the record established itself as a piece of art that took The Gathering to new heights of atmosphere and sophistication. Although, as stated, ‘If_Then_Else’ doesn’t operate at the same high standards, it does offer us some of the better tracks that the Dutch act have ever produced, which is some feat, like the sing-a-long song ‘Colorado Incident’ with it’s brilliant use of vocals, as well as songs like ‘Analog Park’ (which I consider to be my favourite song by the band ever) and ’Herbal Movement’.
The most striking, but overall disappointing aspect of ‘If_Then_Else’ is the fact that there are too many mediocre moments. Songs like ’Shot To Pieces’ and ’Morphia's Waltz’ don’t add any direction to the record and unfortunately give the opposite affect, leading me to question the direction of the record. They merely come across as superfluous and superficial. It seems that The Gathering, at times, think that they are able to splice up their songs by simply placing Anneke’s vocals over the top of generic instrumentation in an attempt to enthrall the envious listener with their never ending fountain of talents. This isn’t how it works, I’m afraid. The aforementioned generic attack of songs serves to annoy and gives the skip button a purpose in life. Whilst I can appreciate the efforts of the musicians behind the music, I cannot fathom the inclusion of such ‘nothing’ songs, which lack both impact and emotional value. Thankfully, less important aspects, like the production values, are good and stabilise the sound of the band, deeming a lot of the ground work slightly unnecessary. The lyrics are odd, but not bad.
“As I easily get inner contact with myself,
I notice distress grabbing for my throat.
It is time to reach out.
To find something that isn't there,
You see the signs, they're on the road
but I think it's crazy.”
The aggressive style that The Gathering adopted on ‘Nighttime Birds’ is revisited, but badly, on the aforementioned generic songs. The percussion is out of place, the guitars have little impact and the bass is oblivious to the listeners needs when it is usually a controlling aspect of the soundscapes, pulling the strings behind the scenes in order to heighten the emotional value of the atmospherics that weave around in the air. Of course, I’m being slightly hyperbolic here. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy this record for it’s obvious achievements (E.G. Analog Park), but it isn’t as strong or viable as other records, which is why I cast a shadow over it. There are, evidently, positives to take from this record so it isn’t exactly all doom and gloom. The vocals, when the atmospherics are heightened by tight musicianship and stronger song structures (like on ‘Colorado Incident’) are brilliant.
When The Gathering aren’t focusing on aggression, the slow and transcending nature of their music begins to flow like wine, inducing waves of happiness and then, at the drop of a hat, casting feelings of a sombre nature over the listener with ease and professionalism. This record does combine elements of various records released before it, as I said about ’Nighttime Birds’, with unexpected results. The experimental sound persists and improves on certain songs, ‘Analog Park’ for example. Songs like this offer a back-to-the-basics style, giving bass the opportunity to rule the roost. Given the chance, bass does so and effectively. The bassist, once again, is fantastic when given his chance to shine. The bass is emotive and offers a number of lines to dazzle the listener from start to finish. In part this record can be slow and transcending, which allows the bass to fully prevail, and in other parts it can be heavy and forceful upon the listeners ears.
Anneke's vocals are certainly stronger than they have ever been and certainly as emotive as they have ever been. This record does a fine job in portraying the bands undoubted potential, but also indicates that it is not quite there yet due to the fact that we have such a contrast in sound. Songs like "Herbal Movement" are soft and mellow, whereas songs like "Colorado Incident" are heavier and played with more conviction. There is a concern over song writing, which allows weaker songs to slip through the gap and be allowed on the record, but having heard more recent efforts, one understands that everyone can be afforded a few minor slip ups. I must, of course, point out the brilliance of the use of the clip from a reading of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’, I absolutely love that book/animated movie.