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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.