The Gathering – Souvenirs

Souvenirs sees the band in almost commercial territory- shorter songs with more simple structures and at times some pop melodies. However, the overall tone is dark- possibly the sole trace remnant of their metal days. The guitars rarely take centre stage, Anneke’s vocals have a shadowy quality, and many of the songs with some slight alterations could be considered as dance music. Anneke’s lyrics have again moved to new levels, many songs taking on more artistic and poetic merits, while the remix feel of many of the songs ensures that the band sound a million miles away from the one which recorded Mandylion, a billion miles from the Moonlight Archer days. The main thing to note is that with all these changes the music is style of the highest quality and there are a few classics here. A band can grow and change and become unrecognizable from what they once were, but as long as the music is good, regardless of genre, regardless even of personnel, we should not care.

`These Good People’ introduces us to some dance style drums and sparsely constructed songs compared to previous albums. Anneke’s voice is as good as ever, but there is a new maturity here. The piano and drums are of highest note here, the haunting vocals and sound effects creating an ambient but dark atmosphere. The lyrics are quite angry and while we still have the traditional quiet interlude it is now marked by techno sounds rather than guitar parts.

`Even The Spirits Are Afraid’ begins with a classic drum and vocal intro. The ominous growing background noise and some excellent bass work serve to further the dark and threatening mood which permeates the entire album. Again the lyrics have an angrier edge than ever before, suiting the almost barren music perfectly. There is some good guitar work here, Rene showing growing talent as a musician not happy with simply re-recording variations on the same twiddly solos. It is never more clear that the band are in a league of their own.

`Broken Glass’ continues with the dark mood, with surging, metallic sounding guitar sounds while Anneke sings as if from inside your head. The band retains their strength for a good melody, and the reverb filled distant guitar parts from second verse add dimension to what Anneke is doing. Rene does a bit of Greenwood style guitar playing before the songs breaks down into a short bass section and back around again. Once again the band have complete mastery over what they are doing; the conclusion is a joyful noise with echoes, distortions etc clashing together.

`You Learn About It’ has become one of the band’s most famous songs and remains their most commercial. It is a gorgeous song, an utterly beautiful ballad with peerless vocals from Anneke, steady drumming from Hans, and a wonderfully tender guitar part from Rene. Boeijen’s piano here is also key and Geerlig’s bass underplays everything. As with most songs on the album there is a tinge of sadness but mostly it is a glorious ray of sunshine in an otherwise pitch black album. From verse, to perfect chorus, to sumptuous bridge, the soft lyrics sung with flawless emotion it is one of the band’s best songs. For people who wouldn’t like the more metal or heavy parts of the band’s catalogue, this may be the song to play them.

`Souvenirs’ coming after such a ballad is a lively, up tempo song. The drums here are once again great, the guitars finally take a bigger part here sounding oriental, and Anneke does well with some tricky rhythms and timing. When the chorus comes here it is like an epiphany, raising the rest of the song to new heights and we gain new appreciation for easily one of the best singers ever. The lyrics again are improved, the production is almost like a dance record, while the ending is one of Rene’s great pieces of soloing. It all finishes with some swerving bass and effects and blends perfectly into the next song.

`We Just Stopped Breathing’ begins with simple pianos and almost tuneless, somber vocals. This helps to returns the album to the dark side along with the bleak, hopeless lyrics. The spaces are filled with scratchy, chaotic noises while a strange string section in the middle confuses matters further. This may be the weakest song on the album, not particularly memorable, but it does have good use of effects, piano, and trumpet. Anneke however is deliberately underused.

`Monsters’ is sandwiched between the two most downbeat and slow songs on the album, a heavier song with some distorted guitars and bombastic chorus. Anneke gets a chance to stretch her vocal cords on this one while Rene gets to play another catchy riff. The pianos are put to good use again and like the rest of the album the drums are central.

`Golden Grounds’ sounds very dark, with muted guitars, growing yet faint background sounds on top of Anneke’s lowly sung lyrics. There are good melodies here and a creeping guitar line which will stick in the head long after the song is over. I like the final few seconds, lines, and sounds of the song as they are so unexpected.

`Jelena’ is another wonderfully tender and sad ballad, the type which The Gathering seem to be masters at. The song seems to about a suffering friend, the slow beat perfectly complimenting Anneke’s lonely singing. Again the guitars have an oriental feel, at times the percussion sounds like breathing and there are plenty of background noises and piano parts. As is typical for these ballads there is a slight twist with Anneke closing the sing with some bittersweet vocal antics, copying the main piano part.

`A Life Not Mine’ is a rarity in the band’s history as it is almost a duet- Anneke being partnered with Kristoffer Rygg from Ulver. Performing this live she would usually sing every part herself, but the male vocals give a new flavour to the album, an unexpected surprise at the end. The male vocals aren’t too great in themselves, but they sound almost robotic as if they are coming from a radio she is listening to or as if it is her conscience or a memory. The song itself is a good ending, plenty of singable lines, quite dance influenced beats, surging and fading synthesizer, and little or no guitars to speak of.

A new album, another departure towards a new sound. By this stage most fans would have realized that the band would sound different on each new album so the excitement was and is in how they will sound, not if they will be heavy again. This remains their darkest album, and along with `If Then Else’ their most dance influenced. They would continue to sound more commercial or accessible on the next releases but this album had a few successful singles. Although there is not as much variance in this album as on previous ones, the overall sound is consistently strong. Many songs from `Souvenirs’ are played live frequently and they give the audience something other than thumping guitar songs. Depending on your mood each album will have something to suit you; this is the one for bedroom contemplation and solitude and is no less gratifying or valid that the one for jumping around in a crowd to.

Tell it like it is!

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