Review: The Gathering – How To Measure A Planet?

Location: Oss, The Netherlands
Genre: Alternative/Progressive Rock
Released: November 9, 1998
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All Time Favorite Nominees

By: Kris Kotlarik

Disclaimer: Although this is a two-disc album in which the second disc has almost no lyrical/musical concept that links it to the first, I am putting both discs in the review’s score since it was only ever sold as a two-disc bundle (unless you live in Japan). 

Unlike Mandylion, which was unbridled yet more straightforward, How To Measure A Planet? (henceforth: Planet) is a contradiction in that it is highly experimental, but more restrained. Gone are the frequent soaring vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen. Looking for that doom metal fix? You won’t find it here. By this point in their careers, by Anneke’s own words, the band was no longer as young and restless as they once were and had also expanded their influences beyond the scope of heavy metal. Planet serves as the group’s foray into electronic elements and, as you may have guessed from the title, has a broad theme of outer space.

Every song on this record is good to some degree, but there is one pitfall that prevents this from being a surefire lock as an all-time favorite: The metronome always ticks slowly, and there are few moments of true intensity. The moments that do break out from those parameters, however, are nearly unforgettable.

“Travel,” at over nine minutes, closes off the first disc. Written about Mozart, its main melody calls back to an earlier (and similarly stellar) song, “Great Ocean Road.” What really sets “Travel” apart from the rest is its long buildup with Anneke eventually busting out some powerful lines lamenting Mozart’s moments of self doubt:

I wish I knew you; your fit of insanity makes me sad/
I wish you knew your music was to stay forever, and I hope…./
I have no clue if you know how much it matters, and i hope…./

This closing section remains among the most powerful moments ever recorded by The Gathering. “Great Ocean Road” is an all-around stellar track, but doesn’t have the same punch as the end of “Travel.” It is no surprise that “Liberty Bell” served as the album’s single, as it is the only truly uptempo track to appear anywhere on this album. The lyrics are rather repetitive but the song is still fun to listen to. The other song that stands out is “Illuminating” from the second disc, guided by an effective bass line and more stunning vocals by Anneke.

Any critique I would have for the remaining songs would just become tired and long, because they all fit the same general description of being good songs with a low-to-midtempo arrangement and at least some electronic elements. Even though it sounds nearly the same as the others, I have a personal affinity for “Red Is A Slow Colour.” There’s a brief section in “Rescue Me” that is heavier than most other parts on the album. “Probably Built In The Fifties” features an extensive amount of electronics and also boasts a solid several minutes of instrumental material towards the end. The title track, 28:33 in length, is approximately one-fourth jam session and three-fourths electronic ambient noise. I usually do not care for long passages of ambiance, but I found this track to be quite relaxing.

Admittedly, I am not well-versed in The Gathering’s work that followed this album, as well as Anneke’s solo work. But it’s obvious that people have been paying attention. Of all the bands I have reviewed so far, The Gathering and its members’ affiliated projects have the most influence on modern mainstream music. There is no way that, in some form, Lana Del Rey was not somehow influenced by this band; Anneke even went so far as to cover one of Lana’s songs at a radio station performance.

Overall: This was ahead of its time; its only flaw being a near-constant tempo that can get tiring rather quickly.

Rating: 4.0*

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