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An Invitation to a Dynamic, Dark Gothic Dance - 92%

bayern, April 2nd, 2017

My first encounter with The Gathering was through “The Mandylion” album which caused such a furor that I had to buy it in order to see what all this huge fuss was about. I did like it, a lot at that, since it was a fresh new form of doom metal put in a more flexible, mouldable frame with progressive and gothic additives, very well fitting the music tastes at the time. I was particularly impressed by the gorgeous melodic guitar interplays and the far-reaching progressive vistas they had managed to “paint”; and by Anneke van Giersbergen’s deeply passionate vocals with this unique ethereal, dreamy blend. I naturally tracked down the band’s previous two albums, and I found a unique entity whose first three works belonged to different styles, each of them of a very high quality. I can’t think of another band right now who have achieved the same feat...

So the band started as an atmospheric doom/death metal act with the excellent “Always…” the guys one of the pioneers of the movement which became quite big in their homeland with talented outfits like Orphanage, Asphyx, Beyond Belief, Creepmime (the debut), etc. The doom/death hybrid was becoming more and more popular, but there’s no end to evolvement, and here they were, with this affair which I had problems placing initially. Since this was my second The Gathering effort that I listened to after “Mandylion”, I had to get used to the main differences: the vocals; the guy is an impersonation of the ultimate dark wave singer with a slightly less passionate alternative, shall I also say punkish, flavour. He’s the absolute opposite to the deep soulful baritone associated with the gothic/doom metal wave (think Peter Steele (R.I.P.) from Type-O-Negative), and his thin ephemeral, nearly child-like, croons may have been a pullback for quite a few fans, and even nowadays they may be an acquired taste since at times the man sounds as though he’s gasping for breath unable to cope with a more dramatic, higher-pitched line.

Yes, the guy’s very characteristic vocal approach will take some time getting used to by all means, but the music largely compensates for this unmitigated “inconvenience”. Again, it wouldn’t be easy to categorize the delivery; based on the opening “On a Wave” it could pass for a more aggressive form of gothic rock with more ambitious, progressive embellishments. The following “The Blue Vessel” hardens the course towards more metallic sounds by retaining the progressive additives, and also introduces these inimitable melodic lines courtesy or Rene Rutten, the band founder and the main axeman. “Her Last Flight” is a progressive metal “beauty” with a quiet balladic beginning and a nice chorus the latter partially botched by the singer. “The Sky People” notches up the use of the keyboards and consequently loses the edge the sound moving towards the dark wave field with echoes of acts like Secret Discovery and London after Midnight.

“Nobody Dares” is a short tender acoustic ballad which warms up the scene for “Like Fountains”, a progressive doom metal masterpiece, the closest soundalike to the style on “Mandylion” also featuring great angelic female vocals providing the memorable chorus. “Proof” is deeply immersed in doomy balladisms the more hard-hitting riffage rising gradually from the mellower background, but never reaching very aggressive waters staying more within the dark wave confines again. “Heartbeat Amplifier” provides cool “duels” between the guitars and the keyboards as the delivery balances between doom and gothic rock “bathed” in a lot of atmosphere that is passed on the closer “A Passage to Desire”, another more engaging progressive saga with the female vocals emerging again for the production of the next in line nice chorus; the riffs bite more turning this epitaph into a compelling metal opera with an imposing serene operatic ending.

For 1993 this recording was pretty much one-of-a-kind, a captivating blend of gothic wave/rock, doom and progressive metal these styles dexterously stitched together by Rutten’s great melodic guitar pirouettes. The guys were by all means looking at wider audience than just the metal one, and must have stirred the spirits, at least on an underground level, as both gothic rock and doom metal were rising in stature worldwide. However, those who had fallen for the debut must have been horrified hearing this; this new “dance” is far removed from any dark cavernous death metal-ornated doomisms. The guys sounded like an entirely new outfit, and may have not become the fanbase’s instant favourites as now no one was able to predict their next step. Well, at least on “Mandylion” they didn’t go very far; if we exclude the main female vocals and the more pronounced doom metal flair the delivery wasn’t radically different. I find it hard to decide which album is better… I would probably give more points to “Mandylion” due to the better vocal performance, but music-wise “Almost a Dance” matches it almost note by note. That same “dance” a logical step from the evolution of one of the most innovative and forward-thinking acts at the dawn of a big transformational campaign on the metal arena.

Worst from the Best - 70%

mikeald, March 1st, 2009

Well what can be said about this album? In a nut shell…amazing music yet HORRIBLE vocals. Almost a Dance is second album by the Dutch band The Gathering. Gone are the death metal vocals, as well as original vocalist Bart Smits. In its replacement are Goth vocals by Niels Duffhues who thankfully only graces us this one time. The problem with the vocals is the fact that it sounds he’s doing a bad impression of Pasi from Amorphis.

Martine’s female vocals are a step up from Marike’s performance on Always but still not even close to Anneke’s vocal performance in future release, I guess the third times a charm. Not saying that her performance is bad but just generic, doesn’t stand out as compared to Anneke.

Now on to the best part of the album…the music, Almost a Dance is comparable to Mandylion. I will argue that it’s actually better. First, both have that heavy doom metal feel yet Almost a Dance feels more majestic rather than the dense Mandylion. Second, the keyboards are much more atmospheric which also helps create an overall sense of grace throughout the album. Bass is audible and flows with the rhythm quite nicely. Drums are far from technical but keep the pace up quite nice. Guitars are meaty and melodic, instrumental sections stand out much more than Manylion.

Yet again no matter how good the music is the vocals do put a damp around the entire album which gives this album the title “Worse Gathering album.” I really wished they rerecorded the vocals with Anneke because this album would have received a much higher score. But this is still a must for Gathering fans because this is the link between two different periods of the bands evolution. My suggestion is to imagine Anneke singing rather than Niels, you’ll find it much more enjoyable.

Album highlights include: Like Fountains, Her Last Flight, the Blue Vessel, and Heartbeat Amplifier which are actually really good songs minus the vocals.

Temporarily out of order - 50%

morbert, October 9th, 2007

I am going to keep this short an simple. ‘Almost a Dance’ was an experiment gone wrong. A lot of these songs were written when Bart Smits was still in the band and especially ‘Heartbeat Amplifier’ was a song worthy of their ‘Always’ legacy. Musically therefore there was not much wrong with this album.

Vocalist Niels Duffhues is reminiscent of Faith No More during the ‘Real Thing’ album but obviously without the individual quality of Mike Patton. He really does his best but that’s about it. With his vocals and the very prominent keyboards, this album was sounding like Faith No More gone doom metal. Unfortunately it just didn’t work. They went from groundbreaking fantasy-doom metal to this just because of the vocals. Also the female vocals presented here were not bad but also not very memorable. Fortunately they got it right again on their next album Mandylion with vocalist Anneke van Gierbergen.

I wish the band would re-record this album someday with Bart Smits and Marike Groot on vocals, finally delivering the real sequel to Always.

Makes you wonder how they got so big - 68%

Egregius, February 2nd, 2004

A band very influential in the gothic metal scene, in so far that gothic metal bands for a long time were called 'The Gathering-clones', as The Gathering pioneered that typical gothic metal style, with minimalist build-up repeat riffing and synths for atmosphere. They also helped establish the cliche for gothic metal bands having many members (they got 7 on this album).

Speaking of members, it's fairly ironic that The Gathering aquired so much fame using a set up radically different from what they have nowadays; where they had only a gruff grunter (Bart Smits) on their debut-album, here they've exchanged him for clean male and female vocalists, who would for the next album both be replaced by the by now famous Anneke van Giersbergen who had quite a different voice.

I'll start by commenting on the vocalists on this album: they're not very good. Martine van Loon, who would later join Orphanage until they too found a superior replacement, isn't bad per se, but her high clean voice lacks depth and power, and is other for the heigth fairly uninteresting. Niels Duffhues' voice on the other hand is medium level, but has a monotonous quality to it, as if his voice is forced, and comes across a bit whiny in his attempted emotionalism.

Speaking of which; the album, other than the vocal performance, is comparable to the last one, with the difference that they attempted to achieve supreme emotionalism on this one. The atmosphere is still here mostly, built from the atmospheric keyboards and the doomy death riffs, but it suffers from a sort of overambitiousness. They try to evoke more intense emotions than on their last album, but fail. A pity really, because even though I've spent a lot of attention to the lesser aspects of the album in this review, as a whole it's not bad at all. Where bands that strain after effect usually end up producing an album that's nice on the first few listens but ends up being superficial and bland, Almost A Dance has more staying and growing power.

All in all, not a bad album, but mostly for fans of the band (also for those curious to The Gathering's roots) and fans of the genre of atmospheric gothic.