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The Gathering - Nighttime Birds CD (album) cover


The Gathering


Experimental/Post Metal

3.94 | 156 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Well, this one for sure it's much, much better than this band's latest album, HOME, which I rated with 2 stars a few months ago. But it isn't perfect by any means.

The music in NIGHTTIME BIRDS is much more metal-oriented than in HOME, and here I could actually find the evidence about the metal past of this group from The Netherlands. The sounds are very heavy, very dark, a little gothic at times, with some passages that remind me of works by bands like Agalloch, with sad, grey landscapes that seem to relate to other genres like post-metal. But the song structures are far more normal and the tracks themselves are of the conventional kind. We have quite a few instrumental moments here, too, but not in the shape of solos or virtuosic displays but just as long rests for the voice that carries this music and makes it worthy, the one of Anneke van Giersbergen, the singer that gives this outfit a little of a certain Ayreon flavor, though only for the vocals. If we have to be perfectly honest, we could say that The Gathering wouldn't have any chance at standing out of the rest of the rock crowd were it not for the seducing, melodic, enchanting notes that come out of the lady singer. With her input, the dreary, gloomy music takes another form, it ascends to the land of dreams and beauty instead of remaining immobile in the desolated barren territory of slow, depressing metal.

To those that only have heard The Gathering's latest, HOME, let me tell you that this album bears little resemblance to that one. Here we are in the presence of a true metal band, with some Nordic elements that at times even remind us of a band I happen to love, Amorphis, unlike the recent album which is just a collection of dark-pop-rock songs. This is metal, with hard riffs, heavy guitars, pounding drums, though with a feminine voice adorning the rather obscure notes that the instruments deliver.

The problem here is the same that I had with their most recent release: dynamics. If one was to listen to the songs as stand-alone tracks, some of them are actually good, and there would be nothing to complain about. But when it comes to hear to the whole album from top to bottom, it could turn into a difficult, even tiresome experience, as most of the songs share the same tempo, the same slow speed, the same mood. It's a challenge for the listener to be able to maintain focus to a set of 9 songs where most of them have more or less the same speed and spirit. The somber atmosphere doesn't help matters, either. For if this was happy music, it wouldn't be so difficult to digest a collection of songs with similar tempos and moods; but with the rather downcast, depressive tone that this music sets us in, 50 minutes with just a couple changes in speed seem like a lot more.

On Most Surfaces (Inu´t) (8.5/10) Without a doubt the best song in the album. A long, shaded journey through very dark, threatening atmospheres. The piano touches after what we could call the chorus are very good, and the drum detail where the toms and floor tom are hit in unison after the piano figure really adds to the menacing mood of this quality track.

Confusion (8/10) Another slow, sad song that has a sordid atmosphere and that is saved by Anneke's dreamy vocals in the chorus, doubled, giving the idea of archangels of darkness. Good song. The middle section reminds me of TALES FROM A THOUSAND LAKES by Amorphis. The May Song (8/10) The mood is the same, but the tempo is slightly faster. This one is another success, as it sounds like a mix between Ayreon and less metal, poppy rock music. It has energy, it has some power. I could use some better melodies in the chorus which sounds a little bland. The album still holds our attention by now.

The Earth is my Witness (7/10) An atmospheric, dark opening, which takes us to obscure forests where the light of the sun is hard to see. The song continues down the same path, and it starts to get difficult to remain 100% concentrated in the music. Halfway down we have a passage that seems to be taken out of a post-metal recording. Could've been a better song.

New Moon, Different Day (6.5/10) The beginning is very similar to the future (by the year when this album was released) sound of Agalloch. Anneke continues to breed flowers over sterile, dead wastelands of dried earth. This track has a few good melodies (mostly the main guitar theme), but it's too long and slow. In the middle of the song we have a weird moment of energy, but it doesn't last long. Not a bad song but nothing great either.

Third Chance (8/10) Surprisingly, we get a tempo change here! The main section is not overly interesting, but the middle section with a pretty fast, even electronica-ish rhythm saves this song and makes it stand out from the preceding ones.

Kevin's Telescope (5.5/10) My beloved triple rhythms, I really have issues with those. The same atmosphere from other songs but worsened by the rhythm, that's it for me. At least the song is short and doesn't kill the album. The problem, to be honest, is not really the rhythm but that there's nothing of interesting going on above it. Worst song in the album.

Nighttime Birds (6/10) By now we're a little bit exhausted with the music. What started as a very fine album has descended into the realm of boredom. As the title track, I expected better of this one but it's actually one of the less enticing, and were it not for the vocals in the chorus, it wouldn't stand a chance in the ratings. Maybe if I hadn't heard all the other 7 tracks before this one I would've liked it better.

Shrink (7.5/10) Only piano with vocals. A good way of closing the album and saving it from going down any further. It's still slow and pensive but it's melodic and it really has a magic, an atmosphere of longing to it.

I'm still not convinced by The Gathering but this album with no doubt makes me hold better hopes for the remaining of their output and maybe will make me think about getting a third one of their cd's. Anneke van Gierbergen is the star of the band, no questions about that. Now if the music was a little bit more interesting, more varied above all, this could be a group worthy of attention and consideration for climbing to the upper echelon of metal and progressive rock bands.

Recommended for: fans of The Gathering; fans of dark, somber metal with gothic elements;

Not recommended for: Fans of ultra-complex progressive rock music; fans of happy music; people that dislike metal and post-metal, and most of all, fans of energetic, dynamic music.

. these Hollanders really could use a shot of caffeine.

The T | 3/5 |


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