Alternative Rock

Review: The Gathering – Souvenirs

Location: Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Genre: Alternative rock, trip-hop
Released: February 24, 2003
Format Reviewed: FLAC

By: Kris Kotlarik

Allen Enigma of Metalbite: Obviously the sound of The Gathering has changed greatly since it even began, before you joined and after. What where some of the influences of The Gathering circa 1995 and “Mandylion,” and what influences The Gathering of present day?

Anneke van Giersbergen: Music-wise, we are very much influenced by this new dark pop music. You might call it like Radiohead, Massive Attack, and bands like that. They really influence us because we like the catchiness of this music but also the dark side of this music. But other than that, there is an infinite choice of inspiration. You can find inspiration in just about anything, books and movies and friends, and just leading your life, you know? I think that’s a big change from what we did in 95-96, because then the world was just a little bit more black and white because you’re younger then. But now this whole gray area seems to be an influence on our music these days.

As I had mentioned in my review of their previous album, If_Then_Else, I was already a big fan of The Gathering’s early work, especially Mandylion and How To Measure A Planet? The contrast between those two albums is stark; the former leaned on its doom metal aspects with vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen soaring above it all, while Planet marked their excursion into more electronic-laced alternative rock.

For a while, I thought I wouldn’t like their later albums. But then I gave If_Then_Else several spins and really liked it for its variety. Souvenirs may not have as many different styles on display as that album, but I think it’s actually better. I would go so far as to say that it’s right up there with Planet for their second-best album.

What it lacks in variety, it more than makes up for in coherence and a far more clear sound. Opener “These Good People” has a simple yet chilling bass line that builds up over the first 50 seconds before Anneke’s vocals kick in. That intro is symbolic of this album; it’s not afraid to be led by electronics and enhances the material. Speaking of Anneke, her work on this album shows a vastly improved sense of control over her vocals; whereas Mandylion was a display of her raw power, Souvenirs showcases her range, often in the form of high-low harmonies that are haunting and beautiful at the same time.

Much of the album carries on in this fashion: Various electronic effects that add to Anneke’s vocals. These effects are scattered all over the place, from the breakdown towards the end of “Even The Spirits Are Afraid;” to the distorted intro and outro of “Broken Glass;” and just about all of “We Just Stopped Breathing,” especially its choppy, trumpet-laden instrumental outro that stretches over several minutes. Under most circumstances, I would consider such an extensive usage of these elements to be a copout, but this is the kind of art that should be embraced with this instrumentation.

Souvenirs has two tracks that I would consider to be closer to the traditional “rock” structure: The title track, and “Monsters.” The former features some of Anneke’s best vocals on the album, reminding me somewhat of an evolved Adele at times during the middle of the track. “Monsters” is catchy, looping together a crawling bassline with lyrics that portray a person who is frustrated with life’s shortcomings and just wants to be left alone.

Much like how “Analog Park” served as the “climax” of If_Then_Else, “Monsters” is the heaviest point of Souvenirs. And like its predecessor, the final songs here drag on a little bit too long. While still good, the pacing is too slow, further brought down by the four-minute gap of silence between “Jelena” and closer “A Life All Mine,” a surprisingly interesting track that features Trickster G (Ulver, Arcturus, Borknagar) as a duet counterpart. It’s a highly experimental track with all-electronic instrumentation, and is the kind of track I would expect to sneak onto local alternative rock radio stations if the intro is shortened for the edit.

My pick for the best songs here are “These Good People” and “You Learn About It,” the latter mostly because Anneke’s voice teters on the edge of angelic as she is singing. This is true across the album, but there’s something special about Anneke’s high-end vocals, even when they’re not being belted at full lung capacity.

Out of all of The Gathering’s albums, this is the one I have been listening to the most recently. It’s not their best album, but what it does for me is become the soundtrack to my day; I can take this album and listen to it anywhere. Mandylion doesn’t hold that distinction, as amazing as it is.

Maelstrom: You don’t play with your hi-hat open on the new record. The result is that it’s a lot quieter.

Hans Rutten: It is. It’s all to achieve a crystal clear sound. The bombast is gone. At first we had massive guitars. Those are gone. With an open hi-hat, you fill the entire high spectrum. I come from a doom metal band: Always, our first record, has doom oriented drums. There’s more in life than doom metal. I still love doom metal, but you want to grow and do new things.

Overall: Souvenirs has that perfect balance of being experimental and accessible at the same time.

Rating: 4.0*

Buy physical CDs from The Gathering here. Digital albums can be purchased here.

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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*