‘Drop yourself in the grass/Breathe the air at last/Hold on tight/Don’t fall down/Breathe the air through the water’
‘Drop yourself in the grass/Breathe the air at last/Hold on tight/Don’t fall down/Breathe the air through the water’
‘Every day a new face/what if I unscrew/your own identity/wouldn’t you guess there’s nothing left of you’
Coming hot on the heels of their exceptional 10th album, Afterwords is a bonus album featuring reworked cuts from Disclosure and a small number of new tracks. Fans hoping for more of the same after Disclosure are likely to be disappointed, so I’ll make it clear from the outset that the majority of this album are experimental, simplified versions of some former tracks, focusing perhaps on a particular single motif or idea, and giving it an electronic, ambient overhaul – most of these tracks are unrecognizable when compared with their counterparts. I’d say that this is one for the die-hard fans, while more casual fans may be left frustrated.
‘SIBALD’ opens the album, a fine ambient track which could have made the same impact at 1 or even two minutes shorter. There isn’t much to say about it – it’s a peaceful, ethereal piece with some fine trumpet work and melodic pieces.
‘Echoes Keep Growing’ opens well with whispered, distorted string based sounds before familiar vocals from I Can See Four Miles come in. Again, there isn’t any need for this to be almost 7 minutes, when much of the introduction could have been condensed, and when a bulk of the song is basic repetition. After the halfway mark, the song takes on a heavier sound, with heavily distorted guitar sounds taking control, but again this swirls, builds, and repeats until the end.
‘Areas’ is the first new, non-experimental track, a cool little track which will grow on you with subsequent listens. With the repetitive cricket-like (the insect, not the sport) sounds, flickering guitars, and simple melodies and lyrics, it’s a pleasant listen which doesn’t tax the listener. This isn’t a track which sounds much like other Gathering songs, so it probably fits well here. Being a cover of an early 80s synth song by New Musik, it works well alongside the other more experimental tracks.
‘Afterwords’ is easily the best song on offer, with wonderful, clean vocals from original Gathering singer Bart Smits. Sounding like a lost Depeche Mode track, this one has a great, dark tone to it, searing verse melodies, and a fine chorus once it erupts. Again, it may not be one which will capture you upon first listen, but it didn’t take long before it grew on me. It’s another song which doesn’t sound like what we expect from The Gathering, but as any Gathering fan knows – you shouldn’t expect anything from the band except brilliance.
‘Tuning In, Fading Out’ is a reworking of Missing Seasons, taking one of the more prominent lyrics from that song, and repeating them through a new electronic landscape. It’s a decent enough track, but difficult to recommend it as something you’ll wish to listen to frequently, though it is one of the stronger edits on offer here.
‘Gemini III’ – is another piece to the Gemini puzzle, using a lot of the same ideas, melodies, and lyrics from part 1 and 2. This one is a stripped down piece, with some chugging guitars added, and less of a focus on backing noise to let the vocals soar. Incidentally, someone on YouTube has added all 3 parts together for an interesting 14 minute listen. Another decent track, but again not essential if you already have Disclosure, more of a nice cult addition.
‘Afterlights’ is a short 2 minute track, a keyboard and organ led instrumental piece which is fine by itself, but works as introduction for the next track.
‘Sleep Paralysis’ is a distorted, vibrating remake of Paralyzed. It starts well enough, with a steady beat and angelic backing vocals. This basic idea gets stretched out over the next few minutes, but rather than acting as a distinct piece, it will have you wanting to put on the original instead. There is quite a racket caused by the end of the song, depending on my mood I take this as annoying, or pretty damn groovy. Again, only one for the hardcore fans.
‘Barenfels’ is a remake of the brilliant Heroes For Ghosts, but greatly condenses the many ideas, sounds, and emotions from that song into a more simplified, yet still epic piece. At over 8 minutes, it’s shorter than the original, and has a number of notable changes – the addition of spoken pieces, the stripping away of most of the music, vocals, and melodies of the original, and switches around the structure quite a bit – for example, the glorious opening trumpet piece from Heroes For Ghosts comes at the halfway point here. From that point, the song collapses into an unusual mixture of repeated riffs and rumbling drums, with some varied vocals thrown in to make something unique. A shorter length may have made this one a bit stronger as I’m less inclined to listen to an 8 minute track when there is so much repetition.
Like most of The Gathering’s Eps or bonus type albums, this one isn’t as essential as the ‘main’ albums. Areas and Afterwords are strong tracks, but the other songs range from one-off curios to average. Each one has some good moments, but the experimental nature means that most fans will be put off and will prefer to listen to something more mainstream, for lack of a better term. The band wanted to create a distinct atmosphere with this collection, and they succeed, but as a collection of songs that the listener will wish to listen to on repeat, it doesn’t work.
Seasoned fans of The Gathering will know that the band is all about change; they started out with a death and doom metal sound, merging male and female vocals, and on their third album brought in singer Anneke Van Giersbergen to approach a cleaner metal sound. For the next decade, their albums moved between a variety of genres, eventually ‘settling’ into their own created genre of Trip rock. Disclosure is the 2nd album with latest vocalist Silje Wergerland, and seeks to reach the more complex, expansive heights of previous albums, compared to the rather simple The West Pole.
‘Paper Waves’ opens the album and settles the listener in to the latest Gathering sound quickly. With jangling guitars and echoing drums, it is the most straightforward rock song on the album, but with a unique sound thanks to a great production. With swirling vocals merging with those jangling guitars, we get a fierce wall of sound which pulls you in and refuses to let go. Silje’s voice is at the forefront, a more ghostly, slight, dreamy sound than the sheer angelic power of Anneke. The song doesn’t simply rely on the same tricks, but offers enough refreshing moments throughout, from the sudden, powerful guitar riffs and piano additions, and packs in at least 4 strong melodies.
‘Meltdown’ starts with some funky, heavy drums, beats, and with dual male and female vocals. The first epic of the album, at over 9 minutes it bounces from the heavy dance style of the start, through a metal influenced middle, and on to a haunting, quiet close. With strong lyrics, accompanied by ethereal melodies, the opening half of the song, a massive attack of sounds, is a joy to behold. A sudden shift over the halfway point, takes the song in a completely different direction. The second half is the post-meltdown remorse, a soulful, sullen, prayer, a trumpet and soft vocal led which departs unending into the distance. Some may feel the song is a little stretched, but I find the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen again.
‘Paralyzed’ fades into view, a nice transition from the end of Meltdown. A haunting, slow paced track where the melodies wrap around each other, the lyrics a series of questions and thoughts covering a difficult, violent, relationship. An introspective, unsettling depiction of the mind of an abuse victim, it features a number of beautiful moments, and whose outro serves as a brilliant transition into the album’s best track.
‘Heroes For Ghosts’ is the second epic of the album, at nearly 11 minutes. Every second fortunately is perfection, with the band delivering one of their finest songs. With a mournful, brass led introduction, sounding like a military funeral salute, followed by a wonderful, Gilmour-esque guitar piece, the opening moments are awe-inspiring. More beautiful vocals follow, with the peak being a heartbreaking chorus. The spirit-like, floating music continues to chill and shatter our emotions until the song picks up pace before the halfway point. We move into an instrumental section, drum and trumpet led with pace and volume gradually increasing, given the sensation of a physical, or mental escape. More vocals collapse into the song, and a new range of brilliant melodies – the ending a mixture of anger, joy, relief, fear, and ecstasy.
‘Gemini I’ is another slow paced, moody track. Shimmering guitars, vocals shrouded in reverb and mist, it is an extension of the feelings of escape from a bad relationship – if the album can be seen as a concept album, then this is another glimpse of the main character being free, but looking back unable to fully escape. More than that, it features more gorgeous melodies, a forceful chorus compared to the bitter, soft verses, and exquisite vocals.
‘Missing Seasons’ is a short, piano driven song, a breather between the larger, at times exhausting tracks. Keeping the slow pace, and haunting melodies, it is a simple song, but one with melodies of extraordinary beauty. With one of the band’s most catchy choruses, it’s easy for this one to get lost among the larger tracks, but you’ll be missing out on one of the best.
‘I Can See Four Miles’ is the third and final epic, clocking in at over 9 minutes. Arguably the album’s most experimental track it features various distinct parts, with the opening featuring a gradual build of drums, bass riffs, and seemingly random guitar pieces. The song finds a loose structure once the vocals begin, but the emphasis is on ‘loose’. An off-kilter track for most of the opening, with organs, swirling backing vocals, and drums vanishing and re-materializing without warning, it is a chaotic melding of parts which all somehow fit together. About a third of the way through, the song shifts in focus, with sound bites, clashing guitar chimes, repeated pianos, and tribal drums with an Eastern tinge. The song continues to expand throughout the final 6 instrumental minutes with dramatic strings, and fantastic beats to create a euphoric climax.
‘Gemini II’ closes the album in an effective manner. Little more than a reworking of Gemini I, it continues the idea of being unable to escape your own memories and thoughts. Taking some of the central melodies of the first part, this one strips back the music even further, leaving Silje’s voice at the forefront. The vocals are not only more prominent, but louder, and more direct, as if making a final statement.
The Gathering’s 10th album is one which may take time to grow on the average listener, but once it clicks with you, you’ll recognise it as a fantastic album, one of the band’s best. In my ranking I’d say it’s their best since How To Measure A Planet, and indeed shares some similarities with that epic. It is a largely mellow, emotive rock album which will please long term fans, and will would resonate with a wider audience to fans of groups like Pink Floyd. While not a huge leap in terms of experimentation, it is instead a vast improvement over the last album in every department, taking the band back into that pantheon of artists who only seem to make quality with each release. While The West Pole was a transitional album due to a massive line-up change, and had a simple, middle of the road rock approach, Disclosure is an album which brims with confidence and which has allowed Silje to take control. From sprawling epics to moody rockers, Disclosure is a study of the band’s refusal to be placed in a box, and which should rank in any self-respecting music critics list of the best of the year.
Let us know in the comments what you though of Disclosure.
‘All the iron armor is laid down away/Followed by the heroes who belong on rested earth’
*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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Confusion – Nighttime 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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