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Energizing and Uplifting! - 94%

andreipianoman, November 8th, 2018

Anneke Van Giersbergen is without a doubt one of the most appreciated figures in all the prog scene with over twenty years of activity in multiple projects that have built up a successful music career. Although most famous for her work in The Gathering, there is quite a number of bands that she has created or been a part of and Vuur is the latest one of them. I've known about Anneke for years but it's been only recently that I've actually heard some of her music. I actually first heard her voice on Ayreon and I'm only now getting familiar with a small portion of her extensive work.

Vuur's "In This Moment We Are Free – Cities" is a very special album, although it may not appear so at first glimpse. There's no denying that there is a lot of value in the creativity of this record. It has some very satisfying song-writing, balancing very well the progressive, the heavy, the melodic and the catchy. There's a consistent use of moody time-signatures that wake up the prog nerd in you but it is far from being focused on complexity, being still very enjoyable and easy to listen to, even when hearing it the first time. Ayreon's drummer Ed Warby does a fantastic job merging his groovy and progressive skills with more basic double kick and headbang inducing patterns, displaying a lot of ease in alternating from one to another or even doing both at the same time. Also the overall guitar and bass material works very well as a whole. The riffs are heavy, energetic and many times pretty complex but never taking the spotlight too much as they are almost always combined with lead guitar melodies to give the main tune of the songs. Pretty much every instrument is given some moments to shine but never overpowering everything else. There are also many clean guitar sections where the bass comes forward a little more and many times they may run into engaging and energizing buildups that go back into the heavy side. The guitar solos are also very well written, being enjoyable and very melodic while still bringing to the table a surprising amount of shred, sweeps, tapping and all the speedy goodies.

There's even more sense of unity and naturally cohesive music when you take the vocal parts into consideration. Apart from the fact that Anneke's voice is and absolute gem, here all her parts are very well put into the music to grab the energy from the instrumental and enhance it (see the bridge in "My Champion – Berlin" for a great example) or to give it a certain meaning and direction (beginning of "Freedom - Rio"). I actually can't tell if it's the vocal delivery or the way the vocal parts are written that makes them so powerful but I think it's actually a mix of both. And this is also where the lyrics come in. I feel like there's always a very strong connection between the lyrics and the music. The heavier songs with a slightly darker tone like "Time - Rotterdam" or "Days Go By – London" have darker and more negative lyrics focused on some sort of fears or regrets while the more melodic and engaging ones ("Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki" is the best example) have more uplifting or even enlightening lyrics.

I feel like it's really the connection between all the different elements coming together that makes this album work so well and carry out it's energy and it's message so clearly. You can hear that it was thought out as a whole from the beginning. And in the end it's not the complexity or performance that makes it stand out as much as the atmosphere it creates. It is travel themed music and although the lyrics don't actually describe that, the song titles and the different vibes bring the idea to life. There is a strong and undeniable similarity between the way the songs are written and structured but each one has its own particular touch that makes it slightly different, like travelling to a different city. Another great idea was placing the album title as a lyric in each song. That somehow brings them together and connects them into what feels like a journey. And the journey ends with "Reunite! - Paris" where the liberating energy as well as the peaceful and calming lyrics create the sense of closure. Despite the songs not being actually connected like in a concept album, this ending somehow brings them together.

To be perfectly honest, I think an album of this sort is likely to create many different opinions as it is very unpredictable what impact it may have on the listener. It's probably not one of my all time favorites but I still struggle to find faults with it and it's the kind of music that makes me happy and that I can listen to anytime. However, the one thing I can say for certain is that the idea in the artist's mind was fully achieved. And that simply means success.

Around the World in 65 minutes - 90%

Livingwave17, October 16th, 2018

Vuur is a project that brings together members from lots of Dutch bands like ‘Ayreon’, ‘The Gentle Storm’, ‘After Forever’, ‘ReVamp’ or ‘Mayan’. I’m familiar with a few of these names but the one that brought me to this album is ‘Devin Townsend Project’. After hearing Anneke van Giersbergen singing with Devin I wanted to see what else she did, and ‘Vuur’ is the latest chapter of her glorious musical journey.

Unlike most metal divas Anneke isn’t a soprano but she still gets pretty close. What I really love about her is how expressive and fluid her vocal performance can get. She can nail the ‘diva’ part with some really melancholic ideas, but the album is quite energetic overall and that requires a powerful and impressive voice. “In this Moment We Are Free - Cities” is an album that (apart of a really long and annoying title) brings together elements from every project in Anneke’s history, and also an original concept idea. She is the main creative mind behind the music, and as a true prog veteran, she has taken bits and pieces of every musical step that brought her where she is now. Vuur even plays covers from her old projects live. The music sounds like a combination of ‘Ayreon’ and Devin Townsend instrumentally but with some extra screwed up time signatures here & there. It’s proper progressive metal with some really cool grooves and melodic ideas, but it still stays easy and comfortable with a powerful chorus in every song and a strong melodic side. I really like the crunchy and dry guitar tone and the awesome groove that Ed Warby brings on the drums. But despite these heavy elements, the music sounds very uplifting due to the clean guitar sections, various keys and synths, and the exceptional vocals. This atmosphere is also very well suited for the concept.

It’s hard to say if this is a Dutch project. Every member of the band is Dutch but the song titles suggest otherwise. Anneke definitely finds inspiration from travelling the world and with this album she gives us a taste of what that feels like. Every song is inspired by a city and while the music doesn’t take any musical elements from different cultures around the world, it does feel like the songs are reflections of the cities that they portray. After listening to this album it genuinely feels like you’ve been away for an hour because the liberating and positive vibe of the music just takes you places.

This atmosphere is probably what I like most about this album, but it is still undoubtedly progressive. Some really technical sections and solos bring enough complexity and variety to keep your mind working as the album flows. It’s definitely very easy to listen to if you’re used to the usual 39/7 time signatures and 14 years long songs that Dream Theater and some other progressive bands are known for. The song structures create a very dynamic background that keeps the music changing a lot even if the melodic ideas themselves are quite simple.

I’ve definitely become a fan of Anneke after this album, and I’ll be listening to Vuur in the future or to whatever other music she may put out. If prog is what you’re into this is right up your alley, but it is quite accessible music to anybody out there as well. It’s also bound to get you in a good mood so take some time to check it out. It’s definitely worth it!


A global tour in studio album form - 95%

KronosMPH, May 10th, 2018

This is one of my favorite albums of 2017: an ode to humanity as a collective, expressed and portrayed by veterans of the Dutch metal scene. Anneke van Giersbergen gathered musicians from her solo project and other bands such as The Gentle Storm, Stream of Passion, Ayreon and ReVamp to tap into her heavy metal side; the result is an introspective look at traveling and metropolitan life: In This Moment We Are Free - Cities.

Note the double-barreled titles for both the album itself and every track. It's much quicker to refer to each song by the city name, but the full titles further unify the album because every song also contains the lyric (verbatim or very close) "in this moment we are free." Freedom is a big theme for Cities in general, and even though there are some darker riffs of course, the album carries an overall feeling of hope... and perhaps even the feeling of strength in numbers.

Cities is ostensibly progressive metal with the recurring subject matter and concepts, but it does play very much on the safe melodic side. Technical influence from more overtly progressive acts such as Devin Townsend is certainly here, and the opener to the album, "Berlin," highlights these influences with its punchy riffs and unconventional rhythms packed into a surprisingly melodic, easy-to-digest format and carried by Anneke's powerful voice. Triumphant melodic metal on the surface, but more intricate underneath.

The rest of the album carries on the same general influences and themes, but plays with them to skillfully juxtapose different types of songs: The Gathering-reminiscent "Rotterdam" next to the uplifting lightly power metal-inspired "Beirut," desolate morning-after-the-fire "San Francisco" followed by consoling ballad "Rio," and so on. Keys are somewhat minimal, and I don't think any two tracks share a synth. As a result there's a unique atmosphere to each one: for example, low piano notes on "London," string synths on "Helsinki," and Middle Eastern instrumentation under appropriate guitar riffs on "Istanbul." VUUR definitely hit the concept goal where certain ideas are shared throughout the album, but each song also has its own motifs to ensure that none sound the same.

As amazing as this album is, what hurts it a little is the thought of what could have been. Originally Marcela Bovio of Stream of Passion was also going to perform with VUUR, but left mid-production over creative differences. I don't say that to undermine Anneke's performance, which is both amazing and versatile, but I did get the impression that something may be missing, which would make sense if these songs were written with a vocal duet in mind. That said, the band worked around that sudden change very well and the end product is a very tight release. It's lightly technical and loaded with catchy riffs, to the point where six months later I still can't get "Berlin" or "Helsinki" out of my head for too long. Going around the world in 64 minutes is well worth the ride.