Nighttime Birds sounds like an extension of Mandylion, although with a much darker tone throughout- the guitars are more jagged and raw, the vocals are more stretched and angst ridden, while the vocals for the most part are more introspective and bleak. The album doesn’t contain as many `hits’ as its predecessor, the songs that are here don’t have as much experimentation of sounds and musical shifts but the album retains the epic feel. While not as impressive as the last album, this shows signs of growth and Anneke’s vocals
have certainly improved even though they were near perfect before. The production levels are higher and Anneke now has a clearer, more powerful performance. While Mandylion was mostly similarly paced rock songs with a few instrumentals, Nighttime Birds adds in more gloomy moments, a beautiful ballad of innocence, a much faster track, and a soft, downbeat, piano driven song. The
band were exploring new sounds on an individual track basis rather than throwing as many ideas as they could into each song like before. Each fan has their favourite album, each album differs from the next, and Nighttime Birds is no exception- the only similarity being that they all share great talent in all musical areas.
`On Most Surfaces’ opens in bombastic and familiar fashion. The first thing to notice is that the production has a more dense,
expansive feeling to it. Everything is more focused complimenting the complex arrangements. Sound effects blend with the usual massive riffs, the guitars sound angrier, and when Anneke first unleashes her vocals you know that this will be an album of concentrated rage. Anneke’s vocal range here is exceptional and her control in moving from the quiet parts to the screeching parts shows mastery of her art. The song contains a softer middle part which rather than sounding mellow, sounds like restrained threat. This soon fades back into the central verse which is complimented by good piano work from Boeijen. The lyrics are still nothing special concentrating on moods and emotions using wintery imagery.
`Confusion’ opens in a more somber, softer style, marked by an eerily toned guitar and Anneke’s reverb filled vocals. The single chorus line here is among the catchiest in the band’s history, each time it is heard is more emotional than before. The lyrics speak of paranoia, confusion, pressure, but they are fairly minimalist. Most of the song is filled by musical parts, the guitars again blending with techno sounds to great effect. The bass and drums here also stand out, but the best moment is the final time Anneke sings the chorus. The colliding riffs also help to lift this above a fairly standard rock song.
`The May Song’ begins with an organ played over a dance like drum loop. The guitar’s 3 note progression grows steadily along side some acoustic chords but as always Anneke’s voice takes central stage. The verse and chorus melodies here are not as interesting or as memorable as others and as such this song is one I don’t listen to much. It is more mellow than the first two songs, with only a few loud guitars in the chorus before another classic Rene solo begins.
`The Earth Is My Witness’ has that dark, ominous tone about it, slow doom pace and techno beats over quite low and demonic vocals from Anneke. These build to a booming chorus as Anneke soars high above us, the lyrics actually attempting speaking of man’s disregard of nature which may come back to destroy us with an equal passive care. The message is that if we don’t care, why should anyone else? This one is easily forgotten in the band’s discography but shouldn’t be overlooked as it contains some great moments. The final 30 seconds provide a nice, understated ending.
`New Moon, Different Day’ has an effects laden intro melding with some fine guitar playing. Again the overall album theme of nature shines through, Anneke giving the vocals a dreamy quality. The opening part is fairly dreary, shoe gazing stuff and it isn’t until just
before half way through that the song truly shines. The pace picks up, Anneke shows us her angelic tendencies, but this is all too brief. The narrator seems to put him/herself in the place of a God/force of nature/spirit passing over the land. Thankfully the middle section returns near the end to stop the song from being forgettable, the fast drums and guitars encouraging the crowd to headbang with glee.
`Third Chance’ is one of the quickest songs the band has ever recorded, the version here is very good but my favourite is the one on
Accessories. There Anneke sings in such a high key that you can’t believe she’ll ever make it through the song; of course, she does. This version is sung at a lower register but has all the energy, desperation, and pleading cries. The chorus here has more of a dance feel to it, at times the drums are almost disco. The guitars reign supreme here although there is an absence of fancy solo work. The soft break in the middle serves as a breather before the pace picks up again, the lyrics speaking of a final chance to avert disaster.
`Kevin’sTelescope’ opens in quite a loud fashion before unexpectedly turning into one of the most beautiful and touching songs the band has ever written. After the frantic nature of the previous song this is at the opposite end of the scale. Anneke belts out the tender lyrics about a child dreaming (possibly hinting at where the next album would take us), the themes are completely sincere, there is
some trippy effects work and experimentation of sounds which would be prevalent in future releases. It is the melodies here though that stand out, instantly memorable, and the ending merging into the next song is also very nice.
`Nighttime Birds’ as the title track features both the mellow and heavy parts of the album, mixing the traditional metal guitars with the effects of subsequent records. There is a strange middle part with eastern sounding noises which featured more prominently on Mandylion. Anneke sings well enough here, the song just doesn’t engage me as much as the rest of the album, and apart from that middle section it is underwhelming. I do like the jagged guitar parts from 4.30- 5.10, but the melodies seem to drone too much.
`Shrink’ is a brilliant closing song, a haunting piece of piano and vocal beauty. These moments would continue in future songs, but rarely are they bettered. The lyrics also work extremely well here, not just a collection of words inserted for the sake of it. There isn’t a trace of guitars until the second half of the song, and even then they are simply a few sustained notes. This is one of the great
moments when all the best talents of the band come together in perfect harmony to create an understated, anguish filled classic.
This special edition also contains some extra tracks and a second cd of demos, covers, and alternate versions. These had already appeared on the Accessories album which I’ll be reviewing at some point. The band by this stage have moved from strength
to strength although the album suffers from perhaps being too downbeat and slow in places. The expectation after Mandylion was high and with all genre defining albums the follow up almost never lives up. Some albums collapse under the success of their predecessor but Nighttime Birds succeeds in being a great album if not exceptional. As with any Gathering album praising or dismissing it comes
with your own mood at the time of listening. Sometimes you can’t bear to hear the song you had loved the day before, while a song you had forgotten about may surprise you with its brilliance at another time. It was clear that the band were not going to make a sequel, striving to create something truly new and unique with each release. While this would alienate some fans those that stayed with the band would go on to form an even closer bond.