Review: The Gathering – if_then_else

Location: Oss, Netherlands
Genre: Alternative Rock/Trip Hop
Released: July 3, 2003
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Underneath The Waves

By: Kris Kotlarik

In a previous review of The Gathering’s How To Measure A Planet, I wrote that I was not familiar with the band’s work which followed that album. For the better part of two years, I have been hesitant on further diving into their discography for fear of being disappointed. Luckily, my fears were assuaged rather quickly, and if_then_else will go down as the first album to be featured on “Underneath The Waves,” where I dissect a part of a band’s discography that I have otherwise not given a fair listen to for one reason or another.

I could gush about Anneke van Giersbergen’s vocals for days, and she is solid on this album as well. Amazingly, the real star of the album is the gorgeous sound coming from the bass guitar. It is both well-played and brilliantly mixed, probably more so than any album I have reviewed to date. The other standout, both in good and bad ways, is the lyricism. Occasionally, the lyrics are highly effective in conveying life in a realistic, yet slightly cynical light. At other points, especially on what I consider to be the weakest tracks, “Saturnine” and “Amity,” they are too preachy and/or whiny. The former, in particular, starts with the following ridiculous passage:

The day you went away/
You had to screw me over/
I guess you didn’t know/
all the stuff you left me with/
is way too much to handle/
But I guess you don’t care/

“Eleanor” off of Mandylion has a similar theme that can be interpreted from its lyrics, but while that track has a more mature tinge to it, the lyrics to “Saturnine” appears to have been written by someone who just finished her freshman year of college.

In more ways than one (not just in a literal sense), If Then Else is much more concise than its predecessor. Whereas the longest track on this one is 6:37 in length (“Morphia’s Waltz,” which sounds and reads like a lullaby. This is not a bad thing; even though the lyrics are a tad cheesy, the music is still great), How To Measure A Planet had five tracks over its two discs that approached or exceeded that length, not counting the mostly ambient 28-minute title track on the second disc. As the successor to a highly experimental album, If Then Else continues The Gathering’s evolution into electronics and trip hop while being more straightforward in its delivery.

The absolute highlights on this album are the first two tracks, “Rollercoaster” and “Shot To Pieces,” and “Analog Park.” The chorus to “Rollercoaster,” which bounces around from channel to channel, is haunting and well-done. The verses are also a prime example of the aforementioned realistically cynical lyrics that are very effective. “Shot To Pieces” continues the cynicism with its more basic rock structure and extremely catchy main riff. The first verse, in particular, is brutally blunt in its sarcasm:

What fine judgement I see/
in the eyes of our world leaders/
Oh how beautiful life could be/
if it hadn’t been shot to pieces.

The bridge following the chorus is similarly brazen in a more introspective way, and it continues onward for the rest of the track. “Analog Park” starts with a slow, trip hop vibe before the intensity picks up in a big way towards the middle of the track. The other highlights include “Bad Movie Scene,” “Herbal Movement,” and “Colorado Incident” which, despite the timing of the album’s release, has nothing to do with the Columbine shootings.

Overall: Very diverse. While there is something on here for everybody, not everything on it may be for you. The bass mix is out of this world. 

Rating: 3.5*

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