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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.