The Gathering

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.

Review: Rise Of Avernus – L’Appel Du Vide

Location: Sydney, Australia
Genre: Progressive Gothic/Doom Metal
Released: January 20, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Diving For Treasure

By: Kris Kotlarik

Sometimes, you pick up an album from a band you have never heard of for no real reason. Maybe the album art looked cool, or perhaps you saw the “for fans of [insert band here]” label on the album’s wrapping. In this case, I noticed that an Australian band had a French album title and decided to give it a shot. Sometimes these endeavors are an abject disaster. This is quite the opposite.

This is Rise Of Avernus’ debut effort, and it’s a fantastic one at that. A glance at the band members’ prior history shows a bunch of bands that I know nothing about. As a whole, I don’t know much about Australia’s metal scene, with the first bands coming to mind being Ne Obliviscaris and 4Arm. Rise Of Avernus has now made the list of bands from Australia to watch going forward.

For a band that is labeled as a gothic/doom metal band, they make a lot of forays into death/black metal and add a lot of symphonic elements to their sound. There is a brief section of “Ethereal Blindness,” for example, that has violin playing over a bass groove and a minimalist percussion style that sounds beautiful. The next track, “Embrace The Mayhem,” makes extensive use of a saxophone that is being played in a jazzy style, and the results are stellar. There’s a false ending on this track that trolls the listener with some smooth jazz stylings from said saxophone. The only other false ending I can think of that I really enjoyed was Blind Guardian‘s “The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight,” and this one trumps The Bards’. Catherine Guirguis, the band’s keyboardist at the time, shines on vocals here. Unfortunately, she is no longer in the band, but they recently announced on Facebook that they hired Mares Refelaeda, a new female keyboardist and vocalist. It will be interesting to see what the band does with her on upcoming releases should they decide to retain her for studio releases.

Guirguis is also effective in “Disenchanted,” which begins as a track that could be mistaken for an early-era The Gathering album before changing gears several times. “An Somnium” may be my favorite track on here; it starts with a nice keyboard melody before blasting the listener with some major-league death metal, with violins clearly in the mix. “As Soleness Recedes” closes the album with the best display of clean male vocals here, and has an overall sound reminiscent of Katatonia. “The Mire,” meanwhile, reminds me somewhat of Arcturus mixed with Septicflesh.

The only two tracks that I didn’t fully enjoy were the opener and the title track, the latter of which essentially amounting to an interlude. The opener, “A Triptych Journey,” has a nice sound to it but feels slightly drawn out in relation to the other tracks on this album. One question that I was not able to find the answer to was whether or not the orchestration is authentic or a product of the keyboards. If it’s the latter, then they did a great job on the mix because it sounds authentic to me most of the time. In any case, this is the kind of music that deserves a dedicated lineup of studio musicians that are skilled in non-electric instruments. If Dimmu Borgir can get a full orchestra to play live with them at Wacken, I hope there’s a few good Australians that would pitch in on music like this.

Overall: With its unique take on the stagnant doom metal genre, this album is a clear-cut top five album of 2014 as of now. 

Rating: 4.0*

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*

ATF Review: The Gathering – Mandylion

Location: Oss, The Netherlands
Genre: Doom/Gothic Metal; Progressive Metal
Released: August 22, 1995
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

I am going on the record in saying that Anneke van Giersbergen is one of the best metal singers of all time. Devin Townsend is up there, as well, and the results are about as amazing as you would expect two of the most talented individuals on the planet to sound when working together.

But before all of that; before Townsend unleashed the sonic bombardments of City and Ocean Machine in 1997, came Mandylion, the first Gathering album with Anneke. This would mark the beginning of The Gathering’s transformation from just another doom metal outfit to an alternative rock band that would later redefine the entire scope of the genre. Mandylion bridges the gap between the two eras, and is a rare exception to the “bridge under construction” rule when it comes to bands that slowly, yet drastically, change their overall sound. Even though the instrumentation is still generally what you would expect to find in a doom metal album (generally slow and at least somewhat downtuned), it sounds more upbeat with Anneke on board, with her vocals soaring above everything.

It starts off with “Strange Machines,” beginning with a simple,unassuming guitar rhythm. But after a short buildup, Anneke comes in and starts singing about traveling through time:

Russian revolution, let’s do that in one day
Beethoven and Gershwin I think that would be o.k.
More than anything I wanna fly in strange machines

I wanna do centuries in a lifetime
And see it with my eyes
Watch Jesus rise, if he ever did…

The lyrics take on a serious form on occasion as seen in the second part of the quote, but the (George) Gershwin line is a clear reference to his musical, Oh, Kay! There’s also an interesting line about touching Chaka Khan in the last verse. Khan is still alive and was only 42 at the time of this recording. Nonetheless, it’s a standout track with two lengthy instrumental sections that, while still heavy in sound, are far more upbeat than one would expect this kind of music to sound.

The next track, “Eleanor,” shows off the low end of Anneke’s vocal range, especially in the closing minute. “In Motion #1” and “Leaves” are both Anneke-heavy tracks, with the former boasting a dual-layered chorus. “Leaves” is much slower and is the most traditional doom song here, but Anneke is several octaves above it all.

The second half of Mandylion is much more instrumental-oriented, with vocals taking more of a secondary role. “Fear The Sea” is another slower number, driven by an especially poignant bass line. The midsection instrumental is a solid preview of what to expect on later works, such as How To Measure A Planet? The title track is a haunted instrumental that is powered by a theremin and what I believe are bongos, as well as numerous other electronics and a brief moment of Anneke singing upper-register ambient vocals. This has the feel of meditation following the consumption of various substances, but if you need to blaze it up in order to enjoy this song (and album), then you’re doing it wrong.

“Sand & Mercury” is a nice song, but at ten minutes is way too long. Following a varied instrumental, it completely changes gears following the halfway mark, slowing down to a crawl. Anneke comes in with vocals that aren’t especially powerful in a tangible sense, but strike a chord emotionally. The closer, “In Motion #2,” begins with a well-crafted use of strings. Although this isn’t Anneke’s best vocal display, the part where she sings “It is sad how the rain falls down” over a suddenly lively riff that reoccurs later is among the album’s best moments.

To be clear, this isn’t an “Anneke van Giersbergen is great and the rest of the band just serves as her cronies” album. What she does is breathe life into the music, which was already good but not spectacular before she came in. In every track there is an instrumental section that makes the listener take notice to just how great the band is as a whole. The following effort, Nighttime Birds, was more experimental but did not resonate with me nearly as much as this did. How To Measure A Planet?, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

Overall: There will never be another album that effectively blends doom metal with top-notch female vocals to the extent that Mandylion achieved.

Rating: 5.0*

Bonus Thoughts: “Strange Machines” and “Sand & Mercury” each have samples that, until reading about where they originally come from, don’t make much sense. The one from “Strange Machines” is fairly straightforward, as it comes from a film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, while the one that ends “Sand & Mercury” is J.R.R. Tolkien reading a quote from 20th century French feminist Simone de Beauvoir.

A Guide to Analyzing (or writing) Over The Seize’s Album Reviews

By: Kris Kotlarik

Writing album reviews is something I have always taken great pleasure in. Trying to talk about most albums is much more difficult to express in an articulate way than it is for me to write it out, although there are a few that I will talk your head off about.

Starting tomorrow (May 30), I will begin writing album reviews under the Over The Seize flag. Each week, I will aim to write at least four reviews:
-1 recently released album from a band based in the state of Ohio. This is part of the “Local Waters” feature.
-1 recently released album from any band, anywhere. This is part of either the “National Uprising” or “Global Conquest” feature.
-1 album that I had no knowledge about before acquiring, released at any time, from any location. This will always be a “first listen” review and can be part of any of the aforementioned features.
-1 album from any period of time that I have listened to a multitude of times and either love it or fell out of favor with it.

The way I rate the albums I review revolves around top-to-bottom listenability. A highly rated album is almost guaranteed to never contain lulls or filler tracks. If there are “filler” tracks, they serve a purpose. This criteria often covers musicianship, lyrical content and production, in that order. Other factors I consider include perceived originality and, if applicable, replay value.

This is done using a 5-point scale. Some sample ratings:

5.0: An album that should be widely appreciated by fans of almost every genre. Entertaining from beginning to end on every listen. Extremely innovative and/or diverse. There are only a handful of albums that I will ever give this rating to.
Example: Devin Townsend – Ocean Machine

4.5: A fantastic album with negligible “slip-ups” that prevent it from reaching the all-time greats. Will still easily fall into my top 50 albums of all time and is a mortal lock to be in my top three albums of any given year.
Examples: Anathema – Weather Systems; The Gathering – Mandylion; Arcturus – The Sham Mirrors

4.0: A good album that could have been even better if a few songs were taken out or made shorter/longer. Guaranteed to make the top 30 of any year-end list I may end up writing.
Examples: Testament – The Gathering; Vader – Revelations; Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy

3.5: Missing a few components that would have otherwise given it a 4.0 or 4.5. Still a solid listen from top to bottom, but won’t be revisited as often.
Examples: Stolen Babies – There Be Squabbles Ahead; Melechesh – Emissaries; Blind Guardian – Tales From The Twilight World

3.0: This rating has often been frequented by albums that have approximately three or four amazing songs (or approximately one-quarter of the album in length), but the rest of the album usually gets ignored.
Examples: Krisiun – The Great Execution; Napalm Death – Utilitarian; Strapping Young Lad – Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing

2.5: An album that I have no strong feelings for one way or the other. Any positive comment is often outweighed by a negative one. This is the kind of album that would probably be relegated to the NIT if there was an album tournament, or something to the effect of the Little Caesar’s Bowl in the College Football multiverse. Someone else would then say “That team got snubbed! They should have gotten in over this team!” And I wouldn’t argue with you about it at all.
Examples: Turisas – Turisas2013; Ministry – Relapse; Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth

2.0: There’s going to be a couple songs that will make me say “If the rest of the album was like this, I would’ve loved every second of it.” Otherwise, nothing special.
Examples: Alcest – Shelter; Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen; Nevermore – Enemies Of Reality

1.5: Bits and pieces of this album are good and will get some play in the right setting; the rest of the album is rather uninteresting.
Examples: The second disk of Casualties of Cool; Sabaton – Heroes; Meshuggah – Koloss

1.0: Bits and pieces of this album are decent and I guess I would tolerate it if I was in the car or something; the rest of the album is nearly unlistenable.
Examples: Steel Panther – Feel the Steel; Jorn – Lonely are the Brave; Anvil – This is Thirteen

0.5: Very few redeeming qualities. Will never play again and hopefully won’t have to talk about it again.
Examples: Sonata Arctica – Stones Grow Her Name; Adrenaline Mob – Men of Honor; HIM – Razorblade Romance

0: Truly awful. Will roast this album/band to shreds:
Examples: Emmure, Five Finger Death Punch, Miss May I, Staind, etc.

And then there’s the albums I won’t even review because it’s not anything I would ever enjoy listening to in any setting and would therefore give it, at the very best, a 0.5 if I were to actually review it.
Examples: Pitbull, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, Lil Jon, etc.

Bear in mind that some of these bands whose albums I rated lowly are some of my favorite bands. Please don’t pick a fight with me over why I gave something such a low rating on this post. It isn’t meant to be taken seriously; just as a baseline for my own tastes.

Now, for those who wish to review albums with Over The Seize, I don’t care what your criteria is for your reviews, but I do expect it to be similarly selective. You should only have a handful of albums that you truly consider masterpieces, and only a handful of bands/albums that you consider to be truly awful. I also ask that you send an “about me and my review ratings” so that I can post it as one of the pages here. Thanks for reading. I will take some requests on occasion so feel free to pitch some review ideas.

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