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A contender for best goth metal album - 100%

goflotsam, April 24th, 2019

Gothic metal is a very divisive genre which has spawned many female-fronted cookie cutter bands in the years to come. Many will point to The Gathering's 1995 magnum opus Mandylion as a landmark album that started this trend. Long before Anneke van Giersbergen took over the mic, The Gathering was a death-doom band with a male and female vocalist. Pursuing a more melodic direction, Anneke was hired and The Gathering released this mammoth of an album.

Imagine writing riffs in 1995 that sound as doomy as Black Sabbath yet with an atmospheric yet crisp production provided by Century Media. These beautiful riffs are all over the album, but my favorite of these eight songs is "Leaves" which has a guitar solo that feels like it perfectly blends with the instrumentation. Other highlights include "Strange Machines" which has a really good riff section in the second half, "Eléanor" for its suspenseful cliffhanger mid-song, and the title track for being a really good instrumental in the gothic metal genre. The instrumental sections in the various songs on Mandylion are what I could consider mindblowing, and are probably on progressive metal levels of technicality. The drums and bass aren't used for speed and funkiness respectively and are instead used for atmosphere which benefits The Gathering's change in style.

Anneke van Giersbergen's vocals are some of the most beautiful vocals you'll ever hear, especially with the keyboards layered into the mix. However the ironic thing about Anneke's vocal performance is that she sings as if she's all happy and cheerful, but then in songs like "In Motion #1" which drops lyrics like

    Kill me with your thoughts
    Use your mind
    Hand me over to this world
    Into death...
you know something's up. The album is kind of like a goth metal version of Green Day if that's a good stretch. It's this kind of vocal performance that helped make Anneke a frequent collaborator of Devin Townsend. That's quite an achievement.

Although The Gathering ventured into a more progressive rock direction beginning with How to Measure a Planet?, Mandylion remains a major influence on the large bulk of female-fronted gothic metal to this day. The album's legacy has pretty much been cemented and will remain a classic in the gothic metal genre for the years to come. I would consider it a must-buy for any goth metal fan.

Abstract Tiki Head Metal - 100%

TheUnhinged, May 25th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, Century Media Records

The Gathering have always been kind of an oddity through their twenty-five year run. They were one of the many bands from the 90's to initially take on a death/doom persona, only to end up losing their extreme aspects (much like Katatonia or Anathema). Even in their time playing extreme metal, they had this weird, spacey, alien-like quality about them that I find difficult to describe. Perhaps it was the heavy usage of weird sounding synthesizers and introspective lyrics over top of death metal riffs, or the eerie (and considerably un-trained) female singing. When The Gathering realized they weren't interested in using harsh vocals anymore, they decided to go a more unorthodox choice; Neils Duffhues, the nasally and out-of-key lead singer that performed on their Almost a Dance album. They kicked him out of the band once they realized he was absolutely horrible, and their backing female vocalist Martine van Loon disappeared from the picture as well (not that she was really that big a part of it anyhow). It was then that they seemed to come to a revelation; "Hey, let's continue playing the same kind of gloomy, atmospheric style of doom metal, but let's get a lead female singer who actually sounds good." The band came across Anneke van Giersbergen, and thus, Mandylion fell into place. This was when the band sort of took their odd, unorthodox sound, and managed to turn it into something that sounded unique and fresh instead of just plain weird.

That being said, Mandylion is still a pretty weird album. What with the tiki head album cover, odd sound effects (such as the mechanical breathing noises during the first track or the keyboards that occasionally sound like doorbells), and general unearthly sounding atmosphere, this isn't exactly what you would call a traditional metal album. I like to think of the album as being what would have happened had Anathema mixed their early doom style with some dreamy 80's darkwave, a la Dead Can Dance. The former of the two definitely stands out, as the slow riffs and spacey keyboard melodies definitely bring back some of the qualities of The Silent Enigma, whereas the charming, fluid voice of Anneke van Giersbergen brings to mind Lisa Gerrard of the latter. It's a combination that works all too well, and has ended up inspiring a multitude of doom and gothic metal bands alike since its release.

Although Mandylion is typically regarded as the pinnacle of gothic metal, I have always found that the release is steeped in a more atmospheric, introspective form of doom metal. Opening tracks 'Strange Machines' and 'Eleanor' showcase this the best in their opening riffs; while the former takes on an almost traditional doom style of riffage, 'Eleanor' in particular kicks off with an ultra slow beat and that dreamy, introspective vibe with the spacey keyboards and intricate bass lines. One thing that I love is that each song has its own nuanced song structure, mood, tempo. No two tracks really sound that much alike; with the exception of 'In Motion #1 and #2', though this was clearly deliberate. The two 'In Motion' tracks carry on a somber 6/8 beat, with a simple, repetitive song structure. 'Leaves' and 'Fear the Sea' have more friendly, rockish, mid-tempo song structures, which perhaps make them the most radio friendly tracks out of the bunch. The title track and 'Sand & Mercury' are long, nearly instrumental tracks which most clearly showcase the album's influences in darkwave and doom; while the former is a calm, earthy, ambient track with Middle Eastern vibes, the latter is a spacious anthem of dreary atmospheric doom.

Anneke has a voice that truly soars and can jump from lows to highs seamlessly. You can really tell she had a good time recording her parts for this album, as her lines are so intricate and are packed with charisma. Although the lyrics that she sings tend to not be about very happy subjects, it's easy to imagine that she sang them with a smile on her face. When performing these songs live, that enthusiasm and energy is very clear, and she is able to sing them so flawlessly as well. It's definitely a huge step up from the bland, high-pitched backing female vocals that the band had selected in their earlier releases, as well as the harsh male counterparts.

While the band would eventually taper off of their metal elements, their style has continued to blossom with the two outstanding characteristics of their sound; the odd and abstract atmosphere, and the charismatic female singing. Mandylion was the album in which the band seemed to realize that these two aspects were what made them groundbreaking and original. While The 3rd and the Mortal from Norway had already taken on the style of melodic doom metal with gentle female singing, The Gathering injected its warm ethereal atmosphere into the style, which helped them to avoid sounding too much like the Norwegian doomsters.

Without a doubt, Mandylion is The Gathering's crowning achievement. Even 20+ years later, it is still being recommended as a classic of gothic doom metal to those who want to explore the style of ethereal, atmospheric sounding metal. A few modern bands who have come into the limelight to follow in the path of this brilliant album include Akelei, Mourning Sun, and To Cast a Shadow; all three of which play atmospheric or melodic sounding doom metal with charismatic clean singing and a dreary, haunted atmosphere such as the one present on this release.

Relaxing, welcoming, soothing - 89%

gasmask_colostomy, February 3rd, 2016

Let's say that you don't know anything about music. You've never heard it before and you can't imagine it, when someone tells you that music is a way to hear everything you can feel. That's confusing, isn't it? You tell them you don't understand. They say, OK, listen to this. It's 'Mandylion' by The Gathering. You listen and it's just like they told you. You hear fun, you hear wonder, you hear darkness, you hear love, you hear tragedy. And then, presumably, you listen to it again just to make sure. You smile.

As stupid as that little story sounds, listening to this album is a little bit like that. 'Mandylion' is music for lovers of life and, to a certain extent, metal as well. There is a richness to this album that is hard to describe without listening to it, but it's the same sense of luxury that you feel when driving a large, powerful, comfortable car after clunking about in an old jalopy for a while. Black Sabbath are a battered old Ford, Iron Maiden a trusted Mini, The Gathering are a Mercedes Benz. Step into the music and you will feel an overwhelming sense of relaxation as the sandy warmth of the guitars lope around you and the world passes by at a dreamy pace. The album works like a Benz too, idling along at a comfortable speed and intensity for the most part, though always seeming like it could suddenly charge forwards with a touch of the accelerator. When 'Eleanor' pushes hard into its refrain, there is an exhilarating rushing feeling that doesn't excite in the same way as a thrash band's speed, but leaves you breathless instead.

We also feel safe inside this album. There isn't a sense of danger, but of beauty and care instead. The fluid melodies of the guitars and softness of the keyboards remain lush throughout much of the experience, 'In Motion #1' in particular sounding like a whimsical children's story read to comfort the soul. Anneke van Giersbergen has the ideal voice in this sense, creating the feeling that your mother (or perhaps the Earth Mother is closer to the truth) is telling you these tales to protect you, to warn you, to enlighten you, always with a thought for your comfort and another for the truth. What surprises in this regard is that the lead singer was a new presence on 'Mandylion', yet she feels so fully integrated into the band's sound, all of whom developed a long way in the two years following 'Almost a Dance'.

The doom leanings still remain in part due to the size and weight of the guitars, especially on the heavier opener and parts of 'Sand & Mercury', while the smoothness of the melodies and instrumental movements is a total revelation, lending the album a much softer edge that floats out towards atmospheric rock, progressive rock, or even ambient music at times. Liquid_Braino's comment about "eerie dream-pop melodies" is also a helpful reference for those expecting any great quantity of heaviness. This softness gives the album a dreamy feel that - when combined with van Giersbergen's voice - dances forwards and backwards across the line between peace and sensuality, as though the mother becomes lover and lover becomes mother. One really gets this feeling when listening to 'Leaves', through the refrain "Although I don't really know you/I don't really care", which shows the twisting female voice in all its sinuous grace and confident power - perhaps the finest moment of the album.

As for the other songs, the title track is surely the most surprising inclusion, not just due to the tribal wind and percussion that build the slow-moving instrumental to an atmospheric pitch, but also because of the rather unexpected concession of its ending, which merely finishes, not achieving anything of note. Happily, no other song has this issue, though there is a tendency to explore freely that may irk those less given to wandering from conventional structures. The first two songs arguably possess the most explosive power, 'Strange Machines' including that chorus and 'Eleanor' using some darker textures to build an intricate, though very memorable, passage between vocal sections. The lengthy 'Sand & Mercury' splits itself in two by building up a wall of keyboard atmosphere and chugging doom riffs before spiralling out into hazy ripples of sustained notes and van Giersbergen's gorgeous ascending notes, one of which will particularly give you shivers of joy. Despite a great deal of instrumental time, there is no showboating or attention-grabbing performance among the other musicians, all choosing economy and texture over the more traditional metal principles of excitement and standalone riffs or solos. Clearly pointing the way to the atmospheric rock territories The Gathering would later inhabit, 'Mandylion' is a wonderfully detailed dream that should draw you in for its entire length. Take a deep breath, let go, and sink into the music.

A familiar kind of honey - 90%

androdion, February 14th, 2013

It’s funny how one’s view of reality normally becomes reality itself, how the subtle differences in each person’s perception then turn into their everyday. We can live on a wrong premise our entire lives without even questioning its veracity, if that “fact” is based on our own understanding of the subject matter, and despite of how wrong or fictitious it may be. For years I’ve understood The Gathering’s career breakthrough, Mandylion, to be a musical piece made out of gothic flavour, with it being a trendsetter for the commercial boom of female fronted metal bands. On the same pillars of understanding there stood Tiamat’s Wildhoney, another album that is widely considered as the band’s venture into the gothic realm of metal. Granted that if one takes a closer look at both albums there are some parallelisms to be easily found; from the minimalistic tone and the gentle pace of the drumming that only occasionally leaves the rhythmic clockwork in favour of some sugary fills, or the way guitars serve more as extra sonic layers instead of being the main focus, and even the constant keyboard laden atmosphere that is as ethnic as psychedelic. It is then interesting to realize just how much “gothic” these albums really are, and how by inheritance our logic has been flawed ever since they first came out.

You see, both albums actually owe more to a doom-based structure than to anything gothic, no matter how influential they ended up being to the actual genesis of the genre. There’s barely any of the rocking upbeat rhythm descendant of the post-punk/goth rock evolutionary ladder. Instead there’s a constant use of a solemn tone that is more interested in keeping a steady gentle beat, as to then throw an immense atmosphere at the listener, choking him into a wild experience that borderlines on a spiritual ascension. The music isn’t primarily based around the guitar work, as they serve more to layer and enhance the whole musical experience, but on the continuous interplay between the miasmal keyboards and the heartfelt drumming. It is then extremely difficult for me to transcend my made up reality and realize just how little gothic these albums really are, despite however, and that should be stressed, their impact into the formative years of that scene. My mind hurts right now, my wheels are rearranging themselves and therefore I sense the need of calming down and relaxing a bit, and thus I hit play.

A chugging palm muted chord then invades my room, presenting the aforementioned interplay of drums and keyboards, both guitars working their way at a doomed pace and Anneke giving out her most emotional performance ever. It’s amazing how this was actually her debut, as she displays a monstrous presence that completely grips on you. Midway through the song there’s a rhythmic evolution and a picking up of the pace, but it’s all a sham really, as the song only eludes you into thinking it will escape its introspective persona. Witness carefully the unravelling of the final minute and the transcendence into the following song, “Eléanor”, again strumming gently through a subtle riffing presence where even the bass is busier than the guitars. It is one of the most impressive songs of the entire album, be it by the amazing drum work or the constant reciprocity of all the instruments, vocals included. Everything fits together and all of it seems to be pointing out at a higher purpose. The break at the fourth minute unleashes brilliancy, brought forth by the intense bass lines and immersive drum fills, before blowing away in a spectacle of bliss led on by guitars and double bass. It morphs through heavy keyboard usage and an almost progressive flair, closing only when Anneke returns with her wailing tone.

It becomes almost impossible not wanting to thoroughly describe the immense beauty that is to be found within each individual song present in this album, as virtually all exude a brilliant sense of atmosphere and distinctive humane warmth. I absolutely adore the keyboard’s work on “In Motion #1” and how it turns its chorus into a heartwarming experience through lush choir-like synths, or how the spacey leads are ladened with nature inducing psychedelia that almost overflows your senses. Central pieces “Leaves” and “Fear The Sea” bring a heavier use of guitar, or at least a more prominent presence of that distinctive sonic layer in favour of the remaining, whereas the vocals are still used to a great avail and the dream-like atmosphere is always kept running through your synapses. These two slightly more upbeat songs are specifically placed in the running order to provide a better sense of flow, since after them the album turns into fifteen minutes of ethnic escapades that are heavily influenced by early nineties Dead Can Dance. I mean, if someone told me that the title track was a song made by the Australian duo and that it was Lisa Gerrard singing I would’ve wholeheartedly believed it!

But as amazing as that song turns out to be with its tribal percussion, tightly woven angelic vocals and marvelous keyboard usage, it still doesn’t reach the enormity of the ten minute long “Sand And Mercury”, although in all honestly it must be said that both tracks complement each other. The later however is stunningly brilliant in the way it manages to fuse the atmosphere and world music/darkwave arrangements of the former with the album’s metallic backbone. Precise yet gentle drumming accompanied by a soothing piano and a bombastic bass and guitar presence envelop you into an ethereal shell and leave your weary soul into a state of psychedelic euphoria. By the third minute your neck begins to snap back and forth in a movement that’s upheld by that sullen riff, covered in angelic choirs that carry you through the Garden Of Eden. Remember how “A Pocket Sized Sun” was an absolutely tripped out experience that felt like walking down in a hazy mist of colours? Well, there you go. Except here you won’t find Johan’s deep croon but rather Anneke’s endearing and grandiose howls that seem to whisper sweet lullabies through your ears. Then it closes on a monumental doom riff ladened again by lush keyboards, and you can’t help but grin immensely at how amazing it is. I would’ve loved the album already if it ended there, but a final cut is reserved that brings it full circle by using similar tricks as found on its first half.

What I get out of listening to this album is none other than a huge sense of calm, an appeasing and soothing sense of inner completeness that stretches for way beyond its terminus. And it’s hard to draw out any conclusion other than what the band achieved with Mandylion is a monumental piece of whatever you’d like to call it. Gothic, doom, progressive, psychedelic, ethereal darkwave... it really doesn’t matter in the end because what I’ve found out is that genre descriptors are bound to fail in describing this magical album. Again I must return to the comparisons with Wildhoney since both albums display an immensity of different, and most of the time almost congruent elements, that all stitch together into a mingled tapestry that is nearly impossible to categorize. From now on I’ll avert referring to this album as gothic metal, because that description ends up being a subversion of its true nature. As influential as some albums may be to the rise of specific sub-genres it’s funny to realize that they are just experimental in nature and can’t be placed in one tiny spot. Mandylion is such a case. So if you’re feeling doubtful, just archive it under “awesome”. That should do it some justice.

I close your eyes with my mouth - 92%

Liquid_Braino, April 8th, 2012

Like the early days of gothic rock itself, some of the earlier prominently known goth metal albums didn't initially crystallize with the intent or purpose to actually identify itself as goth metal. Mandylion gets that tag slapped on it, and I suppose rightfully so in retrospect, but even now there's actually very few female fronted acts championing the goth metal scene that sound even remotely like this album in many ways. This release interweaves doom drenched riffing with atmospheric and eerie dream-pop melodies to form a cohesive entity that's refreshing and engaging while maintaining doom metal's penchant for slow grooves and repetition. Anneke's voice coasts over the maelstrom in ghostly fashion in a dazzling display of note selections and techniques that to this day set her apart from most of her peers without the need to show off her range if the music doesn't require it. There's also no sign of death grunting to be heard to offset her contributions, which was an almost ambitious and risky venture in itself for a female led metal band in 1995.

The production is reasonably clear yet carries enough echo to envelope the music with a haunting and somewhat cavernous allure. Unlike many bands of this genre, the vocals are not mixed up front whatsoever; in fact they blend into the swirling aural landscape to a degree where I don't find myself paying much attention to the lyrics, which, as many have stated, are unquestionably awkward (my review title is an excerpt in case you were wondering). Granted, traveling around in a time machine to hang out with Cleopatra and Chaka Khan would be a fun endeavor, especially if Chaka Khan was actually dead these days, but as song lyrics they don't particularly match up well to the pummeling brooding heaviness cascading from "Strange Machines" at key points. Thankfully, the lyrical prose is really just a minor quibble in an otherwise exceptional exercise in creating a dreamlike, haunting yet clearly metal vibe.

The songs are constructed in both gothic and metal building blocks, but the degree of each influence varies from song to song, offering a healthy scope of variety concerning each track. Whereas "Fear The Sea" and the opening cut's foundations veer decidedly towards a doom metal approach, there's the title track that clearly swings the other way, sounding like a tribalistic excerpt from Dead Can Dance's Into The Labyrinth album, minus the goofy bird noises. Other songs marry both genres equally to create a more unique impression, particularly the two "In Motion" numbers, which evoke a hybrid of early Black Sabbath and The Cult's "Brother Wolf, Sister Moon". The "In Motion" tracks are incidentally my favorites of the album precisely because the various elements and influences wound up blending in an arresting fashion to form these 6/8 tempo jewels that defy easy categorization yet stick in my head regardless of their inherent lack of deliberate catchiness.

Skill-wise, the band shirks technicality and showmanship yet compromises with a strong sense of melody when needed and a healthy dose of creativity. I would cite the middle section of "Leaves" as a perfect example of The Gathering's capabilities in creating this exuberant pastoral quality through melodies that aren't particularly difficult to emulate, yet brilliant as far as actual songcraft is concerned. There are more creative ideas surfacing in this album than a slew of instrumentally proficient progressive metal acts even attempt to conjure.

Outside of the unfortunate positioning of the title song and "Sand And Mercury", in which separating these two predominantly instrumentals (despite some lyrical content) would have benefited the album's flow, this remains a landmark in the metal genre, and despite its influence, hasn't exactly been reproduced by scores of younger acts in such a successful manner. In fact, the closest album I would compare Mandylion to wouldn't be a metal album whatsoever, but goth rock outfit Opium Den's amazing Diary Of A Drunken Sun, which shares not only uncannily similar vocals, but also that gloomy haunting aura that permeates throughout this disc without feeling forced or garish, which I can't say about a lot of goth acts, metal or not. Mandylion to this day feels like a one-of-a-kind release that helps give relevance and a level of respect to a genre too often in need of it.

Elevator Metal - 53%

Scotar, July 31st, 2009

Ever get the feeling that the reason the masses don't enjoy metal is because it's too abrasive? Too violent and antisocial to be played while sitting alone and contemplating life's troubles? Well The Gathering think so and they're here to right all wrongs with metal so it can be seen as very serious and very introspective to the general public. Why this needed to be done, I have no fucking idea. But the band makes a valiant, yet flawed effort to make metal nice enough, so much, that even your little sister might enjoy it.

The band was no stranger to the "Beautifying of Metal" movement. They might even be called the founders. The Gathering came sauntering out of the gates with the dud Always (possibly named after the tampon). It can fittingly be summed up with the word gay. Growls over "happy" doom with flutes and new wave synths coming along for the ride works about as well as a cop spending time in jail (with similar damage done to your rectum). But with the album's long list of instruments that would be more appropriate for the new Jethro Tull album than a death metal one and an emphasis on romance and afternoon melancholy, The Gathering had found a following. After another failed attempt at a listenable album, The Gathering finally came out with a decent effort: Mandylion.

The main reason why this album is somewhat enjoyable is the wonderful vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen. She's the star here as the music follows her lead, becoming probably the first vocally dominated doom release. Her singing reminds me a lot of Elisabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins fame, but with an emphasis on the epic instead of the dreamy. But there comes a problem with Anneke's sumptuous voice, it doesn't fit the music. A previous reviewer mentioned that he was afraid the album just might be "the band swerving wildly between normal big riff action and some sort of ethereal enya-worship, and the vocalist just standing there and wailing". Well I'm sad to report those fears came true as that's a very apt description of Mandylion. But I would add that the band swerves mildly instead of wildly. The Gathering also can't decide what genre they want to be. They switch between the pussified death/doom of albums past to generic hard rock riffs (usually played during Anneke's parts) to mediocre 4AD experiments. While many would boast of how this makes their sound "wide open" and "eclectic" it really makes it sound unsure and wavering. It doesn't help that the music just sounds plodding and pedestrian. The riffs lack any sort of character and when a good one comes around, they tend to revert back to plodding along and relying on Anneke to save the day. This sorta works out for a song or two, but it makes listening to the rest of the album tedious and reminds me of the drab music you'd find in an elevator.

Which brings me to my assertion of that this created the genre of Elevator Metal. Besides the humdrum riffs, the music really doesn't convey any strong emotions. The mark of good metal ( and really music in general) is conveying a strong emotional basis for your music; be it one of aggression, sadness, or of evilness. But The Gathering, while being billed as melancholic, it's a more of a melancholy related to "I'm bored and I have nothing to do today" than a deep sadness that you'd find in a Skepticism song. This allows for the music to become inoffensive and fit for easy listening. While nothing wrong with that, it's antithetical to a good metal record. The Gathering noticed this and after Mandylion they began moving towards an adult contemporary sound that bore little resemblance to their works of yesteryear. They weren't good either, but at least they didn't try to be heavy.

Origin of Female-Fronted Goth Metal - 95%

mikeald, June 3rd, 2009

Its 1995 and the world would soon be introduced to the new and improved The Gathering. With the arrival of new vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen nothing can stand in the way of greatness. As fans of this band already know, Anneke is one of the most talented vocalists of our time and Mandylion is only a glimpse of what has yet to come.

Historically, this album is a landmark for the heavy metal community. Mandylion marks the beginning of what is now called female-fronted Goth metal. Hordes of imitators would try, yet fail to reproduce this album. The problem with these other bands…the music is too generic. With Mandylion, the listener is taken on a wild ride of catchy riffs for nearly an hour. The instrumental sections of Strange Machines are hands down some of the best guitar riffs ever invented. Imagine simple yet catchy guitar patterns similar to Black Sabbath.

There is some interesting drum and bass patterns scattered though out the entire album. Atmospheric keyboard sections placed throughout the album for example during the songs Eléanor and Sand and Mercury as well as the self titled instrumental track.

The only problem with Mandylion is the fact that it’s not as adventurous as Almost a Dance but that’s not too big of a problem. Vocals are perfect. They always match the music dead on. Unlike most female Goth metal, Anneke does not sound overdramatic. Her performance grabs the listener and does not let go until the album is finished. However, this album does not strictly rely on vocals like most female-fronted Goth metal acts but gives the listener a good dose of instrumental sections as well. For example, Anneke comes in well after the half way mark in the 9 minute, Sand and Mercury.

If you’re into bands such as Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation you MUST own a copy of Mandylion. This album is the building block of both those bands and much more interesting. Here the Gathering found something amazing that will live on forever in the heavy metal world.

Great Doom fun! - 100%

grimdoom, July 28th, 2008

The Gathering crafted (either by accident or design) one of the best Doom Metal albums of all time with their release 'Mandylion'. For the first time since their first debut they had a good singer, however unlike the previous singer, this one is female with golden pipes.

Shaking off the ashes of the horrific foray that was 'Almost a Dance' The Gathering soldiered on with the cute as a button Anneke van Giersbergen taking their music a step further than they had on the prior release in terms of quality and craftsmanship.

The production is alright but could have been stepped up. The guitars are heavy and melodic. There are a fare amount of leads that interweave with the keyboards in various places. There is sufficient crunch to open chorded parts. The music here is epic, ponderous, beautiful and sad all at the same time. The musicianship is highly original as are the songs.

The bass does a pretty good job of doing its own thing. It’s interesting, especially given the time period, for a bass player to not follow the guitars constantly. The drums are very creative as well. They, along with the bass, solidify the slow and precise backbone of the album.

The keyboards add extra atmosphere to the guitar parts. They add to the depressing mood as well as open a few of the songs. The instruments are brilliant on this release. The musicians are very comfortable in their new(er) direction which adds a laid back feeling to the downtrodden vibe.

As stated above, Anneke van Giersbergen is without a doubt the true star of the band. Her interesting lyrics and soul saving voice take the listener on an astral journey that sadly, is only about 45 minutes long. This is the one The Gathering album that everyone should own as its succors are less heavy and eventually non-metallic.

Female Fronted Metal that isn't Shit- Part 1 of 4. - 85%

caspian, October 15th, 2007

Female fronted metal fills most people with a strange sense of despair and hopelessness. It has been known to cause physical pain, and to see such a band live can cause loss of eyesight and bleeding from every orifice. In Guantanamo Bay, it is quite common for prisoners to be broken by playing through the prison sound system a mix tape of Nightwish, Arch Enemy and Epica.

..But as with most things, there are exceptions to this rule. In this short little series of reviews, I'll be attempting to find and review some female fronted metal bands that don't make me want to kill myself and everyone around me.

So, we'll start with this rather excellent band. Based off their 'Always' album, it appears that the Gathering started off as a really quite terrible gothic metal band, and based off their later albums, they became a quite terrific 'trip-rock' (band's description, not mine). It seems logical to me that their first outing with a female singer would be one of epic fail- the band swerving wildly between normal big riff action and some sort of ethereal enya-worship, and the vocalist just sort of standing there and wailing. However, that's not definitely not the case- Anneke's vocals are really, really excellent, but most importantly, the band is in excellent form- kind of doing that whole 'swerving wildly' thing but somehow pulling it off.

Indeed, it's hard to believe that this is Anneke's first album with this band- it just seems so natural- perhaps they jammed secretly for a few years? Strange Machines is probably the only Gathering song I've heard that has 'big riffs', and indeed, it's quite a crunchy little song, with some rather nice, sort of mid paced doom riffs, some excellent synths and pretty nice vocals. The synths throughout this album really deserve a mention- they're just really fantastic, never sounding cheesy (I thought non cheesy synths was a recent invention, but I guess not)- in the title track, In Motion #1 and Fear the Sea they really stand out. Eleanor features some really nice guitar vs synth interplay- it's kind of a cheesy power metal vibe (double kick and all) but it's still a lot more mysterious and, I dunno, 'otherworldly' then your usual Sonata Arctica song. Still a great song though- it seems that these guys can pull of most genres with aplomb. They even manage to make the perplexing new-age world music thing of the title track sound palatable, which must've been a challenge indeed.

Anyway, all of this talk about guitars and synths and world music might be seeming a bit strange considering this is meant to be some sort of 'female fronted metal' series! But here's the thing with this band- everything is a team effort. Basically all of the instruments have some pretty interesting lines, the guitars stepping out for the occasional bit of lead action here and there, but generally everything just meshes perfectly into this sea of chilled out gothic-doom-metal stuff. The vocals are fairly soaring, and operatic, true, but they're not crammed into every freaking part of the song, they aren't *that* warbling, indeed, Anneke is a very unselfish vocalist. Perhaps that's a good thing, because despite some rather excellent vocal melodies (Strange Machines, Sand & Mercury, and In Motion #1 for example), the lyrics are really, really bad. Check it:

"My dear, don't leave me now
Close at the edge of my end
All this time you have been my friend
Don’t go, stay for a while "

Yep, pretty awful. Again though, her vocals are really quite excellent, not quite as powerful as they would be later, but refreshingly free from any sort of melodramatic-ness. She has a strange way of forcing lyrics into rhythms, (In Motion #2), but won't notice as you'll be too busy trying to sing along then to actually analyze what they're about.

So! To conclude, this is a rather excellent gothic/doom thing, quite a unique album and possibly the heaviest thing these dudes/dudettes ever did (not that that is saying much.) I won't say this is a must buy, indeed most self respecting metal heads would probably use it as a frisbee or coaster, but, if you want something atmospheric and female fronted that won't totally make your balls shrivel up, then you should totally get this album.

Beginning Of A New Era. - 85%

Perplexed_Sjel, September 12th, 2007

Transformation ... Transition ... Transfiguration. What ever tag you wish to put on it. Mandylion, the third full-length album by Holland's The Gathering is a significant album in both the history of the band and to the face of alternative music. The Gathering went through a major shake up during this period and introduced the fans to the new face of the band, Anneke van Giersbergen, who went on to turn around the fortunes of this band who were gaining some criticism over their previous two full-length releases. I think it's rather unfair to the other members of the band to say that Anneke single handily transformed the band and gained them the recognition they perhaps deserved. She is often seen as the spark behind the band and even though her vocals are great and even though the band's fortunes DID change when she became the front woman, I personally say that it was due to a complete regeneration in terms of vocals and the music itself which gave The Gathering the status they duly deserve today.

Mandylion, as previously stated, signified a regeneration of the band in every way, shape and form. The band had just begun to shift away from the death/doom metal status they once were to a more gothic/rock style they play today. I'm not so sure that Mandylion was the pivotal moment in the career of The Gathering, but it was certainly one of them. It signified a dramatic change in vocal styling with Anneke taking control with her beautiful voice. Her quite terrific soulful voice hits deep with it's emotional feel and fantastic ability to be able to stir emotions from within us. The Gathering use her voice to harness their lyrical themes to the best of their abilities. Her voice quite aptly depicts the lyrical themes. Without even knowing the lyrics you can feel the emotional torment and anguish felt from within. The often long passages of slow and melodic riffs help contribute to the overwhelming emotive feel. The strong songwriting and musicianship is a great backbone to the album and allows the listener to fully appreciate what is unfolding before them. Although there are some mediocre moments during the album, it is generally quite enjoyable to listen to. Certain songs lack the edge and power to really stand out. They're somewhat overshadowed by other songs, thus making them slightly insignificant to the proceedings. This detracts from the overall view I have on the album as a whole. However, I take into account that the band was going through a transitional period and thus this can be seen as a somewhat experimental start. Though having said that, each of The Gathering's albums after this one have been different. Mandylion probably represents the more aggressive and forceful era of The Gathering's career as it contains a certain edge, perhaps due to the different style of production.

The use of the Synthesiser is quite important to me. It adds a certain depth to the atmospheric nature of the music. It acts as an entrancing background to the overlapping melodies that the riffs create, the subtle drums that can often become quite catchy and the powerful vocals. I hate to say that people shouldn't focus all their attentions on the vocals as this is a female fronted band and that is how people generally tend to operate, but I cannot harp on enough over Anneke's beautiful voice. It's a shame she's departed the band, but hopefully the band can turn this departure into a positive. Afterall, it is the musicians who contribute most to the music, not the vocalist. Female vocals are generally not something I enjoy, so that may be a problem for certain people upon listening to this album. I suggest listening with an open mind.

Highlights are 'Eléanor', 'In Motion # 1' and 'Leaves'. Three songs which even today remain amongst my favourite songs from the band.

A New Beginning... - 93%

Uom, May 28th, 2004

After years mired in obscurity, The Gathering fully takes its form on Mandylion. In place of the style that flirted with the doomdeath genre, the band’s music become more accessible and natural, thanks largely in part of the vocal duties handled by new-recruit, diamond-in-the-rough Anneke Van Giersbergen. Her addition to the band fueled a redemptive fervor in the music, as this album transformed the music of the Gathering, in place of a more ethereal, soulful music. Considering the musical climate during the mid-90s, Mandylion was stunningly invigorating and powerful during its initial release.

What makes this album so amazing is Anneke’s grand and majestic voice that complements the music. The vocals on past albums don’t reach the level that she has with the music, because she was able to flesh out the real emotion that the Gathering wasn’t able to show on its previous releases, thus giving the songs more life and power that it should actually have. Although she doesn’t boast the operatic qualities that make Flor Jansen and Tarja Turunnen technically skillful with their set of pipes, she does possess the charm that some completely lack with their delivery. Tracks like ‘Strange Machine’, ‘In Motion’, and ‘In Motion #2’ show how capable Anneke is. Her soulful yet dreamy vocals on ‘Strange Machine’ makes the music so vivd and yearning with hope and passion, with line such as ‘I wandered in centuries in a lifetime’, seem so haunting and memorable. Her performances on both ‘In Motion’ and ‘In Motion #2’ are as equally compelling and riveting, showcasing her emotion upfront with the music, baring the naked beauty of her poignant delivery. Painful, powerful and exalting all at once, these tracks are some of the band’s band moments ever.

That is to say, the band is no slouch either. The dichotomy of Anneke’s dreamlike vocals, and the heavy, crushing atmosphere provided by the other members provides a unique and distinct sound that was needed during that time. They do not drown each other in creating the feel of the music, and most especially, the Metal elements of the music did not hinder the development of the lucid impression that they were trying to accomplish, thanks also to the production job of the album. The double-bass portion of ‘Eleanor’, the riff-heavy ‘Fear the Sea’ creates beautiful harmony with the ethereal essence that is charged in their songs. The keyboards stabilizes, and does not subdue, the hard edges of the music by remaining prevalent throughout the songs, providing a welcomed atmosphere that helps the music in its approach. Aside from these tracks, ‘Sand and Mercury’ and the title track goes out a limb and utilizes various instrumentations and progressive influences to further delve into the hypnotic trance set by the music.

Haunting, riveting, and euphoric all at once, Mandylion needs to be heard. The surge of sonic rapture in listening to tracks ‘Strange Machines,’ ‘In Motion,’ ‘In Motion #2,’ is meant not only to be heard, but experienced. Regardless of musical genre the Gathering crosses with this album, Mandylion is simply stunning.

will this atmospheric gem ever be matched? - 96%

WitheringToSerenity, March 21st, 2004

The Gathering's Mandylion was truly a landmark release of epic proportions if there ever was one. Forget Lacuna Coil, Lullacry, Within Temptation, Nightwish, On Thorns I Lay etc... for a second. All are great bands granted but this is THE album set the standard for female fronted metal bands and still stands at the top of its game despite the numerous bands to utilize this style in the late 90's with their own fresh sound. What defines The Gathering's sound is mostly distorted, melodic riffs which alternate between quite heavy chord based guitar riffs and beautiful guitar harmonies. As well they use gorgeous keyboards which are an excellent compliment to their patent sound and most importantly the passionate, angelic vocals from Anneke van Giersbergen. Easily one of the top vocalists in this genre and ultimately the main reason for this bands success.

The Gathering's heavy yet simplified and incredibly atmospheric sound is an excellent combination with Anneke's charming yet NEVER over the top vocals. If there was one slight weakness in this album, I'd have to say the lyrics aren't as impressive as their sound but after hearing the music it is very easy to ignore this minor blemish. What is also so great about this album is the variety of fans this album could have attracted if it ever received more recognition. Surprisingly catchy and not quite instantly accessible but its good enough to give anyone who isn't insistent on pure speed in their music something to think about. I have a hard time recommending specific songs on this album because I think its truly as great as the rating I've indicated. The title track Mandylion and Sand and Mercury are more experimentive pieces that are not as similar to the rest of the album but set some of the most amazing atmosphere on the album as well as diversity which is never a bad thing. Sand of Mercury in an instrumental that has a stunning, almost surreal beauty that I have never seen matched(especially the ending solo). Favorite instrumental and possibly song of all time. Other standout tracks include Strange Machines, Eleanor, Fear The Sea but as far as I'm concerned this is not important because each track is excellent. If you are into heavy, atmospheric female fronted music or interested in it I wouldn't just recommend downloading it first, but to outright buy it immediately. Its that good.