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The Gathering

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.35 | 64 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars Home is the latest studio offering from the Gathering, and only their second such in the past six years.

It seems the band may be at a bit of a crossroad, with their popularity at home apparently at an all-time high, but their productivity seemingly waning. Whenever a band starts putting out a lot of live and compilation discs, or videos, and not so much new material, you have to start to wonder if the spark is still there. This is especially true I think for a band like the Gathering, who seems to have a fairly entrenched fan base, but one that doesn’t appear to be growing all that much. Being from the States this is not a band I hear much about. They’ve only traveled here to play twice in their fifteen year-plus history as far as I know, and only for a handful of shows in very small venues.

Anyway, in the years since Anneke Van Giersbergen joined the band they have moved steadily away from a kind of postured thinking-man’s goth metal, and more toward a thinking-woman’s pastoral, melodic sound. The lyrics here are for the most part slightly abstract in a contemporary poetry kind of way, all written by Ms. Van Giersbergen, and mostly having to do with airy and idyllic reflections on life and meaning, or are about personal relationships. I can’t help but make comparisons to so many of the female-led bands of the 80s and 90s who charted similar courses – the Motels, Cranberries, and Concrete Blonde are a few that come to mind. And speaking of the Cranberries, a comparison of Ms. Van Giersbergen’s vocals style to that of Dolores O’Riordan is inevitable, so I might as well be the one to do it. Despite one being Dutch and the other Irish, both have a degree of nasally lilt to their voices, an understated way of inflection that helps to control the flow of the melodies in their music to keep them from becoming simple pop songs. And both clearly have a dominating presence in their respective bands that cannot be ignored. Not to mention both their voices exhibit about the same timbre and pitch (and both are quite pleasant to look at, a comment which I suppose is chauvinist, but is a true statement nonetheless).

And speaking of the references to 80s and 90s bands, the overall sound on this album strikes me as being a bit dated as well. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all; in fact, the reason I mention it is that the songs here do seem to have been subjected to a fair amount of thoughtful arrangement and artistic scrutiny in the studio, a trait which is of course often lacking in so much of today’s popular music, and even a lot of progressive and serious art music. So high praise to the band for taking the time to get their sound right before releasing it.

That being said, I really can’t say this album breaks any kind of new ground for the band. The overall sound is consistent with their continued trend of moving away from pseudo-gothic or metal sounds, and more toward a well-crafted but undeniably mainstream adult contemporary sound. I don’t know what their live material is like, but I can’t draw any other conclusion from listening to their studio work.

A quick run through of the tracks here:

“Shortest Day” starts off with a promising hard riff and prominent rhythm line which includes new bassist Marjolein Kooijman, but listeners should be cautioned that this is as edgy as the album gets, with the remaining tracks becoming progressively more mellow for the most part. Right away Ms. Van Giersbergen kicks in with the vocals and like I said – if you can’t hear Ms O’Riordan in there, you’re not listening. Still, it’s a great sound, and this is probably the strongest track on the album. The song, by the way, is a mildly biting tale of a capitalistic success-junkie businessman rushing through his daily rat race.

On “In Between” I really notice that there are two female voices throughout this album. I assume this means bassist Ms. Kooijman is also piping up, but I suppose it’s possible Ms. Van Giersbergen is overdubbing her own vocals (doesn’t sound like it though). This one also has that mid-90s sound of a rock rhythm that threatens to explode into some sort of heavy metal explosion, but doesn’t. René Rutten rips off a few power chords, but mostly this is more of that slightly edgy adult contemporary I mentioned at the beginning. The story is a love song, sort of.

I don’t know what “Alone” is all about, read the lyrics and decide for yourself. Other than a persistent keyboard riff that is simple and repetitive (but a change of pace anyway), this is mostly more of the same.

“Waking Hour” is very mellow, stark piano with almost whispering vocals and a slowly building guitar that doesn’t quite peak, but just kind of levels off midway through the song and holds that tempo throughout. This one is about self-actualization, or something along those lines –

“Falling for a part of who you are, makes you shine inside”.

That’s actually a really good line, and I have to say that Ms. Van Giersbergen does have an ability to turn a phrase from time to time on this album. I wonder if she writes poetry as well? Probably.

“Fatigue” is a short keyboard and guitar instrumental interlude that is mildly interesting, but the significance of why it was included here escapes me.

Again on “A Noise Severe” I’m not quite sure what the lyrics are all about, something along the lines of losing oneself, but to what, or under what conditions – I have no idea. By now the middle songs on the album seem to take on a fairly predictable pattern, so perhaps “Fatigue” was included to break up the slight monotony.

There is a really interesting picture in the gatefold middle of the CD’s liner notes that I would love to get an explanation of. The right half of the picture is a sunset relief of what looks like some sort of tall stalk-like plants (five of them). At first I thought these were cactus, but there’s no cactus in the Netherlands, right? Anyway, on the right half of the gatefold is the same picture in reverse, but on this side the plants are bent down and appear to be breaking apart in a stiff wind. Over the top the lyrics to “Forgotten” are printed in stark white text. I’m quite sure there is some sort of symbolism here, but again – skid marks on the forehead. There’s an even longer reprise of this song at the end of the album that includes some rather beautiful keyboard work.

“Solace” includes some spoken-word bits in what I assume to be Dutch, and an almost martial drum beat and monotonous guitar riff set behind Ms. Van Giersbergen’s ramblings, again some sort of abstract love song of sorts.

In “Your Troubles Are Over” the story is about the singer running to “the light”, another self-actualization kind of tune with abstract meaning that probably only has value to the author. Again a fairly simple and monotonous tempo, and a very mellow and song.

“Box” is a keyboard-driven number with completely introspective and abstract lyrics, vocals that border on a lullaby, and really very little character to it quite frankly. For an album that is more than an hour long I’m not sure why the band felt the need to include filler, but for some reason they did.

“The Quiet One” is the other instrumental on the album, this one leaning more toward acoustic guitar, although there is a mellow piano and vocal humming as well. Another mood-setting interlude, I suppose, and a fairly pleasant one.

Which brings us to the title track, “Home”. Here’s a very interesting track, mostly in the lyrics. The song is clearly reflective, a mother to her sons (and possibly to her husband as well, kind of hard to tell) –

“I gave my life to you and I have worked so hard at it too; Would I do anything other than to raise you to be –

The finest men?”

The sentiment should give men pause to think, clearly. As someone who is a son, a husband, and a father to three young men, it sure gives me pause to reflect for a bit. I know Ms. Van Giersbergen is herself a mother now, and the overall mood of this album indicates her state of mind is much more reflective, introspective, and nested than perhaps she was ten years ago or more. A natural progression certainly, but like I said at the beginning – more adult contemporary and definitely not goth, metal, or even a traditional type of progressive music. But a decent listen anyway, and probably more suited to those with more mature tastes, or at least hard-core fans of the band. Three stars, almost three and a half.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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