[Metal/Gothic Metal] The Gathering – Always (25th Anniversary Release)

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of The Gathering first album “Always”, released in June , 1992. I retrospectively discovered this album after being introduced to the band through “Mandylion”. It was their only doom metal album, with Bart Smits in the growl, but man that was my gateway to doom/gothic metal. And even 25 years later, it still have the freshness. It is a 48 minutes album, spanning over 8 tracks, nicely blending the guitars and the keyboards.
We got into it “The Mirrors Waters”, that has this distinctive keyboard tunes opening the track and bringing on the heaviness cloak of doom, rapidly introducing Bart growls. The second track, “Subzero”, brings a higher speed tone but never sacrifice the heaviness. The third track, “In Sickness And Health”, continues into the doom with an heavy influence of the keyboards. It is a nice one, but kind of a weak one too. “King for A Day”, wipes it out from your mind pretty quickly, imposing itself as my favorite track. Its starts heavy and doom to slowly transition into a progressive track with the keyboards leading the way and giving Marieke Groot (the female supporting vocal) a full opportunity to display her vocal performance.  With Barts hitting the low cleans and Marieke hitting the high notes, it gives this magic atmosphere.
The rest of the album continues in the doom tunes with “Second Sunrise” and “Stonegarden”, two enjoyable tracks. “Always” breaks the mold as an instrumental mostly played on the keyboards with backing drums, feeling you sailing boat ashore. “Gaya’s Dream”, the last track, concludes the album with the same tunes that most of the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, that was the only album from the band that was close from doom as it can be. Their second album was honestly a disaster, a hodge podge, an UFO in their discography. By “Mandylion”, their third album, and the introduction of Anneke in the band, the sound was deeply settled into Gothic and lasted for their next two albums. There is a reason why Sam Dunn (BangerTV) had The Gathering placed in the Gothic Metal family tree, and they rightfully belongs to it. They set the tone for European metal bands in that genre and surely set the way for female-fronted gothic metal bands. I personally think the Gathering did a major public service to Dutch metal bands, as few years following their release and touring, Dutch metal bands flourished as tulips bringing some of the best metal to hear (Within Temptation, After Forever, Epica…)
There are two versions of the album: the original recording (see the featured image) and a re-engineered version dubbed “Downfall – The Early Years”. Avoid the latter one as the plague. The goal of a re-engineering is to improve the original master to a higher quality. Seems that the sound engineer behind that thought otherwise, resulting in a sort of washing machine sounds that in my opinion slash the original tracks.
Otherwise, if you want to hear some influential bands in the European Gothic Metal and like to explore some metal history, you should grab a copy and listen. A pleasurable experience to listen.

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[Metal/Gothic] The Gathering – Nighttime Birds (20th Anniversary Review)

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the Gathering fourth album “Nighttime Birds”. In my opinion this is the last best album from the album, right before they achieved their  transition into some more acoustic and trip-hop album. It has the vibes and the heaviness of “Mandylion” and yet also explored some new sounds. It is a 9-song album lasting 49 minutes.
If I had to go to a desert album and have to choose three albums of the band, this one will make it into the top 3 with “Always” and “Mandylion” (I guess by now you get the point that I am obsessed with the latter, no?)
We get introduced into it with “On Most Surfaces” directly a continuation of “Mandylion” with a lot of similarities with “Sand and Mercury”, in other words some musical delight. “Confusion” downplays the heaviness but still keep on the melodics we got accustomed to  in their previous album, allowing us to enjoy Anneke’s voice, having this kind of melancholic tone. Thats one of my favorite that’s acting as a tag when someone ask me “how The Gathering sounds like?”.
“The May Song” is already investing more into a more progressive sound, more trip-hop sounds clearly cueing us on how the band was envisioning themselves with their next albums. “The Earth Is My Witness” brings us the “Mandylion” feels, with Anneke’s lyrics and vocals making a prime example of the melodic style of this album: a transition from gothic metal into something more progressive. Another favorite.
“New Moon, Different Days” gives this chilling and relaxing feels, slowly swung by Anneke. Almost feels like a lullaby for a metalhead. “Third Chance” brings on the guitars and the gothic metal sounds, giving this extra kick, whereas “Kevin’s Telescope” brings us as a farewell note from “Mandylion” by its melodics and musical arrangement. “Nighttime Birds” indeed marks the blends of the past (“Mandylion”) and the upcoming future (“If Then Else”) artistic direction of the band, giving this surrealistic track, like a seal on a whole epoch.
Finally, the last title of the album “Shrink” a mostly acoustic (piano solo) with Anneke’s solo is just an amazing song to listen and enjoy. This was a time in which very few female voices were heard on the metal scene and really before the scene got populated by Tarja, Cristina and Sharon. I still remember this song, as it was part of the playlist of their gig in town, somewhere in 2003. Anneke performed it live with the lead singer of Pale Forest (the band that provided the opening act).
This album is in my opinion the epitaph of the band. This is where I felt the most comfortable with the band before moving away to other sounds. Other albums came such as “If Then Else”, “Souvenirs”, “How To Measure A Planet” but none of them had this attraction that I had with the previous ones. By then, the band sailed away into other shores.
If you are not a metalhead by heart and want to get introduced to the band, pick this one. It is a great primer and I would definitely recommend to swim upstream and explore their gothic/doom roots.

[Gothic Metal] The Gathering – Mandylion

This week marked the 21st anniversary of the release of The Gathering “Mandylion”album. I missed the 20th anniversary last year but later than never no?

The Gathering is a dutch gothic metal band formed in the early 1990s. You may not know them but you may know Anneke Van Giersbergen (The Gentle Storm). Yep, that the first band in Anneke career and what I can tell with Anneke on board that this band has experienced a lot. A lot that they went from full doom metal in their freshman album “Always” (with Bart Smits as the growl front singer) into full progressive and acoustic rock before their breakup.
Why I love this album? Maybe because it was the first album that dove me into female-fronted metal, maybe because it was the way I got introduced to the band (special thanks for Jean-Roch R. about this), maybe it was the nice guitar solo ballads mixed with the keyboards, maybe it was listening to Anneke.
For many reasons, I feel “Mandylion” and the next album “Nighttime Birds” the best albums. I got into it via their only videoclip of this album “Leaves”. Love at first sight! Back then iTunes was just released and finding a physical copy of the album was almost impossible. So I got into it via Napster and MP3 sharing.
Considering the release of the album in 1995, it is still impressive that after 20 years it still sound fresh and accessible. There are several nice tracks, starting with “Strange Machines” (the first song of the album) using footage of the movie “H.G.Wells Time Machine”, nicely blending Anneke’s voice with bass shredding. My second love is “Eleanor” that starts with keyboards and nicely begin with a guitar and bass, followed by Anneke. It starts mellow and then ramp up in speed. I like it so much I refer as the classical “The Gathering” style. The interesting part of the album is “In Motion #1” coming in the middle of the album and its ending part “In Motion #2”, but also pure instrumental track such as “Mandylion” and “Sand & Mercury”.
This album is in my opinion one of these album that were like preparing the metal scene with the arrival of FFM bands and the first generation of female metal singers including Tarja Turunen (Nightwish, Finland), Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation, Netherlands), Liv Kristin (Theatre of Tragedy, Norway) and Cristina Scabbier (Lacuna Coil, Italy) and Europe launch the invasion of FFM bands worldwide with a new wave of gothic metal that will quickly evolve into Symphonic metal, propelled by Therion “Theli”.
If you have to pick one album from their discography, it should be this one. A timeless masterpiece of the band.
As a treat, I posted the video of “Leaves”, note it is an edited version of the album. It is interesting to see Anneke back in her beginning.