Review: The Gentle Storm – The Diary

Location: Waalwijk, Netherlands
Genre: Progressive Rock, Acoustic, Folk
Released: March 23, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Upcoming Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

Arjen Lucassen is at it again! To which I say, “thank goodness.”

This is a unique album, even for Arjen, a man who has written many a rock opera about everything from space sci-fi to a story about a scientist that was later made into a movie.* The closest comparison that can be offered is to Ayreon’s Universal Migrator albums; it is widely known that he believed that his fans were divided into two camps: The light, progressive rock camp, and the metalheads. So he put out The Dream Sequencer for the former, and Flight of the Migrator for the latter, releasing both albums at the same time. Although fans, myself included, generally liked both albums, he did figure correctly that some people would prefer one album to the other. I’ve had a draft typed up for a while for my review of Flight of the Migrator, which might make my Top 50 all-time list. The Dream Sequencer would probably rate in the 3.5 range if I were to review it today.

My rambling about these albums is important because The Diary is the same album done twice in two different styles. The Gentle version is very folk-oriented and should be regarded as a treat for those who enjoy modern folk rock bands. There are even some lounge jazz elements in “Heart of Amsterdam” and “Brightest Light.” Meanwhile, in “Shores of India,” Arjen makes use of traditional Indian instruments, making them sound authentic in the process.

The Storm version, in contrast, is significantly heavier and makes use of a choir, as seen in “Endless Sea.” The title track, if it can be called that, is full of symphonic metal goodness mixed with the occasional electronic effect (as seen in “Age of Shadows” from 01011001), and is probably the heaviest track here, like an Epica track written by someone with a significantly better ear for melodies. And yet, this isn’t a “metal” album. It’s a fun listen, but (and this is going to sound strange coming from me) I believe the “Gentle” version is the better disc.

The concept is also unique by Arjen’s already-lofty standards; the (based on a true) story revolves around a couple, Joseph and Suzanne, that is torn apart during the peak of The Netherlands’ golden age of exploration. Joseph is called away to visit India, and while he is gone, the two exchange letters to each other, as narrated by the illustrious Anneke van Giersbergen. This is not the first time the two have worked together; she also had parts on Into The Electric Castle and 01011001. But this is a direct collaboration between the two.

And that’s why I consider the Gentle disc to be the better one. The concept, which has a diverse setting, lends itself better to the array of acoustic instruments that Arjen uses in this project. Furthermore, Arjen, who has a reputation for bringing out the best in the musicians he works with, did a great job utilizing Anneke both discs, especially on the Gentle side. While her voice is powerful in nature, she dials it down considerably, and to great effect. Despite that, the Storm version is also a great listen.

Overall: An ambitious project that should wind up on many year-end album lists.

Rating: 4.0*

P.S.: Anneke, if you ever read this and happen to bring The Gentle Storm to the United States, please play “Strange Machines” like you and Arjen did during the European acoustic tour. Or perhaps “Probably Built In The Fifties?” Oh who am I kidding, any song from The Gathering. Actually, I really just want to see this band play live. Otherwise I’m just going to have to move to Europe, and I don’t think Europe is ready for me yet.

*Wait, you mean Ayreon released The Theory Of Everything a full year before the movie of the same name? I smell a lawsuit! All joking aside, that album is also a good one, albeit even more over the top than usual, occasionally to its detriment.

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