Greetings, glancers! As I warned you previously, it’s time to listen to some more of the Iron Maidenside-output. So where is the Iron Maiden connection you ask? Keep reading and you’ll learn. Samson were another NWOBHM band emerging in the late 70s and featured at various times both Clive Burr on drums and Bruce Dickinson on vocals. Dickinson joined as their first album (Survivors) was released, but played no part on it. We’ll skip that one. Head On was their second album, released in 1980, features Bruce on vocals and an early version of The Ides Of March which would appear in a different format on Maiden’s second album. It’s all very confusing, as is much of metal. How about I shut up and listen before the executioner on the album cover fulfills his wish and fists me?
‘Hard Times‘. I listened to the first track of Survivors first – As imagined the production isn’t stellar, but gives a very raw, garage feel. The bass was very prominent, has a very rusty feel (I mean that as a positive), and was overall a fine punk influence track. This has a similar production, possibly a little thinner, and Dickinson has a weird and unnecessary effect on his vocals. He sounds young here, but not unrecognizable. The song itself is fun, a clear enjoyable riff, but the whole thing is let down by very tinny drums which sound more like someone tapping a pen on a table in places. The drumming itself is fine, the guitar solo is serviceable following a descending rhythm, and it feels fairly commercial. I’m guessing it’s named after the Bronson/Hill movie based on the lyrical content.
‘Take It Like A Man‘ starts with some distant whistling, what sounds like someone chucking a milk bottle, then the crunching guitars come in nicely. The intro is at odds with the eventual verse – it has an early Di’anno era Maiden feel actually, a rough edge, a joyful intensity, and a sense of fun and ambition. Dickinson sounds pretty different here, the drums are excellent, if again a little under-produced, and the guitars are good. Bruce does let out a trademark screech at one point. Good song.
‘Vice Versa‘ opens with cascading drums before shifting into some bizarre slow tempo, otherwordly verse. It’s interesting, and I like it, and as it progresses the effects give way and a more traditional vocal and sound emerges. The drums here are hilarious, going off on their own Keith Moon or Mastodon style, using it as a lead instrument rather than providing a beat and fill. There’s a lot of phasing on the guitars, Bruce singing ‘vice versa’ actually sounds more like ‘bite faster’ or ‘fight bison’. We get a groovy instrumental section in the middle followed by a very abrupt stop and return to the verse. PS: I know what this reminded me of – One Track Lover from Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place.
‘Manwatcher‘ opens with another dirty riff, Bruce’s vocals following its melody. There isn’t a chorus so it feels a little repetitive, at least so far. Samson loves those sudden pauses. It’s moving off into a new section now which bears little resemblance to the first part aside from the obvious. Again the drums are maybe the best part, good guitar solo, but its still let down by the production – listening through Youtube certainly isn’t helping. Bruce doesn’t sound like himself here – less force, less volume.
‘Too Close To Rock‘ gets straight to the point, big riff and hanging backing chords, the riff feeling a little Zeppelin-esque and having little changes each time. Bruce really sounds like Bruce here, though the drum sound is again a let down. The song suddenly shifts around the minute mark for what I suppose is a chorus, but feels like a random charging increase of pace. There is another verse and chorus, followed by an electric, energetic instrumental/solo section. I like how without warning these shifts are – no pre chorus or change of beat, just straight in almost as if there was something edited out. It’s refreshingly short, and closes on a trademark Brucie ‘WAOOW!’
‘Thunderburst’ reminds me in its opening moments of Alice In Chains – acoustic, mysterious, ominous. Then the thunderburst comes in, crushing guitars, tumbling drums. As Maiden fans will surely note, this is an early version of The Ides Of March and in all honesty it isn’t much different.
‘Hammerhead‘ starts with a little drum snap before another cool riff. This does suffer from those silly group vocals shouts that I always hate but the melodies, especially in the chorus are reminiscent of some 80s Maiden tracks – just commercial enough to widen the listening net. The drums are good again, but you know by now the production lets things down. There seems to be some sort of breaking glass noises in the background too. There is a sort of middle 8th or change in the middle where a lot of the distortion is withdrawn – it changes things up just a little before the obligatory solo. It’s another good New Wave metal song that I had no idea about previously, not too sure about the fade out ending though.
‘Hunted‘ sees the band almost breaking out into a bit of funk. There’s a prominent bass line and some Di’Anno style verse vocals. Nice reverb on the guitar gives the song an air of mystery, the backing guitar lines have a nice crunch to them. The chorus is a bit of a let down, musically and lyrically, but we can forgive it as the song as a whole is short. Interesting ending too.
‘Take Me To Your Leader‘ has a weirdo intro, effects and flange, but it’s only for a few seconds before the speed pounces on you. This one sounds much more like the Bruce we know, lots of screams and yelps, and the pace is relentless. You know the score by now – drums, playing – great, production – not so great. Nifty bass again here, and the lyrics are amusing. This one seems like it had a bit more thought in the construction, it’s more dynamic, and it has another interesting ending. The band had ideas, weren’t merely playing hard and fast.
‘Walking Out On You‘ opens with a plodding single bass note, like someone flicking an elastic band. Then a lot of weird stuff happens – noises, distorted choir vocals, creaks, alien guitars – I wasn’t expecting anything like this, so props to them. This goes on for about a minute before a more traditional song structure emerges. It’s heavy, slow, then the volume withdraws and we get a more subtle verse – still lots of effects on the vocals and guitar, and the drums are still doing their own thing. The whole quiet verse, loud chorus thing had mostly been perfected by Zep, but it’s nice to see an actual metal band giving it a go. Nice instrumental section in the middle with guitar parts I quite enjoyed, the beat remaining steady throughout. The final minute goes a bit crazy, with Christmas bells, spoken parts, kids, all sorts of weird effects and oddities.
‘Angel With A Machine Gun‘ gets this back to basics – simple riff, Brucey vocals, tight playing, fact pace, standard British metal lyrics. As seems to be the case with the band, they add the occasional little twist – a brief drum interlude or twist on the existing guitar riff. Otherwise, this is straightforward stuff, nothing startling, but plenty of energy and fun.
‘Kingsway Jam‘ is apparently a bonus track. It’s near 10 minutes long too – will it be instrumental? We get stuck in straight away – a fade in to chaos, drums blasting and distant guitars twiddling. Bruce unleashes one so we’re not in instrumental territory. This feels like a live track from the production, the vocals are noticeably less polished on this one, but I could attribute that to them simply arsing about in the studio with this one. Guitar and drums are good as always. This ostensibly follows a verse and chorus format, just that there are longer jams between each, at least until the 4.30 mark where the pace slows and Bruce starts talking hilariously. He’s laughing as he does it, adding to the banter. This settles into a more routine steady slow jam, along with some fairly funny lyrics, and more instrumental pieces. It’s your standard bonus track jam in other words.
Overall I would say this was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed it a lot more than Bruce’s first solo effort, and I think I was relieved that it didn’t succumb to many of the tropes and ‘mistakes’ of early 80s metal. There’s a lot of ideas, if not full blown ambition on display, and there is that unmistakable quirky sense of fun which comes from the band being British – there are a lot of tongues in cheeks, but the band prove they can play with the best of them. It’s a shame the production isn’t the best – the overall sound has a lot of hissing and the drums lose the impact which they no doubt would have had with a fuller sound. Nevertheless, this is one I’ll listen to again and one I’d recommend to any fellow metal heads who enjoy this era or are looking into the past.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Head On and if you have any special memories of the band or the time!
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Take It Like A Man. Take Me To Your Leader. Hammerhead.
Raise those horns, shit is about to get loud. Oh yeah… that’s not a Slayer pic up there, but one I took of Opeth back in 2010 – thought I’d better add some pictures to these posts ‘cos the words sure as shit ain’t exciting. If you follow my blog, you’ll probably know a little of my musical preferences by now. I was a rock, metal, and grunge kid in the early 90s and most of my books and homework were covered in scrawls of guitars, band logos, skulls, and snakes. Metallica, Nirvana, Guns’n’Roses were the most common, but every so often I’d whip a Slayer out. The funny thing was, I didn’t actually know any Slayer songs. Give me a break, I was like 10 years old. As big as metal was at the time, you think that shit was getting played on the radio? Not only that, I didn’t have MTV. One of my friends and metal comrades did though, so it was during my sleepovers at his house that we would stay up to catch Headbanger’s Ball and Beavis And Butthead and late night music videos. I don’t remember ever catching a Slayer song though… and in truth I don’t recall when I really got into them. I wasn’t… then I was.
Slayer had been growing in power and influence throughout the 80s, and their fifth album Seasons In The Abyss came in 1990, right around the time the industry was about to drastically change. While still incredibly fast and brutal, the songwriting had matured significantly and the band were branching out into some slightly different directions, if not outright experimenting. While War Ensemble is the leading single from the album, it’s Dead Skin Maskwhich makes the most impact. A significantly slower song with a clearly defined riff, borrowed from South Of Heaven, it tells the story of Ed Gein complete with spoken male and female parts and screams. The song builds and builds in a way more akin to Metallica and Megadeth than the all out fury and shredding we are more used to from Slayer.
The verses are static and monotone as many Slayer songs are, but stripped back to just drums and sustained chords while the chorus hilariously is about as singalong and commercial as you’ll ever get from the band. It’s stupidly catchy and each repetition adds a pulsating mesmeric rhythm right up until the finish with the yelping woman screaming to be let out. Even the solo is more refined than the usual whammy stylings of Kerry, and the lyrics vary a little more than the Slayer trope of how many times can you say ‘Death’ in a minute.
Dead Skin Maskremains popular with fans and still pops up when the band (sadly not for much longer) play live. In terms of covers… you’re not going to get many non-metal renditions of a song like this, but the likes of Black Metal band Dark Funeral and experimental noise band Nadja have offered their own wildly different interpretations. The song was one of a small number of Slayer songs which got regular enough rotation at my local metal bar ‘The Venue’ in Belfast. It acted as both a breather between faster songs, and one for the blokes to shuffle about to and warm up their neck muscles while the ladies grabbed a beer and waited for some Nine Inch Nails. I’m sure once I started DJing, I played it too though it and the band were rarely requested. Still, it’s a safe enough introduction to Slayer for non-metal bands due to it’s slower pace and restrained brutality – be sure to check it out by clicking any of the links in this post.
Greetings, Glancers! As many of you may know, I’ve always been a bit of a metal fan and rank Iron Maiden as one of my favourite bands. One thing I’ve never actually bothered to do though is listen to the other work by the various band members – solo or with other bands. And why the hell not? It’s probably crap, as is usually the way with these things, but I’m going to do it anyway, and you can come along for the ride. Oh yeah, I’m not going to bother with the Blaze Bailey or Paul Di’Anno stuff. I can’t be arsed. Maybe one day. For now, here’s a handy list of the albums I’ll be covering:
Bruce Dickinson: Tattooed Millionaire. Balls To Picasso. Skunkworks. Accident Of Birth. The Chemical Wedding. Tyranny Of Souls.
Samson: Survivors. Head On. Shock Tactics.
Steve Harris: British Lion. Calm Before The Storm.
Urchin: Urchin. High Roller. Get Up And Get Out.
ASAP: Silver And Gold
Psycho Motel: State Of Mind. Welcome To The World.
Greetings, Glancers! So, we’ve listened to solo Dickinson, and we’ve listened to pre-Maiden Dickinson. It’s time to tackle some alternative work from Maiden’s primary songwriter Steve Harris. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of his solo, or non-Maiden work and I have no idea what this will be like. Harris has been with Maiden from the start, and they are a fairly prolific band, and while they do change it up a bit in each album you generally know what you’re going to get – fast paced metal. Maybe Harris wanted to explore other avenues, other sounds? Maybe this is more streamlined rock? Maybe it blues? Maybe it’s simply material he didn’t feel was good enough for Maiden, or suited the direction the band was going in at the time. Lets consult the online world – the album was released in 2012, and came about after a band of the same name contacted Harris in the early 90s. It seems he was impressed with them to the extent that he decided to mentor and eventually join them as a side project. Fair enough, lets do this.
This Is My God: A promising start – heavy, but not punishingly so. An immediately different sound than Maiden. There’s a lot of wah and effects on the guitars, not something Maiden usually play with, and the vocals and style are very different. It’s at a slower pace than I was expecting, but feels very assured. It’s almost more in the vein of something like Audioslave. There’s a spoken part in the middle that we could have done without, but I do like the chorus, and overall I think it’s a good song.
Lost Worlds: The bass is more prominent here. I appreciate the melodies in the opening tracks, there’s a lot of focus on their crafting rather than knocking us on the head with volume or speed or technique. There seems to be a lot of negativity against the vocals – I must say I really like them so far, but then I’m not an entrenched metal fan who can’t look beyond sheer force. he has a great tone and a lot of emotion and range. This is… actually great stuff. There’s a fake ending leading into a softer acoustic section which closes the song.
Karma Killer: This starts with a fat, wah based riff, crashing steady drums, before the vocals and bass take over in the verses. Not a fan of the pronunciation of ‘deeper and deeper’. The chorus is fairly simple, vocals matching the fat riff. Maybe the heaviest feeling song, but the weakest so far.
Us Against The World: This has the most Maiden intro so far. I know, I shouldn’t be comparing them, but I wouldn’t be listening to them otherwise. The comparisons fade in the verse, and we’re back on track with more atmospheric melodies. The vocalist is somewhere between the guy from Khoma and Gary from Haven. This has much more interesting chorus than the previous song. It must be said that there isn’t anything new here, it’s just emotional, commercial heavy rock.
The Chosen Ones: This starts like ACDC, or early Maiden. It doesn’t feel like it will fit with the rest of the album. The verses are muck, but there are moments in the pre-chorus and chorus which work well enough. It’s all very cheesy and is very out of place – like a different band from the one who performed the previous songs.
A World Without Heaven: This starts off like Fear Of The Dark era Maiden, a more atmospheric rock feel. I like the punch of the chords, I like the vocal melodies and emotion in the verses, though the chorus needs a bit more force or grit to really push it forwards. I will say that the pronunciation of ‘heaven’ is awful. Why is it ‘havan’? That almost puts me entirely off the song, which is unfortunate as the rest of it is great. The extended instrumental section seems tacked on for the sake of appeasing Maiden fans, but it’s much more simplistic than what we would get from Maiden, and the guitars are very plain. Still a good song though, just held back from being great.
Judas: Deeper vocals this time around. The guitars move between metal and rock, the verse melodies are largely one-note and uneventful, while the chorus for some reason reminds me of The Stereophonics, and that’s never a good thing. After the second chorus the song takes a very abrupt shift – like mid note – into some weird faded acoustic section which I probably enjoyed more than the louder half of the song. The loud part comes back for the last minute.
Eyes Of The Young: What is this happy horseshit… was my first thought on hearing the opening riff. This is clearly going for the positive, yearning anthem. It has crowd friendly ‘wooh ohhh’ chants and decent enough melodies, but it doesn’t quite work. It’d fine, but it’s no Summer Of 69.
These Are The Hands: Another slower start. Don’t worry, it’s still heavy. It follows the atmospheric and melodic qualities of the reset of the album. This one feels a little more assured and complete, and it’s a great vocal performance. I like everything about this one – it’s not amazing, but very catchy and the melodies flow superbly throughout.
The Lesson: It’s only four minute so it probably won’t be an epic closer. It starts off in that vein though – piano and strings, two of my loves. It’s like a condensed version of a latter day Maiden intro. Lots of not quite off key guitar and bass. It never gets out of that first gear though – I keep expecting the volume to switch, but it’s content to remain soft and… miserable isn’t the right word. It’s good, but an odd choice to end the album.
I assumed when I started this post that this would be an early 80s band. I wasn’t expecting them to be so recent, and I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. I know that many will complain about the vocals – it’s not Bruce essentially – but I enjoy that sort of sound and tone. There are moments when the vocals could have been more urgent or forceful, but on the whole I think they suit the songs very well. Let us know in the comments what you think of British Lion – if you’re a Maiden fan, does this style grab you too, or do you crave Dickinson?
Greetings, Glancers! It’s time for me to think of another absurdist metaphor concerning looking to the past, as we look to the past – 1992 to be precise. In 1992 I was already a bite-size metal and grunge kid, watching Headbanger’s Ball and reading Kerrang magazine. Thanks to my love for those genres, even by that point in my life I was pretty miffed at the state of UK music charts. The bands I liked never got any credit or praise from the mainstream media and the radio would play the same shite. Sometimes of of course they were forced to bow to audience pressure and play something with a rock vibe – I remember many times that certain stations would play something like Sweet Child O’Mine or Smells Like Teen Spirit, yet cut the song short before it had ended. Even when the genres were at a commercial peak, they were shafted and pushed to the side.
But what else was happening in 19 and 92? George Bush senior disgraced himself and his nation by barfing all over the place, then officially ended The Cold War, The Maastricht treaty was signed, The Bosnian War kicked off, LA had some riots, Barney The Dinosaur appeared, Denmark won Euro 92, the Olympics were held in Barcelona, and Slick Billy prepared to become President. In music, Nevermind was number 1 in the charts, Mariah Carey went unplugged, John Frusciante left the RHCP, November Rain became the most expensive music video ever, James Hetfield got burnt, and The Bodyguard became the biggest selling soundtrack ever.
This was everywhere in 1992, and is still one of those songs that you can’t forget once you’ve heard it. I did like it then and listening now it’s still pretty great. Those gruff vocal parts are funny… I don’t think I’ve heard another Tamsin Archer song so I’ve no idea if she was a one hit wonder. I don’t remember the wacky organ solo.
Speaking of songs that were everywhere, this thing was at number 1 for about 12 years. I’m not sure why it was so popular – I get why it was successful – but not why it was such a monster. It’s a decent ballad, but it’s cheesy as fuck and that video is horrific – four funny looking blokes with incredible voices moping about in funny looking clothes. This is what women were into in 1992 apparently.
From the name alone I don’t remember this so I’m going to guess it’s a one hit wonder chav mess. Aaand, with the first second I remember it. Okay, I managed the first minute, that’s all you need to hear. I mean, it is dreadful. The singing, the repetition, the music, and the theme which seems to be rape.
Now we get into the really bad shit. This wanky dance music was seriously popular at the time and if today’s charts are anything to go by, wanky dance music won the race. It’s basically the main Tetris theme tune with some weird voice in the background and other Nintendo noises zooming around. Just think for a second – someone actually made this, and enough people bought it that it reached the Top 10 in the UK charts.
The second medical practitioner turned shit music maker in our top ten this year. This one at least is less repetitive and has a weird, creepy, industrial vibe. I don’t think that was intentional. The overlapping beats are actually cool and this one has held up much better. Only the vocals really date it.
8. The Shaman: Ebeneezer Goode
Congrats, it’s another one that I refuse to link to because it’s an absolute abomination. One of undisputed worst songs of all time.
I’ve no idea what this is, so I’d better give it a listen. I don’t think I’ve heard this before, but I could be mistaken. It sounds so generic that any of these type of songs from this period all sound similar to me. It is quite annoying, all the call, response stuff, and weird backing vocals stuff, plus the kind of rap which was successful in the UK at this time was so tame.
So, a mixture of dreadful and bearable. 1992 saw plenty of major, genuinely good releases – Generation Terrorists, Vulgar Display Of Power, Little Earthquakes, Somewhere Far Beyond, Countdown To Extinction, Dirt, Tourism, Automatic For The People etc. For a much more invigorating and lovely list of songs from 1992, have a gander at these boys.
Greetings, Glancers! Remember MTV Unplugged? It was this show where bands, singers, performers played a mostly acoustic show in front of a small live audience. It was great. There are a tonne of bands, singers, and performers who never appeared though and today we’re going to talk about one of them. For more on the idea behind this post, click here!
This is my first choice of band I’d love to have seen perform an Unplugged show. You may think G’n’R would not suit such a setting and yes, you’re probably right. However, other heavy rock and metal bands managed it successfully so there’s no excuse for Axl and Co in their prime to not have done the same. I love the idea of such a balls to the wall, rock band of wonderful excess to tone it down and allow their talent, songwriting and performance skills speak for themselves with little or no frills, little or no production, and little or no filter or space between them and the crowd. Below is a dream setlist for a Guns ‘n’ Roses Unplugged show.
Most sets, especially rock sets start out with a balls to the wall, fast paced song to get the excitement levels up to a million. This is MTV Unplugged though, so that approach my not work. G’n’R are known for starting out with something like Nightrain, accompanied by some spoken shtick like ‘from Hollywood – Guns And Roses!’. I think we still get that spoken intro, maybe a little more subdued so that leads nicely into Civil War. I feel like this would work brilliantly as a dark, acoustic song – check out the link above for a Slash and Myles version, though the whistles are crap. The band could play a little with the structure, changing up those spoken parts into something unique. Obviously the rest of the band would need to pitch in, so plenty of room for experimentation.
The thing about MTV Unplugged is that it gave the artists an opportunity to mess with songs in a different format and perhaps play songs that were not normally part of their setlist. We’d need a faster song after that intro, so why not go with something a little left field? I’m not the biggest fan of Pretty Tied Up but I think it’s ripe for some innovative tinkering. The link above gives an idea of the direction the song could take – it’s not the best cover but you get the idea.
I think after two maybe not so well known songs they’d need to pull a more mainstream song out of the hat. You can switch Track 3 or 4 around if you wish, but I think the important thing at this point is keeping some continuity of classics going for a spell. The link above has an early live acoustic performance – I’m not too happy about the tambourine – there’s a place for it, but it’s used too much in that video. The song has a loose, jam quality anyway so it feels suited to a smaller unplugged setting.
Yes, keep the momentum going with the classics. The link has an acoustic instrumental only version which gives a good idea of how the song could still retain its raw power even without the distortion. I like the idea of the piano filling in some of the guitar parts, so Axl could get down on those.
Well, we’d better get Spaghetti out of the way. A few songs from that album would work here but this feels ready made and has the added bonus of giving Axl a vocal break, something we know he enjoys. It’s a short one too, and a bit of a novelty, so true fans would be happy to hear it.
Axl’s still taking a breather, so we’ll have another ready made slow-number that isn’t too far away from being acoustic in its original form. The song does pick up pace in places so that would lead nicely into another more up-tempo selection of songs. This is another curious choice which would be nifty so hear for most fans.
We’re over half an hour in and there’s still a bunch of big boys we haven’t heard from yet. I couldn’t find a decent clip to link to, so you’ll have to use your imagination on this one. Axl’s back, it’s a fast song, will get the crowd pumping again, which will lead nicely into our next pick.
Another fast one with plenty of room to play around, but I think for this one they should just go all in on the guitars and play a stripped down version as close to the original as possible. Alternatively they could go completely in the opposite direction with something like in the link above.
Chinese Democracy up now – don’t think I forgot about it. We’re already running tight to our time rule so we may have to cut back on the longer songs. This could be an Axl and Slash duet, the piano, vocals, and guitar mingling together for an atmospheric centerpiece.
Cheating a little here, but when the band play their mammoth live show they usually switch between Patience and Don’t Cry. I love them both and while the former is essentially an acoustic song already, the former could be stripped back without losing any of its impact. Both songs could have some piano added acting as an effective bridge between track 10 and 12. There’s an early live acoustic performance of Don’t Cry complete with terrible crowd noise in the link above.
So, this would maybe be the most interesting song to translate into an unplugged setting. Technically you could bring out a backing choir and bunch of violin players etc. Alternatively, have them in place from the start contributing to other songs. Much of the strength of the song rests on Slash’s integral guitar parts which bridge the different sections of the song together, but you can still have those without full ear-splitting electric. Unplugged doesn’t necessarily mean 100% acoustic. This would be a chance for the pure core of the song to shine through. The link above contains an early, shorter acoustic version by the band and is quite different from what we eventually got.
We keep the piano led sentimentality going with a song which is a highlight of Chinese Democracy even if Axl does try to mess it up with some weird vocals. It’s a crowd-pleaser, even for those who haven’t heard it, and you can get a bit of a singalong going in the big moments.
It had to be in there somewhere. If you want, swap this out for Rocket Queen or a personal favourite. While Nirvana played hardly any of their big hits for Unplugged, most bands tend to cover their most famous songs and for G’n’R they don’t come any bigger than this. Ideally it should be nearer the centre of the gig, but what are you gonna do? Various artists have covered this song in acoustic over the years, but I think the writers could knock those out of the park with their own take – Myles and Slash are in the link above again.
Another acoustic original to wind things down before the inevitable big finish. The band wouldn’t need many additional flourishes to make this work – it’s good to go from the first whisper and gives the rest of the band a chance to add their own backing vocals. It’s a funny song and would work well in an intimate environment.
I was toying with not actually including this – how do you ever make an unplugged version of something that is basically six minutes of head-banging and lewd guitar fingering? As balls to the wall as the outro to this song is, maybe a wacky dueling banjo type ending would be entertaining too? Really anything they did with this song would probably work, followed by a ‘Good! Fucking! Night! Yeah!’ If that doesn’t work for you, close it with Rocket Queen. The link above is an acoustic instrumental version.
What about you? Which songs would you love to see in a an Unplugged G’n’R show? There wasn’t time for Coma or Estranged. I couldn’t fit my own personal favourite Think About You in either. Cornshucker would turn a few heads. There are plenty of tracks from Chinese Democracy which I think would work well – namely Catcher In The Rye – but I tried to keep to my 70-90 minute time frame as much as possible. Let us know in the comments what your ideal setlist would be, and what other artists you would love to see perform in this style!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.