Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

A walk in the snow - 82%

gasmask_colostomy, November 23rd, 2014

When an album has one song that stands out so far from the others that it transforms the feel of the songs that come after it, you know it's a special song. I'm talking about 'Third Chance', from The Gathering's 'Nighttime Birds'. I'm not saying that this is the best song by The Gathering, or even that it's the best song on the record, but it's a dose of pure joy for me and can snap me out of depression in an instant. The fact is, though, that it doesn't really fit on 'Nighttime Birds' - it's an utterly different kind of song.

This album for the most part trades in the sandstone and desert wind doom of 'Mandylion' for a more relaxed, atmospheric adventure. The pace is slow, the heaviness minimal, and most of the emotional intensity comes from Anneke van Giersbergen, not that the instrumentalists are lazy or their performances lacking. The guitars sweep and hang, with a lot of piercing high end that sounds like bird calls coming across the sea; the keyboards build an atmosphere of magic and airy lightness; the bass wanders thoughtfully in the shade of the guitars; the drums are calm and sage-like, never saying more than they need to. If it helps you picture the prevailing sound on this album, it's saved in my Itunes with a genre tag of "progressive rock". It's got that kind of feeling: diverse, explorative, gradual.

The opener 'On Most Surfaces' is probably the best song on here, with its piercing, soaring guitar motif, chugging momentum, and a climactic chorus. It's the sonic equivalent of the cover image, with a single tree in a field of untouched snow, which the band explore with all the spacious wonder of wise children adrift and alone in winter. The other songs tend to follow this pattern, using slow rhythmic footsteps to move through the drifts of snow and dreamy vocals and keyboards to gaze up at the flurries falling from above. The whole mood is one of being set free from the world and seeing everything anew, as if it's covered by the formless envelope of snow. There are some moments that startle the listener into half-consciousness, like the powerful vocal peaks in 'The Earth is My Witness', but there's always something soothing to follow. It's beautiful music for the most part, and very relaxing too.

Then 'Third Chance' happens. I don't know what it is about this song, but there's suddenly an air of excitement and urgency (even though the band drift through the chords and only have time for two choruses) that kicks the album into another gear. Maybe it's the insistent one-two drumbeat that powers the wash of chords and boards along, maybe it's that frantic build-up of Hammond that ushers in the chorus, maybe it's just that Anneke finally lets rip at medium pace with the whole band behind her. It's just sheer release and energy and it feels glorious after the ebb and drift of the first 25 minutes.

The problem is, of course, the last few songs lose out a little bit in comparison. There isn't a drop in quality at all (although 'Shrink' is the least gripping), but having heard the intensity that The Gathering can play at when they want to, the otherwise stately title track doesn't have the impact it should. Really, it's just an issue of balance, because I wouldn't take 'Third Chance' off the album for anything, though it's difficult to know where to put such an upbeat song on such a reflective and dreamy album. In the end, most of the songs here pull their weight and have a lot of musical merit, even if 'Nighttime Birds' does feel like a very short day out and a lot of bedtime stories.