The Gathering – Accessories

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*Originally written in 2006

This ‘between albums’ release is a large collection of live, alternate, and demo versions of some of the band’s biggest songs, as we as some covers that many fans may not have heard. This double album is interesting for the more avid fan but I wouldn’t recommend any new listeners getting this first. Some of the live versions give an idea of how the band like to have fun with their performances- changing parts, adding parts, or playing with an orchestra, and some of the demos are useful in highlighting how a song goes from initial idea to completion. Perhaps the best songs here are the few covers- they tell us of the band’s influences and when played feel like originals by The Gathering. This is a good collection but it isn’t essential by any means.

In Motion 1 Live: This live version of the Mandylion classic has an extended introduction with a sound clip which sets a tone of night time- I’m not sure of the relevance but adds something different to a song they perform every night. The song is not quite as heavy as the album version, just one guitar here and the sound quality is fairly distant. Anneke sings strongly, not showing any flaws or fear from being outside the recording booth.

Leaves Live: This blends in seamlessly from the previous song and is as good a live version as you will get anywhere. The musicians are all on top form, occasionally making a few changes and having fun on stage while Anneke again blows the front row back a few feet. The only problem is the same as the last song, that it seems too distant, maybe it’s the lack of crowd noise or maybe it’s that the volume isn’t high enough. Either way, the solo is still breathtaking and glad to see Rutten doesn’t resort to any Malmstein-esque twiddles with it live.

Adrenaline: This is the best B-Side the band has done and it’s tragic that it never appeared on any of their first albums with Anneke. I assume that it just sounds too upbeat and up tempo to fit in with the darkness of Mandylion and NB. Looking past that though, it has been a live favourite since its first play, and is one of their few songs that really gets the crowd jumping and dancing at speed. Lyrically it is nothing out of the ordinary, but melodically it is brilliant, musically catchy without being flashy- fairly heavy with crunching chords and synth but mostly free of solo work. Anneke gets a chance to wail and scatter her voice all over the place and everybody gets to smile.

Third Chance Alt: I’ve always seen Third Chance as the darker partner to Adrenaline, the album version was very good but this is exceptional. It is quick, angry, filled with urgency, but mainly stands out because Anneke sings in a higher register than on the NB. The notes she reaches and the style in which she does is enough to make me grin and shiver every time and I would recommend it over the album version every time. The quiet middle section and build up to the ending is all the more effective now because of the higher register, the ominous synth, and the urgency of it all.

Strange Machines Live: It is a bit of a come down after the energy of the previous song to hear this. The Gathering are a great band because they are constantly trying new things, not only with new songs but with their classics. Like Metallica’s S & M, they get a full orchestra involved here to play possibly their most famous song. Also like S&M, it should work brilliantly but doesn’t. Maybe it’s the sound quality, but it just sounds flat, almost empty. There is none of the energy of the album track, and certainly none of the energy from their normal live plays. Part of my problem is that the brass is the main focus, whereas I much prefer strings swelling in from all sides. This could all be personal preference and it may well work for you, but I don’t think it woks like it should.

In Power We Trust The Love: This Dead Can Dance cover is one of the few cover songs I’ve heard which makes me search out the original band- I think the Gathering version is better if only because the song suits Anneke so well. An ethereal, soothing number which builds through various phases- the type of song The Gathering have been making throughout their career except with this we get some great lyrics, something which is rarely a part of the Dutch band’s repertoire.

When The Sun Hits: Being a big Manic Street Preachers fan, I suppose I should hate this Slowdive cover. I’d never listened to that band before I heard this cover, but it’s pretty good. The Gathering is known for downbeat sounds, if not quite shoe-gazing, so again this suits them. Again it is interesting to see Anneke sing some different lyrics, the type which the band would never write. The song has a sleepy quality and is one of the better ones in this collection.

Confusion: This demo from the EROC sessions isn’t too dissimilar from the final version on NB. The sound is slightly more tinny, and Anneke’s voice sounds like there are more effects on it. Aside from some additional synth and slight differences you are on familiar territory.

Shrink Alt: This version of Shrink is played on strings rather than piano, has lots of background sound clips, and has a dual vocal from Anneke.

Frail Live: This live version of Frail is pretty similar to the album track, soothing guitars and flawless Anneke vocals.

 

Cyclist: This instrumental theme for ‘The Cyclist’ movie is interesting as it doesn’t particularly sound like anything the band has done before. Having not seen the film I can’t see how well it works, but as a stand alone piece of music it is fairly good, lots of brass and percussion with a lead piano part. I like the string section coming in towards the end, but it isn’t a track I would listen to often.

Leaves Orchestra: Like the earlier Strange Machines this doesn’t always work, although it has a much more bombastic feel to it. It sounds like Anneke enjoys competing for prime position with the full band behind her, and some of her vocals are strained to extremes. I’m not a big fan of brass taking the lead so personally this isn’t a favourite, plus this cuts my favourite part from the original- the middle guitar solo and end.

Life Is What You Make It: This Talk Talk cover is the weakest cover in the collection, mostly because the original material isn’t as strong as the others. Nevertheless it is a decent song which sounds like a slight departure from what the band would usually play. There is a nice messed up guitar part in the middle, and lots of drum based effects and Anneke sings as well as always without having to try too hard.

Amity Live: This is an average live version of Amity let down mostly because Anneke sounds drained and here vocals aren’t great, especially towards the end. Mostly it is musically the same as the album version, with some different effects.

New Moon, Different Day: This opens the second disc- rarities. There isn’t anything too startling or exciting here, a slightly different version of the one we all know.

Kevin’s Telescope: This instrumental abandons the darker intro of the final cut and instead focuses on the light melodies of the verse and the emotion of the chorus. If the vocals were added it still wouldn’t be too different.

Shrink: This seems to be a slightly more up tempo take on the song, and the piano tone isn’t as dark. This is pretty good but again not anything surprising.

The Earth Is My Witness: We are on familiar ground with this one as not much seems unusual. There are a few differences- guitar parts, effects etc, but the structure of the song is the same.

Diamond Box: This is quite an odd one – an instrumental with plenty of effects and sound clips. The main part reminds me of a computer game level set in a dank sewer, or something with a slightly Eastern twist. For some reason it reminds me of Banjo Kazooie. It’s worth a listen but it isn’t one I come back to often.

Nighttime Birds: The main difference here is some background guitar work and less dense effects. Otherwise the song is the same length, same style.

On Most Surfaces: Again this is very much the same as the main version, a slightly more swirling and extended introduction and background guitar work being the main differences.

Hjeimar’s: This is a strange instrumental piece which consists entirely of some eerie guitar work. Just as it sounds like it is building towards something it is cut short. I’d like to hear what the band could come up with by extending this short piece.

My Electricity: This is a strange version of My Electricity with low sound quality but some nice dual vocals. The accompanying guitar seems too metallic though to fit (even though it is acoustic).

Probably Built In The 50s: This is another odd take on the original with Anneke’s voice being heavily cropped, and with some extra distortion on the guitars. This is quite a bit different from the original and is worth a few listens to appreciate the differences. Some great singing and a high tempo middle.

Illuminating: This version is slightly shorter than the main one but is mostly similar in sound and style. The introduction features different drum sounds and the synth isn’t as deep and brooding.

Red Is A Slow Colour: This is a much more distorted take on the original, with clipped vocals and less subtlety. The chorus is different as the guitar tone changes from distorted to a twang, and rather than the effects beats we get some interesting chord strumming and odd background phaser sounds. There is also a strange middle interlude with all manner of noises clashing together- a nice sign of the experimentation which would go on to make the finished album a classic.

Travel: The band like trying different things with their songs, especially when played live and Travel is one which is constantly tweaked. This version is completely different from the final one- it sounds like a very early version as many of the lyrics are missing. Mostly it sounds like a heavier take on the second half of the complete song, but extended to over 7 minutes.

This is definitely a collection for existing fans only as I don’t see anything here which would particularly charm any new listeners. Most of the demos and alternate takes are the same, with a few additional instruments and lower sound quality, but some of the outtakes and B-sides are interesting as they show the band’s creative process. For the live versions I would stick to the main live DVDs and CDs, or better yet catch them live if they ever come to Britain again. For a band with such talent I wish they would have recorded more B-sides and covers but that seems to be a dying art. This is a good album, but too long to listen to repeatedly- just pick your favourites.

If you have heard Accessories, let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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My Favourite ‘The Gathering’ Songs

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Greeting, Glancers! It’s another musical list for your ears to salivate over today, as I present to you one of, if not the single greatest underrated band in the world – The Gathering. Female fronted metal may be a dirty term for some, fools mostly, but I had been aware of the band before ever hearing them. As you may have read elsewhere on the blog, I grew up as a metal and grunge kid and I always enjoyed female vocalists as much as male. Out of all the metal and rock bands I listened to though, it was really only the likes of Hole and L7 and Alanis Morisette that I paid much attention to. Even at the height of Britpop, acts such as Elastica, Garbage, Portishead and many others were always on the fringe for me – okay for a quick listen, but nothing that hooked me. It was around this time that The Gathering had taken on a new vocalist – Anneke Van Giersbergen. It wasn’t the first time a metal band, or indeed the band themselves, had put a woman on the mic, but they would quickly become the best example and effectively and single-handedly create the list of imitators who would follow – Nightwish, Within Temptation, Lacuna Coil, Evanescence, and countless others. But a woman singing metal songs? Who wants to listen to that, I said.

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Not Me

So, it wasn’t until a sunny Sunday afternoon in 2003 at Glastonbury that I thought ‘well why the fuck not?’ and decided to watch The Gathering’s set. Whether it was a mixture of the early morning sun, the blissful memories of the previous night’s Radiohead gig, the cider coursing through my veins, and the people I was with, or just the fact that I was witnessing for the first time one of the finest bands ever, it was a revelation; The swaying, swooning music, the veering between light and dark, calm, and loud, and Anneke’s voice. The second thing I did when I got home (the first was have a shower) was hop online and buy Souvenirs – the band’s latest album. A blend of dark, atmospheric rock and pure, angelic vocals it opened a door for me which I have never backed out of. I soon found myself swept away in dreamy melodies and telling everyone who would or wouldn’t listen to catch this band now. NOW! I can only imagine that if you are a metal fan that you may be loosely aware of this band – pretty big in Europe, massive in areas of South America, non-existent everywhere else. If you are at all interested in Prog or rock music, or good music in general, and you have not heard of the band – do yourself a favour and click a fw of the links below or better still just go and buy the albums now. If you already are a fan, then I present to you my favourite songs by the band – this time around I am doing it alphabetically as I don’t actually have a single favourite song – too many are too closely linked in my mind to be able to pick and choose so arbitrarily. Enough talk – listen up.

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A Constant Run – The West Pole

The closing song of what is typically seen as the weakest ‘main’ The Gathering Album, this is nicely bookended with the opening track – a similar pace and vibe, except this one adds vocals to the mix. The West Pole album rarely gets out of second gear in terms of speed – not a problem for a band of this quality, but most Gathering fans still like a heavier, faster moment on each new release. This is nowhere near as heavy or complex as early stuff, but it is a straight to the point, simple verse chorus verse song with great backing vocals and emotive verse and chorus melodies. It also has a pretty great three minute outro reminding us that the band are just as comfortable in their instrumental moments as with a vocalist – as if we didn’t know by this point in their career.

Adrenalin – Accessories

Speaking of heavy or fast songs, this one was a rare foray into a high tempo for the band, utilizing the chugging riffs of the Mandylion era along with some hilarious synth.It’s both silly, fun, and incredibly infectious, and it may not work without the sheer vocal prowess and force of Anneke. The lyrics are pretty funny too, so in that vein I have to give the link above to a live version which is comedy genius – they look like the world’s most unlikely metal band, but Anneke’s eyes and smiles are exquisite stuff. For a band known so much for mood and atmosphere, it’s always a pleasure when they throw all that out the window and go for an old fashioned dumb metal song.

Afterwords – Afterwords EP

As someone who got into the band in the Anneke era, when the Afterwords EP was released it was interesting to hear ex-vocalist Bart Smits taking the lead on this moody, shadowy track. On my first listen I wasn’t really sure what to think but veered towards the WTF side of things, second listen I began to feel it, and by the fourth listen I absolutely loved it. Smits gives a clean vocal, a gloomy, low tone for what is essentially an anti-love song about all of the problems in the world and in relationships. It is filled with soundscape rumblings and watery synths which boom in place of drums – it feels like an ultra modern version of Joy Division or Depeche Mode with guitars and drums replaced by keyboards and distortion – but it’s the vocals and the melodic lines throughout which captivate most.

All You Are – The West Pole

Silje Wergeland shows off her skills in another streamlined, pulsating rock track from her first Gathering album. I love the intro and the way the song continues to build from such a simple starting point, driving forwards and increasing the volume, energy, and instrumentation. It goes without saying that the melodies will catch in your hair, and we feel comfortable in Silje’s hands.

Areas – Afterwords EP

The only other song worth mentioning from the Afterwords EP, Areas in another jaunty track which doesn’t feel like a typical song from the band. It has bizarre synth work and sound effects over which a three note riff is played at different speeds before growing into a large work. The guitars waver out of sync with the rest of the music, the percussion sounds like an orgy of insects, and the vocals (male and female) are almost spoken, like robots reading from a script. And that’s it really, the beat becomes more prominent in the second half, but it remains a curious little track which is all the more infectious because of its strangeness.

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Bad Movie Scene – If The Else

Weird – six songs in and Anneke has only appeared one time. Well, that changes now. If The Else is the least memorable album from the band for me. Many of the songs seem to gel together too well that it all becomes a single work, and plenty of the songs don’t have that killer hook or moment to reel me in repeatedly. It is unique though. This one fades in with a simple How To Measure A Planet style riff – this repeats softly with gentle soundclips in the background and a gorgeous Anneke vocal – gentle, cold, gorgeous, vocals and downer lyrics. It’s all very dreamy, then a sudden guitar crash  – think Radiohead’s creep – before the rest of the band join in the noise and Anneke lets rip. From this point – one of the album’s main flaws – the song sort of wafts away with no real resolution. You think the song is going to go in one direction, but the floor is pulled away and the song falls through.

Black Light District – Black Light District EP

The single most epic song the band has written so far (though not the longest), this sixteen minute beast doesn’t feel bloated or overblown as you would imagine. It is experimental, though not to the extent of How To Measure A Planet and it does retain a mood while moving through various shifts in tone and sound. Opening with a lone piano, softly playing single notes and loose chords which don’t seem to connect. After over a minute of this you find that you’re completely swept up in it even though nothing has really happened yet – it is sublime writing. After two minutes cymbals appear suddenly and those piano moments make sense. It isn’t until after the three and a half minute mark that the vocals begin – basically the spoken recital of a poem – read by Sarah Jezebel Deva of Cradle Of Filth fame. Great lyrics by Anneke too, who rarely gets credit for her writing due to her vocal ability. Anneke eventually joins in the din just before the song takes off in a different direction, introducing new chords before suddenly leaping off the edge and falling into a rougher, distortion led section with screaming, tortured guitars.

There’s another change around 10 minutes, a softer, swirling, drum led section starting which sounds like someone knocking at the door of a person who just wants to leave the world. Anneke joins once more for a more subtle and soft approach with piano and lighter chugging guitars  – things fade away, other things take the lead, ghostly sounds float around in the background and soon only the piano from the intro is left. It’s an ambitious, bold, and brilliant track.

Box – Home

A mysterious opening which fits with the overall drifting nature of the album gives way to a quiet vocal from Anneke, leading to a quietly spectacular chorus before the slight drums kick in. The next section features a louder vocal while the percussion takes on a hissing nature, and we wrap around again to play out a musical reprise of the first section – it’s another pretty and simple song, like many from the Home album – an album which left many critics cold due to an apparent lack of adventure. It certainly isn’t as experimental an album as some others, but it is packed with songs like this – the rest of those which appear on this album are even better.

Broken Glass (and bonus) – Souvenirs

I find Souvenirs to be The Gathering’s darkest album – not necessarily thematically or lyrically, but there is something about the music and production which shrouds the listener in shadow – a heavy cloak which wraps you up along with the band and blocks out all traces of an outside world. Broken Glass is a fine example of this, a throbbing, morphing introduction like the upturn of a volume knob as Anneke melts into your ear with her head on your shoulder. Sweet drums, gorgeous vocals, and that perfect sense of the song building as it moves along – when the drums crash in with a heavier touch just before the two minute mark to match Anneke’s ascending vocal, you know you’re listening to something special.The mystic little guitar lines, the crushing distortion, the sudden drum and bass interludes, are all essential, but it is those final ninety seconds or so as the guitars go full on Johnny Greenwood and Anneke wails ‘water’ over and over which send the chills every time. It also helps that the final throbs lead perfectly into my favourite song on the album. As a bonus, the band did a softer, piano only version of the song – it’s gorgeous too, so check the second link above.

Capital Of Nowhere – The West Pole

The sort-of-epic from an album which doesn’t feature any epics, Capital Of Nowhere features lyrics from guest musician Anne van den Hoogen which give a little twist to what we usually get. There is an unexpected child-like vocal, some intriguing guitar lines which are bright and positive and eerie, backed up by simple piano in the verses. The bass and drums tumble together in a skillful duet, and it all feels angelic for the first few minutes. Around the halfway mark this all falls away and is replaced by a much slower, downbeat dirge of drums and fuzz guitar. The noise increases and all memory of the first half is swept away – two very distinct parts leaving it up to the listener’s imagination to guess what it all means.

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ConfusionNighttime Birds

The first metal song on my list isn’t even all that heavy. The band’s second Anneke album is a more edgy and dark, less progressive affair than Mandylion and songs like this do enough to engage both fans of the heavier side and the more innovative stuff. It has a dark tone in the opening and verses, Anneke singing a haunting melody over some standard guitar and bass – the song threatens to erupt for the chorus but never quite reaches that boiling point. The song finds its metal roots with a doom-pace solo around the second mark before a dreamy sludge march reprise and further chorus. As you expect the song to end at this point, we finally tip over and the crunching guitars and head-banging beat cruise into view to take us over the six minute mark – Anneke gets to unleash one exquisite replay of the chorus before it all ends.

Eleanor – Mandylion

Arguably the band’s centrepiece (though fans will argue any number of other songs), Eleanor is always played at any live show, and is always sure to get the fans leaping around like maniacs. A mixture of doom, death, thrash, and progressive metal, shed the labels and simply enjoy this monument to intelligent heavy music. Simple, infamous synth chords give way to a massive guitar blast, which gives way to one of the most stunning vocals you’ll ever hear. The notes Anneke reaches (easily) and the force with which she does it are spectacular, and the whole song actually feels like something new is being uncovered and discovered. Even if the song is more than 20 years old at time of writing, it still sounds incredibly fresh – especially astonishing given the further sonic changes which the band have gone through. It still has its roots in the band’s death metal past, what with that instrumental breakdown in the middle and modified blast beats. What is also noticeable is the lack of obvious guitar solo work – this is a metal band happy to allow their ambition and overall sound take centre stage over any twiddling or elaborate speed. Everything plays out as it should, it sounds absolutely massive and earth-shattering, to the point that certain fans are still crying out for the band to record something like this again.

Forgotten – Home

The second ‘ballad’ from the album isn’t quite as strong for me as the first, but that’s like saying getting 1 million pounds as a gift isn’t quite as nice as getting 1.01 million. It’s just as haunting, and a little simpler – this time it’s almost only Anneke and a piano. The way certain piano notes are sustained and fade, the ghostly way Anneke’s voice mingles with the drip driping, the little piece which connects the verse and chorus – it’s all set up to both stun and entrance. It’s almost like a sequel to Shrink in it’s style and simplicity – only daring in the second half to change the format ever so slightly by allowing a series of harmonies.

Frail (You Might As Well Be)– How To Measure A Planet

The best Radiohead album that Radiohead never made, How To Measure A Planet opens with this masterpiece of atmospheric meandering. The subtle wall of sound which peels open with each new listen to uncover another hidden treat continues through much of the album, and it was a shock to the system for those fans expecting another guitar led piece. There are guitars, of course – a non Gilmour-esque lead line descends and twinkles from start to finish – but it’s the production and the structure and the intelligence of the song which marks it out from what other similar bands attempt.

Great Ocean Road – How To Measure A Planet

Another leisurely stroll from HTMAP, this one threatens from the outset to be a much heavier song, with throbbing sounds over industrial drums and scratching guitars – while it does explode into robust volume, it remains distinctly un-metal, but just as powerful. The drums are vicious and numbing, the keyboards and synth keep an alien undercurrent, the distortion and scratching gives enough of an unsettling tone to keep you wary of unexpected blasts of sound, while Anneke reaches angelic highs and swooning middles. The structure and production are top notch again, the song never going where you think it is going to, with gentle parts creeping out of the aftershock of the louder parts, only for some of the greatest guitar moments of the nineties to emerge immediately after.

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Heroes For Ghosts – Disclosure

When the band first announced and released this song in advance of their lates album, I think I was overwhelmed by the excitement which comes with hearing a new song by a favourite band that ended up almost underwhelmed by the song; I liked it – it was long, it was good, but I think I only listened to it once before the album came out. Listening to it later, both in the context of the album and as a standalone, there can be no doubt it is one of the band’s best songs and it didn’t take me very long to come to this realization.

It’s very easy and lazy to break down epic songs into their component parts when giving thoughts or a synopsis on them – I do it all the time because I’m a crap writer, but that’s usually because I don’t do any planning for these posts. I’ll try not to do it here aside from saying the song majestically opens with the sort of soft soundscape you would have come to expect from the band, eventually opening up with a faster pace, a heavier sound, and a much more expansive array of instruments. Silje gives possibly her finest vocal, and one of the best vocals in any Gathering song, the swells of violins and the desolate trumpet notes send your emotions into overdrive, and it’s a joy to hear the introduction of a fuzzier guitar during the second half of the song. Many bands write songs over the 8, 9, 10 mark, but few if any can make them sound so effortless as The Gathering, and make you feel as if mere moments have passed while still taking you on a breathtaking journey.

Home – Home

The title track of Anneke’s final album with the band is also the final track in the album (excluding the Forgotten Reprise). I’ve always said that Home is a concept album about a journey, about movement – those early tracks have such a sense of perpetual movement, of being carried forwards, that when we reach the last song it is no surprise that the sound fits the idea of reaching the final destination. It doesn’t quite sound exhausted, but there is a finality to the tone and the lyrics. I love how the quick draw violins contradict with the leering, falling guitar riff, and how Anneke gently recites the lyrics in a warm and accepting manner. It’s a wonderful way to end a misunderstood album.

In Motion #1/ In Motion #2 (bonus acoustic) – Mandylion

I know I mentioned at the top that I was doing this in alphabetical order because I didn’t really have a favourite Gathering song, but if I was pushed I may say the the acoustic version of In Motion #2 from Sleepy Buildings is my favourite. Maybe. It’s so different from the original Mandylion version, yet essentially the same, but it more than any other sends shivers through me and remains one of the best vocals I’ve ever heard. Aside from that version, the original is actually two separate songs split up among the tracklist of Mandylion – they could almost be distinct songs if it wasn’t for the fact that one of the major melodies crosses over between them.

Part 1 is perhaps the more epic of the two, with an iconic introduction, doom riffs, and a basic verse – chorus – structure with plenty of space for instrumental moments. Anneke is piercing in the verses and gives a powerful duet for the choruses. Part 2 is a marginally shorter piece with violins replacing the guitars in the verse, with various bridge and instrumental sections filled with Gilmour-esque solos, all leading up to the final chorus reprise. Like i said, the acoustic version is a different beast entirely – much softer, obviously, but it’s very soft in the early parts which only makes the conclusion all the more potent. It’s mostly a piano, distant booming drum, and Anneke song, with subtle guitar parts increasing until the final explosion.

Jelena – Souvenirs

This near-closing ballad works on a number of different levels; it’s creepy, with the dissonant guitars and alien hissing percussion giving the feel of some arcane funeral procession; it’s haunting thanks to the personal lyrics and gorgeous melodies; it’s feral from an emotional standpoint – wretching and clawing at your soul with Anneke’s vocals taunting and burning at every turn; and yet, it is some sort of ballad – slow, beautiful, but the production and all the various parts combine to make it maybe the most upsetting and bizarre ballad ever written.

Kevin’s Telescope – Nighttime Birds

I get the impression that most people will not like this song – maybe it’s the cheesy, childish, hopeful lyrics, or maybe it’s the strange sound which is never sure if it wants to be tender or loud, but I still love it. It gets off to a forceful start, with gigantic chords and drums a la Mandylion before withdrawing to a string and drum based swooning ballad in which Anneke refuses to decrease the power of her vocals under 98%. The chorus shoves the guitars back in. And that’s about it really – the rest of the song throws in an eerie instrumental part followed by one more chorus – one of the band’s shortest, but most fun songs.

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Leaves – Mandylion

Maybe the band’s most famous, most important song, this is the one which put them on the map, placing them in the highest echelons of Euro metal and cementing their significance. It’s a rather odd song too, one whose melodies never seem to focus and where everything seems in constant disagreement with everything else. There is a quiet opening, jagged verses which bump up and down thanks to an almost embarrassingly simple, classic doom riff, and a chugging, agonized chorus. If the song had just been more of the same it probably wouldn’t be on my list of favourites – but the middle section, that guitar solo – all perfection. Even though the solo is again basic, it’s one of my all time favourite pieces of guitar – the way it splits away from the thunder of the main sound before tying it all up again is expertly done and raises the song to higher realms.

Liberty Bell – How To Measure A Planet

I’ve always felt like this song never lives up to the fantastic introduction, but it’s still a rollicking good time. The intro has that building quality I love so much – instruments swirling and growing while the vocals repeat and everything gets louder and more vibrant until the inevitable explosion. It’s a strange one because it showcases the production style and lyrical and thematic content of the album, but the pace and energy are at opposite ends – this song is clearly a single, fast-paced and with hooks, while the majority of the album is meandering and experimental – the album drifts while this one is like a rocket at the sun. Maybe it’s that departure of moody emotion that stops me from loving this one as much in the context of the whole album, but as a standalone it’s one of the band’s most fun, pop-driven songs.

Like Fountains – Sleepy Buildings

Although the original version of this song came out on the band’s second album in 1994, that is nonsense compared with the acoustic version. It’s the acoustic version which I care about – getting rid of all of the silly synth and sillier vocals of the original. In fact, maybe listen to the original first, then the one from Sleepy Buildings and marvel at how the band have changed. I’ve no idea if this is what the band had in mind when they were writing the song originally, but then made it metal – it almost seems like there are two different songs at work here apart from a few core melodies. Anyway, make no mistake that the acoustic version is spectacular, spine-tingling, and yet another example of Anneke’s perfection. With a very distant beat accompanying the vocals and piano, the verses build upon each other before that chorus drops – lower your heads, savage listener, in respect and awe because you’re in the presence of greatness.

Marooned (bonus acoustic)- How To Measure A Planet

Another song which gets an equally exquisite, yet different version on Sleepy Buildings, this again highlights HTMAP’s focus on the angelic, mysterious, and ghostly. Like most of the album, this is perfect to disappear to in a dark room with headphones on, and each time Anneke tells us ‘you don’t see me cos I don’t have much to say’ you just want to give her a great big hug. The acoustic version is musically more quiet, less dense, but features superior live vocals.

Meltdown – Disclosure

Each new album by The Gathering should be treated like an important event as you never quite know what to expect. With this album opening coming out of the blocks like some rave mess you’d hear in a club, all pumping beats and synth, it immediately sounds invigorating and invigorated. Then the male vocals come in and you have a quick WTF to yourself. Then Silje comes in and your grin breaks your jaw. I love the backing vocals in the chorus (?) as they sound so warm and ghostly, there’s the odd bit of string accompaniment, the guitars and electronics josh each other around like in a mosh pit, and then the get that sensational horn in lieu of a guitar solo; epic stuff. And it wouldn’t be complete with a complete shift in gears around the midway mark, stripping back and presenting an entirely new skin. Classic stuff from a band many had written off – fools.

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Monsters – Souvenirs

Another fine example of the band merging electronica with rock, this coming from their self named Trip Rock period. The band have a few slightly different version of this too, but you can’t go wrong with the album version. It sounds like it is going to be big and brash and fast, but it’s actually a slow paced song which tricks you thanks to the distorted riff. The riff and the massive chorus are the two selling points here, but it’s the off-center verses which lend a creepy nature to the song and heighten the force of the chorus. Anneke sounds terrifying at times when she shouts ‘if you come closer I’ll show you how it feels’, but in her final recital of those lyrics she gets into full Goddess mode.

On Most Surfaces – Nighttime Birds

If I’m honest, I tend to give Nighttime Birds a hard time; it’s just not Mandylion. However, that’s a bit like saying OK Computer just isn’t The Bends. This opener to Anneke’s second album with the band though is 100% awesome and more vicious than anything on the previous effort. Her vocals are absolutely stunning – possibly her best performance, heroic. I enjoy the fading of the crushing guitars to let in a little piano, I love the main riff, and I love most of all how fucking angry it sounds – they never really sound like this again. If I have one complaint I’m not sure it really needs to be so close to seven minutes long, but I wouldn’t want to cut it when it’s so good.

Pale Traces – The West Pole

A chance for Silje to shine in her first album with the band, this is an old school epic, starting off slow, a subtle wind under the windowpane, just enough to ruffle the curtains and send the smallest shiver through your body. The bass flickers to life, the drums rat a tat at the window like a claw branch, and you wrap the blanket around yourself that little bit tighter, wishing you had someone to hold to keep the cold and darkness at bay. The song keeps its distance and its coldness for most of the song, sending occasional blasts of sub-zero gales into your ears, piercing and throbbing. This one stretches to almost 8 minutes, and while possibly some of the quieter moments could have been trimmed, the ending comes like a concerto – strings jutting and Silje’s mournful and venomous and loving words coming on and on and on.

Rescue Me – How To Measure A Planet

All I want is to be where you are. Ain’t that the truth? More perfection from this album, the third song in one of the most consistently brilliant album openings ever. Another haunting ballad, perfect for late night driving with only the open road shrouded in darkness and the warm air coming through the vents to keep you company. Rescue Me always threatens to become louder than it does in its first half, but somehow keeps itself locked away. At the half minute mark though all hell breaks loose, with screaming synth and ever more distorted guitar blasting out of the speakers – this sort of energy cannot be sustained though, and we retreat to the shadows.

Rollercoaster – If Then Else

Full disclosure again – I do find it difficult mentioning songs that I truly love from If Then Else – for whatever reason the album doesn’t always work for me, is the one I listen to least, and is the one with the least memorable songs. It does have this though. As the opening track this starts off the album well – it’s heavy, slow, mysterious, though lacking in a riff which would liken it to Mandylion or Nighttime Birds. The overlapping vocals are heavily filtered through effects and there is an air of weirdness to the whole song – all of these things are carried throughout the album.

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Shot To Pieces – If Then Else

My favourite song from If The Else is the fastest paced and most fun from the album – you can basically hear Anneke smile when she sings the first ‘Shot To Pieces’. Strong, ironic lyrics, pulsating guitar, and almost rave drums lead us in the verses, only slowing for the seldom ‘I come from nowhere’ slow downs. These moments often sound very robotic, deliberately done to presumably fit with the computer and machine themes running at various points in the album.

Shrink – Nighttime Birds

Another which is basically an Anneke solo song, this is a dark piano ballad coming at the end of a dark and heavy album. I think I prefer the song without the backing vocals – it’s powerful enough with just one vocal, but adding in multiple Annekes does give the impression of a mass wailing and gnashing of teeth session. It’s performed brilliantly, that goes without saying, and it has become a firm fan favourite since release.

Souvenirs – Souvenirs

This title track opens with a fantastically shadowy and chilling riff – one of the band’s best. Funky cymbal heavy percussion follows, a foreboding Anneke vocal, and more guitar parts which jab at you with some sort of nether-Asian tint. The song follows a standard verse and chorus format and while these parts are more than good on their own, it is the glorious bridge and ending which make this truly fantastic – Anneke’s vocals are rarely more glorious in this bridge before leading into a closing instrumental/solo for the last couple of minutes.

Strange Machines – Mandylion

Yet another gargantuan effort from Mandylion, this was the opening track from the album and both introduced the world to the force that is Anneke Van Giersbergen and showcased the massive shift in style and quality that the band had undergone. It’s a simply classic metal song – huge riffs, industrial sounds, chugging chords through the vocal free sections, changes in time and tone, and you an headbang throughout the whole thing. The lyrics are pretty weird for a metal song, but then again most lyrics in metal are weird. This is a perfect example of how female fronted metal can and should work – heavy and fucking awesome.

The Big Sleep – How To Measure A Planet

An atmospheric ballad which truly does make you feel like you’re trapped behind an airlock, floating among the stars, the only life-form for millions of miles around. It’s mainly Anneke, some percussion, and a lot of strange studio trickery with whispering, clicking noises. As such it’s very easy, almost mandatory, to simply drift away with the song; One long string of melody and space.

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The Quiet One – Home

The Gathering don’t often write entirely instrumental tracks, but for anyone wondering how to do it – this is how. Now, they do cheat a little bit by having Anneke sing – but there are no lyrics so we’ll let it slide. This actually has one of my favourite introductions of any song ever, but I’m not sure exactly what it is that makes me love it so much – just those opening chords and the first few vocals get me every time. The song doesn’t do a lot more than simply replay those moments over again versus one or two other similar sections, but it’s still great.

Third Chance – Nighttime Birds/Accessories

Maybe the fastest and most traditional metal song since Anneke joined, it’s actually not the Nighttime Birds version that I love – it’s the Alternate Version from the Accessories album. My my – how much more powerful it is – Anneke starting off in a high register and never looking back. This is a meaty, full-blooded, fast song the likes of which the band rarely write – and with some of my favourite vocals, particularly in the ‘panic’ section.

Travel – How To Measure A Planet

Another song with one of my favourite all time introductions, this one is an epic in every sense – over nine minutes, never stays in one place, but the quality is as consistent as the dreaming, drifting nature. I love the lyrics, I love how this has almost become the band’s calling card and how it frequently closes their live shows – it feels like the end of an experience while being an experience in itself. A masterpiece which deserves to live forever.

Treasure – The West Pole

The first song we hear Silje’s voice on the album, the band’s new singer after Anneke’s departure, is in this – the second track. From the first chord it has a lighter sound than almost anything off the previous couple albums – it’s summery, gentle, commercial. Silje’s vocals suit the sound as the warm, clear, and soar when required. Like most of the album, Treasure is a simple song which doesn’t divert from the verse/chorus format but proves that not everything needs to be complex or far-reaching; The Gathering can do simple pop rock as wel as they can do earth-shattering prog. Some may complain that it is too tame, but it’s all so lovely that I choose to ignore the naysayers and enjoy instead.

Waking Hour – Home

Well now, this was a surprise after the dark, atmospheric rock of the opening songs of Home. Waking Hour is quite simply one of the finest, most haunting ballads of all time, with one of the best vocals I’ve ever heard, and possibly the greatest bridge ever written. The song isn’t complicated – strange whirring like a camera being rewound (remember that?) gives way to good verses and chorus, but once that middle section parts comes you have no choice to drop whatever you’re doing and listen. If ever there was evidence of Anneke being a Goddess, it is here. And I don’t even think it’s their best ballad.

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You Learn About It – Souvenirs

This. This is their best ballad. This is a song that should have topped charts around the world. It’s everything modern ballads are not – emotional, raw, honest. It’s virtually impossible to listen to this without a smile or tear escaping. The band never sounded like this before and they haven’t made a song quite like this since, and on most days I might pick it as my favourite song by them. I don’t though, because it almost, almost doesn’t sound like one of their own songs. Beautiful, sad, with a chorus sure to stay with you forever, everything flows so perfectly, everything is pitched ambiguously between hope and despair, although that final few moments certain leans toward one outcome.

You Promised Me A Symphony – The West Pole

The West Pole does have a number of curious moments, perhaps none more than this short, mournful one-shot. At under three minutes it’s one of the band’s shortest songs but it packs a serious punch, impressive considering it is only Silje and a piano. In many ways it harkens back to Shrink, but if anything this is even more simple albeit with very good lyrics which sound personal but could mean absolutely anything.

Your Troubles Are Over – Home

An apt song to end my list with, this is another part of the Home travelouge, sounding an awful lot like There There by Radiohead. There’s a pulsating, tribal beat throughout, a sense of perpetual motion which continues to build as the verses and voices overlap before much of the sound withdraws and the song enters a new, euphoric section. Your troubles are over, run, run towards the light. Or, before you do that, find this band and listen to every song – it’s heaven long before you’ll ever get there.

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So, there you have it, another day, another list. In all seriousness if you are a fan of music (and I don’t mean simply having the radio on), someone who craves good music more than love or air, someone who will dry up and wither to a husk without music, then check out The Gathering. Click a few of the links above or just go out and check out the albums for yourself. They are disgustingly unknown (bestalbums.com has them ranked outside the top 1000 bands of all time, far beneath the likes of Jake Bugg, Superchunk, and um… Nickelback) and it’s about time you joined the party. If you’re already a fan then feel free to share your thoughts on my list and your favourites in the comments section. If you’re not, listen to a few songs and come back to me in a week when you’re converted.

Archives Of Pain

Generic Ratings: 1. Crap. 2: Ok. 3: Good. 4: Great

A truly brutal, horrific song which causes revulsion and has an atmosphere which any number of metal bands try their entire careers to generate and almost always fail. We know the state of Richey’s mind at this point, but the band’s creative powers were at their peak so the blending of music, lyrics, visuals, and atmosphere all comes together to make something charred and ugly, and yet, absolutely flawless. The guitars are particularly crushing, Bradfield’s vocals are those of a hundred widows, while Wire’s bass line may be the most sinister ever committed to tape. Lyrically it’s as you would expect – in that it’s nothing like you would ever expect, the chorus simply a cascading list of the names of serial killers. It also closes with one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded.

Misheard Lyrics: 1. Kill Yeltsin, Hussain.

2. Not punish us with champagne.

Actual Lyrics: 1. Kill Yeltsin, who’s saying?

2. Not punish less, rise the pain.

Archives Of Pain: 4/Great

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Ronnie James Dio – July 10, 1942 – May 16, 2010

Ronnie James Dio, a pioneer of Heavy Metal, and undoubtedly one of the greatest male vocalists ever. Unless you’re a metal fan, sadly, you probably won’t have heard of him. Perhaps though, you know some of the bands he sang with – Black Sabbath? Rainbow? Deep Purple? Queensryche? Perhaps you’ve heard of some of the bands and singers he has influenced – Metallica? Iron Maiden? His vocal style is synonymous with metal, he is credited with the creation of the fist pumping devil horns hand gesture, and a number of his albums are rightly regarded as classics, and not just by metal fans and critics. A strong voice was backed up by a wide array of musical talents – his ability on guitar, trumpet, and keyboards are well-known. The man behind the stage persona though remained wise and humble – a constant feature in charitable organizations. Dio will forever be remembered as a hero within the Heavy Metal community.

RIP

Feel free to leave your thoughts and memories about Ronnie James Dio in the comments.

The Gathering – Home

I reviewed this album when it was first released on a blog and went into detail about how to me the whole album seemed like a journey through life and death. There is an overall pervading mood which conjured images of travelling through the Underworld, mythical style and coming into contact with lost souls before resurfacing. Whether this was partly intentional or whether this was my imagination going to unrelated places I’m not sure but now that I’m reviewing all of their albums again for Amazon I thought I would ditch what I see between the lines and focus on what remains. Home was recorded during a difficult period for the band- personal tragedies and hardships were occurring and it had been a few years since they had recorded anything new. The music has taken on a more minimal approach, there are no long songs here, and it may be their most commercial record, although the usual dark moments, experimenting, and self deprecating lyrics are exhibited.`Shortest Day’ opens the album, a mid tempo song pushed along by a steady beat and backed by a swelling guitar riff. Anneke sings in her usual melodic style, she doesn’t show off her powerful vocals or sensitive qualities yet but it is a good opener which has become a live staple. The shrouded effects at the end open the following track.`In Between’ flows along with a stunted guitar riff and a mix of low to high pitched vocals. Once again the lyrics are good, the tune melodic, but neither are particularly outstanding. The chorus shows some nice tricks by Anneke and there is a typically interesting bridge and middle section before the strange and unnerving climax which goes back and forth like an ocean ever approaching closer.

`Alone’ was the main single from the album and the intro sounds (like a few other parts of the album) OK Computer influenced. Once the main riff kicks in there is a `Souvenirs’ era dark and foreboding feeling. The guitar again has a Eastern tone to it and the verses are pushed along by a computerized thump, sounding like an army of robots marching forwards or a huge factory hammer squashing downwards. There is a good, simple guitar solo and an interesting fake string section before an extended ending which moves from soft back to that robotic thumping.

`Waking Hour’ is the best track here, and possibly the band’s best ballad; possibly Anneke’s best performance also. There is the familiar robotic effect controlling the rhythm of the verse, the chorus gives Anneke a chance to push her vocals to the limits, but it is the quiet middle section which makes the song something truly special. Every time this is performed live the crowd is in silenced awe as she does her thing, and there is usual an adoring few seconds of applause before the rest of the song continues. Again it is the range of emotions, the heartbreaking tenderness of it all which will make you freeze and listen and rewind and repeat. Just when you thought the song would end it goes on for a mellow, emotional, conclusion. Boeijen’s piano also deserves special mention on this track.

`Fatigue’ is a strange, mostly uneventful, mostly experimental song. It is less than two minutes long, has a couple of whispery vocals, and features some machine like noises growing and fading.

`A Noise Severe’ is another fairly mellow, laidback song. There is good bass here, some background distorted notes from Rutten, and some very good vocals from Anneke- beautifully melodic verses, and then a soaring `ooh’ chorus. This song in part symbolizes the live DVD package- one was loud, one was soft; this features both styles in almost equal servings.

`Forgotten’ is the second piano led ballad on the album and is just as effecting and gorgeous as the first. This time the structure is more straightforward- consisting of verse and chorus, Anneke and Boeijen. Everything reeks of sadness and regret again, loss and lonliness and rather than being in anyway depressing (like many detractors would claim of Radiohead) it is fragile and affirming.

`Solace’ begins to the sound of money perhaps hinting at wealth not bringing happiness and making one lonelier? The sounds of money and a chugging guitar drive the song forward, the drums coming in to match the beat. The vocals are okay here, the melodies not as catchy as others meaning the song won’t be remembered as fondly as most. The best part (and one which is memorable) is the fading out and back in `ooh ah’ part before the main beat returns.

`Your Troubles Are Over’ lifts things up with a quicker pace, with clear `There There’ Radiohead beats. The story style lyrics work well, the rhythm sounds like we are being rushed towards the finish line, and Anneke has a pretty simple job until the louder sections begin. As the instruments build and the drums get more prominent the song moves into a higher gear and we can jump about. This should really be a live favourite due it’s growing, bouncing nature, but I don’t think it is played very often.

`Box’ is marked by organ playing giving the song a church like tone, served well by Anneke’s usual angelic vocals to give an almost ethereal quality. This one seems to be left behind when people talk about this album, true there is nothing too special but can still be seen as a good album track with some nice twisting guitar work and an unusual hissing drum climax.

`The Quiet One’ begins wonderfully with Anneke’s voice accompanied by some light guitars. At some point along the way the song loses its grip but luckily it isn’t too long. It is a decent instrumental with a handsome guitar part in the middle.

`Home’ closes the album, another ballad, another success. This in retrospective could be seen as Anneke coming to a realization that she was ready to move on- she has given everything to her bandmates, been a massive part in their success as a band and as people. It speaks in a maternal, protective way of raising and setting free (though never fully leaving) a child or a friend. It has some of the band’s most melodic work, excellent strings, and of course flawless vocals and guitars. As an album closer it brings the journey to an end, finally reaching the place where everyone wants to be. More than any other song perhaps there are OK Computer influences as I am always reminded of `The Tourist’ when I hear this. Which is the better song will depend on you.

`Forgotten Reprise’ is a longer version of the earlier song, hidden at the end of the album. The main difference is that the piano is replaced by a strange keyboard sound and the vocals are more whispery. The chorus is changed and it is really only eighty seconds long while the ending is stretched out for minutes, repeating keys and church bells.

Home signals the end of an era; one of the best vocalists ever deciding to leave on of the best bands of all time. Both sides relied on each other and both would move on to new recordings. There is an air of sadness when returning to this album and any number of hidden messages can be found in the lyrics and music. Putting all that aside it is another different album by The Gathering once again trying something new, one again succeeding. While some songs don’t always have the impact they perhaps should those moments are more than covered by a few glittering classics. The line up from this era would go on tour and produce two amazing DVDs before finally parting- these are essential and feature many tracks from this album. Non-metal fans should appreciate this album more, but as with all of their albums I would encourage everyone to give it a try.

The Gathering – Sleepy Buildings

Sleepy Buildings came as a between albums surprise for fans and remains the best present the band has given us. It ranks highly in my opinion with the best live albums ever –    it has all the trademarks of a classic live recording- passion, fan favorites, inspired performances, the odd mistake which add to the overall gig. This was a semi-acoustic show for fans at the Lux Theatre in 2003 with a couple of bonus songs from their British live shows. I was lucky enough to see them at Glastonbury and while that was a much livelier show the acoustic nature of this show means everything is more mellow, more laid back, and more personal. The small crowd gives a sense of intimacy and the songs chosen vary wildly from their respective original versions. Some of these new takes feel at times better than the way they are usually performed but naturally that is subjective. This is a must for fans and I would strongly encourage anyone remotely interested in the band or anyone who wants to try something new to invest in this; you won’t be disappointed.

`Locked Away’ opens the album softly just Anneke’s voice and some background acoustic guitar. Pianos and tambourine soon follow giving this a much different feel to what we are used to. This sets the tone for the whole show- everything is subtle and underplayed quite amazing considering how complex some of the originals are. The irony is that while those originals were so ambitious, it was equally ambitious trying to strip them down. And for anyone wondering, Anneke sounds even better live than on record.

`Saturnine’ is taken from `If Then Else’ a highly melodic and at times bitter song, here featuring some fantastic bass and stunning vocals. Here, like most of the album most of the instruments are close to being drowned out by the sheer power and emotion of Anneke’s singing. This is one of her best performances of the show but there is also some simple backing guitar which covers any blank spaces. Towards the end the non acoustic parts come through with some nice synthesizer and keyboard piano playing, but never once does it get heavy; it remains chilled, blissful.

`Amity’ comes again from `If The Else’, a simple piano led song with Anneke singing multi layered melodies. While the vocals are great and the song itself is good, lending a typically dark tone to proceedings, it doesn’t stand out as much as others here. The lyrics are nice and clear here though and the guitars have a nice ghostly effect.

`The Mirror Waters’ is taken from the V festival and is one of three songs taken from pre- Anneke days so it almost seems like a new song. I like the different take on the song, Anneke sings with her usual effervescence, and the backing music and organs are excellent. The lyrics actually stand out here, given a new reality via Anneke’s performance. The song builds through several loud and quiet parts before descending into a minute of typical Anneke `ooh ahhs’.

`Red Is A Slow Colour’ retains the threatening mood of the original but changes the drumming and loud guitars for some latter-day Gathering effect work and soft strumming. Again it gives Anneke another chance to shine, proving that she could sing anything and make it sound angelic. Once again there is an extended outro of `oohs’.

`Sleepy Buildings’ was a new song written for this performance- a simple Anneke with piano song. It has quite a bouncy, upbeat feel to it and seems a little strange surrounded by these other songs. It isn’t exactly out-of-place, it just has an oddness about it. Still a good song though, maybe we’ll see it again some time in the future.

`Travel’ comes in with the full force of the band, an epic acoustic here which is just as good as the original. If anything this version has more melody, more sadness to it as it lacks the heavy guitars and experimental noise. It is rare to have an acoustic song this lengthy in a live performance but it works every second (perhaps cheating with some added electric guitars and keyboards). Anneke does some great shouting for the final part of the song, topping off a fine performance.

`Shrink’ never really sounds different in any performance of it that I’ve heard. An ultra heavy thrash version of it might be interesting. Here it is as fragile and beautiful as ever, Anneke belts out the vocals rather than the more hushed take on `Nighttime Birds’. This doesn’t take away from the haunting sensation that will inevitably creep up and down your spine upon hearing, and I like the way the climbing piano melody fits in with the riff in the next song’s introduction.

`In Motion Pt II’ here is among my favourite Gathering songs, and it may be Anneke’s best vocal display. Control, moving from gentle to brutal, from weakness to utter desperation, her range is unending and the number emotions she is able to convey are just as moving as the emotions themselves. I challenge anyone not to feel a shudder of admiration when they hear the chorus come in. The musicians give equally strong displays, with subtle keyboards to effective backing guitars; this is as perfect as music can be.

`Stonegarden’ is another re-worked early song, but this time I don’t feel it is as effective. It opens strongly enough with keyboards and Anneke’s first line. Perhaps the song simply works better with lower range male vocals, the verses don’t have too memorable melodies although the time shifts are good. As with every song here it is essential listening as I’m sure this will turn out to be someone’s favourite.

`My Electricity’ has never been one of my favourites in any incarnation though here it is as good as any take I’ve heard. It is in no way a bad song, it just doesn’t do much for me. This sees Anneke and Rene’s guitar without any external interference and of course it works. When you have such talented people, everything works.

`Eleanor’ is still one of the band’s most popular songs, the opening sounds usually accompanied by a giant roar from the crowd. This version is cut down as far as it is possible to go, with light guitars and piano. Anneke sings in a softer way giving the song a new feel and at times it sounds more vicious and sadistic with those creeping pianos. As usual I’m almost certainly reading too far into things but either way this incarnation is especially good. We don’t even miss the blast beats.

`Marooned’ in this gig is perfect; gorgeous vocals, almost unnoticeable guitars, computerized drums, and a very light backing organ sound. The lyrics are highlighted here and we can sense the desolation and despondency of the lonely narrator. The no-one’s home phone sound is put to good use and everything sounds complete as if it was written to always be played this way.

`Like Fountains’ closes the album- the final V song, and the final pre-Anneke song. It may also be the best song on the album. Most of the song it is simply Anneke singing over some sparse piano, and you can tell not a word was spoken in the crowd while this was being played. The multi verses build up to a Tori Amos style chorus, heartbreaking, melodic, soft, yet full of conviction. To finish an album as good as this on such a high is something special.

Anyone unsure of The Gathering’s genius should buy this. Knowing what they can do in the recording studio, and seeing it all being thrown out the window before picking up the pieces and creating something new and equally brilliant is a gift few if any other bands have achieved. The only tragedy is that this, and the band are largely unheard of. For those who already fans, and for those who have just clicked `add to basket’- your ears will rarely hear something as good. DVD please?

*Originally written in 2009

The Gathering – Nighttime Birds (Special Edition)

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.