The Gathering

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The Gathering - Always... ©1992 Foundation 2000
1. The Mirror Waters
2. Subzero
3. In Sickness And Health
4. King For A Day
5. Second Sunrise
6. Stonegarden
7. Always...
8. Gaya's Dream

The original CD outing for The Gathering was an interesting, if somewhat tepid blend of death metal (mainly in the grunting vocals), atmospheric keyboards and occasional female vocals thrown in (a real piece of foreshadowing for the band's future). Always... is one of those records that is likeable, but certainly not mandatory in life. With the exception of the title track, these gloomy songs all range from nearly five minutes in length on, with most hovering around the six or seven minute mark. The general songwriting pattern is to let the songs move along slowly to create longer passages that breathe. Whether they get oxygen or not is another call. Whenever I have played this album, half the time it fades into background music. It isn't the sort of album that commands a lot of active attention. Nevertheless, it is something I seem to keep on my shelf for historical reasons, if nothing else. Check it out if you're a Gathering fan wondering about their roots or have a thing for keyboard laced atmospheric doom metal.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/1999

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Almost A Dance

The Gathering - Almost A Dance ©1993 Foundation 2000
1. On A Wave
2. The Blue Vessel
3. Her Last Flight
4. The Sky People
5. Nobody Dares
6. Like Fountains
7. Proof
8. Heartbeat Amplifier
9. A Passage To Desire

I guess every band has to have redheaded stepchild album that they'd just prefer not to acknowledge. This just happens to be the one The Gathering would probably just prefer to pretend never happened. Original singer Bart Smits had left the band and for some strange reason, the remaining bandmembers picked up this Niels Duffuens character. After listening to this album, I can honestly say this is perhaps the most mismatched combination of well written and developed doom/dark metal and nasally punk rock singing. In a nutshell, it doesn't work one iota. The Gathering's core songwriting was improving as all the backing songs are pretty darn good...however, the second Niels opened his mouth and overenunciated everything in his off-key terrible voice, it's ruined. Not too often do I find myself cringing this much over somebody's bad vocals. Can't the Gathering find the master tapes, delete the vocals, and re-release as an instrumental album? Almost a Dance is almost a good album.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/1998

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The Gathering - Mandylion ©1995 Century Media
1. Strange Machines
2. Eléanor
3. In Motion #1
4. Leaves
5. Fear The Sea
6. Mandylion
7. Sand And Mercury
8. In Motion #2

This album was probably the most instrumental of bringing me back to taking metal seriously again from my punk leanings. Foregoing all death metal roots, The Gathering creates what, in my humble opinion, is the epitome of good music. I'll make no bones in saying Anneke van Giersbergen has the most beautiful voice around and I would happily place her on any pedestal of her choice were she to give me the chance. Soothing, emotional, dark, uplifting, and depressing all at once, Mandylion is unbelievable. Unlike other female metal singers, Anneke doesn't screech or shriek. Her powerful, soaring voice commands attention. Musically, The Gathering employs many weapons to create a musical landscape that relies less and less on metal than it does on classical influences. This is one of the few albums that never fails to move me when I listen to it.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/1998

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Strange Machines [Single]

The Gathering - Strange Machines Single ©1995 Century Media
1. Strange Machines (single Edit)
2. Strange Machines (album Version)
3. In Motion #1 (live)
4. Leaves (live)

One of the singles from the Mandylion album, Strange Machines features two versions of the song as well as two live tracks for a gig the band actually bothered to show up for. (Yes, I'm making a personal dig at them.) The two live tracks have decent quality overall and show the band is capable of delivering their sound in a live setting. Perhaps the only flaw is the guitar tracks are a bit lower than they should be, but then again, this isn't some weak bootleg either. Fans of the Gathering will probably find this of interest but the main recommendation still lies with the full studio albums.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/1999

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Adrenaline/Leaves [Single]

The Gathering - Adrenaline/Leaves Single ©1996 Century Media
1. Adrenaline
2. Leaves (edit)
3. Third Chance
4. Leaves (album Version)

This single features a couple new studio tracks (one of which, "Third Chance", would be re-worked for Nighttime Birds) as well as two versions of Mandylion's "Leaves" to jog memories. The opener "Adrenaline" is a pretty straightfoward and good piece of work that focuses more on rocking out than being atmospheric. Of course, The Gathering really isn't a "rocking" band but "Adrenaline" and "Third Chance" come close. The early version of "Third Chance" is only slightly different than the final album version but it has grown on me with each listen. Chances are you don't really need this single, but for the Gathering fans who grovel at the feet of everything the band does, it is worth it.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/1999

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Nighttime Birds

The Gathering - Nighttime Birds ©1997 Century Media
1. On Most Surfaces
2. Confusion
3. The May Song
4. The Earth Is My Witness
5. New Moon, Different Day
6. Third Chance
7. Kevin's Telescope
8. Nighttime Birds
9. Shrink

The Gathering's previous album, Mandylion, was one of the best surprises of the past couple years. The band had shed their death metal roots, found themselves an incredible new singer in Anneke van Giersbergen, and set upon the world at large with their new product. From the time I found Mandylion last summer till now, I have been impatiently awaiting the release of the next Gathering album. When I found out it wasn't going to be released stateside until August 12th, I gave up and spent the money on an import. After all, who can wait?

Of course, anticipation can be deadly. Whenever a band has to follow up a particularly brilliant album, it is a difficult task. Fans like myself expect and want another great album and if we don't get it, boy can we be nasty. Luckily, while this isn't as immediately powerful as their previous, Nighttime Birds is a fantastic album. Even my little death metal friends are in love with the quiet intensity of The Gathering.

The last album was more a mix between the Gathering's musical style of old and adding Anneke's soaring vocals in afterwards. That somewhat drastic contrast actually made for great music. Here, the music is being written more for the vocals. Overall the entire disc is much more mellow and floating. Songs take a little bit longer to absorb than before. I'm already on my third listen and it becomes more endearing each time I put it in the CD player. Again, Anneke is the highlight here. "Third Chance" gets a real boost with the intensity put forth over the great chorus with Anneke putting some real emotion into her voice. "The May Song" also benefits as both music and voice are mixed perfectly. And the title track is positively haunting.

My overall opinion is that this album is very close to being a perfect followup. There are a couple moments that drag on a bit, but the album becomes more entrenched in my soul every time I listen to it. Maybe now, with the popularity of girl bands, the Gathering has a slight chance to make inroads in the States. Anyone of my friends who has heard the Gathering has liked it, regardless of what musical genre they prefer. I implore Century Media to push this band...they deserve it.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/1997

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How To Measure A Planet

The Gathering - How To Measure A Planet ©1998 Century Media
CD one:
1. Frail (you Might As Well Be Me)
2. Great Ocean Road
3. Rescue Me
4. My Electricity
5. Liberty Bell
6. Red Is A Slow Colour
7. The Big Sleep
8. Marooned
9. Travel
CD two:
10. South American Ghost Ride
11. Illuminating
12. Locked Away
13. Probably Built In The Fifties
14. How To Measure A Planet

Contrary to what some of the metal purist wags might have to believe about the Gathering taking a full left turn and truly shedding their roots as a death metal band, How to Measure a Planet is simply a stunning album. The Gathering seem to following in the footsteps of their labelmates Tiamat by pursuing a flight into atmospheric rock. By shifting away from metal entirely, the Gathering stand to lose those who rally against progression. Fortunately, what the Gathering has summoned forth is a true, natural progression rather than a forced change in their sound. Mandylion, the band's first with vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen, was indeed a classic and a milestone, but I would argue that it would come off unnatural for this group to continue playing that particular vein of music. 1997's Nighttime Birds was another fine album, though not quite as moving as its predecessor. But How to Measure a Planet stands tall entirely on the feet of their new sound. It's as if the band decided to write music that truly fit Anneke's fine voice. Defying analytical description and genre pigeonholing, the album is vaguely in the same territory as The 3rd & the Mortal on In This Room, shirking the avantgarde and freakout tendencies of that band. Guitarist Rene Rutten adds a new dimension to the band's sound with some seriously dirty (in that good distortion way) guitar work that graces the harder-edged songs like "Great Ocean Road", "Liberty Bell" or "Rescue Me". Drummer Hans Rutten serves up a whole slew of world-edged rhythms to further enhance the flow of the two CD set.

Of the highlights - and there are many on this double CD - "Liberty Bell" is the most immediate of the songs. Anneke's sense of superb and meaningful melody hooks you from the outset. "The Big Sleep" is introduced by a very ambient and echoing keyboard palette further marked by Anneke's truly haunting singing. The next two tracks, "Marooned" and "Travel", both demonstrate the ability of a good voice being utilized perfectly. The way it carries emotion and power strikes me directly in the heart and soul. The entire first disc is easily a masterpiece, flowing so well and perfectly that time becomes immaterial during its play. It truly pulls me into a new world of thought where the music is the true focal point of what's right in the universe. Yup. I like it that much. The second disc is also quite good, just not quite the same level. Naturally a lot of talk has been made about the twenty-some minute title track, which essentially is an instrumental featuring a great little riff eventually deconstructing down into Anneke doing vocal effects. By the time you hit minute fifteen, you can safely turn it off if it's getting to you. It's the only track on the double album needing SongTrim®.

Whereas the previous two albums with Anneke occasionally had uncomfortable moments where Anneke's voice didn't quite match the heavier music or lagged just slightly as the album wore on, How to Measure a Planet is solid throughout. To be honest, I wouldn't have argued with a track that rocked out the same way "Third Chance" did on Nighttime Birds. But like Tiamat's wonderful A Deeper Kind of Slumber from 1997, I truly am moved by this direction and have been playing this album nonstop for the past week. A monumental and defining moment for this outstanding band from the Netherlands. Oh, one last thing...someone needs to get this outfit over here so we can see them live! It's my new quest in life. (Too bad the band didn't show up for their scheduled gig when they finally did tour the U.S. My quests in life have changed a lot since then.)

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/1999

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Rollercoaster [Single]

The Gathering - Rollercoaster Single ©2000 Century Media
1. Rollercoaster (Radio Edit)
2. Theme From 'The Cyclist'
3. Leaves (Live With The Metropole Orchestra)
4. Liberty Bell (CD-ROM Videoclip)

Rollercoaster, the Gathering's latest single and first off of their new album If_Then_Else, is a short but sweet little CD that includes the "Rollercoaster" radio edit (not that any American station would ever play the song), "Theme From 'The Cyclist'," a live version of "Leaves" that was recorded with the Metropole Orchestra, and finally a CD-ROM video of the song "Liberty Bell."

As with all singles, Rollercoaster is only worth it for fanatical Gathering fans like me. The title track is similar stylistically to the atmospheric space rock songs off How to Measure a Planet?, but is less meandering and more streamlined rock n' roll. The highlights here are Anneke's beautiful vocal harmonies, layered in such a way that they create a lovely "echo" effect. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that "Theme From 'The Cyclist'" is a song written in tribute to a movie, perhaps the seminal Italian film The Bicycle Thief? Anyway, I couldn't find very much information on movies that are named The Cyclist, so this remains just a theory of mine. An instrumental that begins gently with piano and percussion, strings and brasses swell "The Cyclist" to a climax before the music fades away. Jazzy and orchestral, this is not something one would ordinarily expect from Holland's finest. While it is certainly a curiosity, this orchestrated version of "Leaves" unfortunately comes off as disappointing. Problem is, the orchestra sounds so amateurish that it might as well be a high school marching band, as suggested by a friend of mine. Perhaps "Leaves" simply isn't suited for an orchestra, or perhaps it was hastily arranged; either way, nothing beats the original. The real treat here is the "Liberty Bell" video, as seen on music television stations that are not named MTV or VH1. The clip is of a very high quality, and Anneke sounds and looks great from beginning to end. The videoclip alone making this one of the Gathering's better singles, it wouldn't hurt to pick up Rollercoaster if you happen to find it.

Review by Jeffrey Shyu

Review date: 07/2000

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The Gathering - If_then_else ©2000 Century Media
1. Rollercoaster
2. Shot To Pieces
3. Amity
4. Bad Movie Scene
5. Colorado Incident
6. Beautiful War
7. Analog Park
8. Herbal Movement
9. Saturnine
10. Morphia's Waltz
11. Pathfinder

Honing down their prolific tendencies to a single disc with the release of If_then_else, The Gathering continue on the path they initiated with the adventurous and quite wonderful How to Measure a Planet?. This new release finds the band trimming down some of the excess and copiusness of their previous double disc to a much more focused work that does nothing more than establish this band's sound. Strangely, though some will disagree vehemently, where the Gathering has arrived in 2000 is not terribly far from where they began in 1995 on Mandylion when vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen hopped aboard. While much of the fringe-of-metal stylings are long gone, If_then_else offers a very boundless and limitless sound that is fully engulfed in the concept of providing the listener with lushness and warmth. Yet at the heart of it all, If_then_else is not an illogical or unexpected continuation of this band's music. For those with short memories, the title track of Mandylion was a hint at things and the band's ability to create a mood and musical setting is still quite intact, perhaps more fully realized than in the past.

If_then_else's main advantage over its double album predecessor is that the shorter length of the album allows the record to be much more focused and able to retain the attention span of the average listener. Rather than meander over the course of one hundred minutes, this album puts together the ideas of the last three albums into a fifty minute excursion. Moreover, the songwriting here is brilliant. The band utilizes a variety of guitar approaches, including some heavy moments, as well as a better sense of how to use the synthesizers. This becomes the type of album that immediately captures the listener and enthralls him/her throughout the album. With a good sense of variance through the disc, there is little chance one will become weary of the album. Some of the highlights include the moody "Morphia's Waltz", one of the rare examples of the band simply rocking out on "Shot to Pieces", the quiet tension of "Amity" and "Analog Park". Most importantly, there is no filler material anywhere here.

With any luck, this band will get some attention this time around from a different musical crowd. The Gathering, with their sense of lush and warm music, should have great appeal to anyone who listened to a multitude of 4AD Records artists, including Dead Can Dance or the Cocteau Twins. Any fan of their last record will find an immense amount of music to deeply enjoy here as well. This band continues to prove that above all else, they can still make wonderful and moving music.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2000

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The Gathering - Superheat ©2000 Century Media
1. The Big Sleep
2. On Most Surfaces
3. Probably Built In The Fifties
4. Liberty Bell
5. Marooned
6. Rescue Me
7. Strange Machines
8. Nighttime Birds
9. My Electricity
10. Sand And Mercury
11. Eleanor (CD Rom Track)

Enthralled by the Gathering's first two Anneke albums, I had been slightly let down by their double album How to Measure a Planet?, which I felt was a tad overlong, directionless and less than memorable. I wasn't really looking forward to live versions of their more dreamy material; I feared it would only become dreamier and more meandering in a live setting and with lesser sound quality to boot. As most of this album's tracks are off How to Measure a Planet?, with a couple of songs each from their previous two discs, my hopes weren't too high.

Overall, the songs remain very close to the studio originals, with rawer, more upfront vocals which were apparently not fixed in postproduction. The audience clearly loves the band, and the venues seem rather small, contributing to a cozy atmosphere. The mix and performance are really quite good and one does not once miss the lusher studio production values the Gathering had exhibited on their previous two albums. In fact, the in-your-face vocals tend to make up for the less compelling moments ("Liberty Bell", "Rescue Me"), and hearing Anneke rock out on earlier songs ("On Most Surfaces"), laryngeal strain and all, is a very nice treat indeed.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 06/2001

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Downfall: The Early Years

The Gathering - Downfall: The Early Years ©2001 - Hammerheart
1. In Sickness and Health
2. Gaya's Dream
3. Always...
4. Subzero
5. Anthology in Black
6. Second Sunrise
7. Downfall
8. In Sickness and Health
9. Second Sunrise
10. Six Dead, Three to Go
11. Downfall
12. Another Day
13. Share the Wisdom

Downfall: The Early Years is nothing more than a collection of The Gathering's first pair of demos plus an unreleased 7" record. As just about everyone knows, The Gathering started out their existence as a death metal band that incorporated a considerable amount of keyboards and atmospheric elements, much more so than just about any of their contemporaries. If you'll recall, in the late 80s, the idea of keyboards being part of metal was anathema to many fans, so for a death metal band to use keyboards must have been quite the mind blowing concept. (Nevermind that Nocturnus was up to somewhat similar hijinks.) The Gathering ultimately ditched their death metal singer, gave us a mulligan on the dreadful Almost a Dance, and finally settled on a completely different approach once Anneke van Giersbergen joined before Mandylion. From that point onwards it was nothing but good times and relative prominence for The Gathering, as well as a continual evolution away from their early sound.

If you're a fan who caught on during the Anneke era and don't have an ear for death metal, it's safe to say you absolutely will never miss Downfall, even as a curiosity. The truly curious are encouraged to check out the band's debut Always, which features a good chunk of these songs with a better studio sound quality. If you're like me, and have little patience for the demo quality sound, this particular collection lacks any appeal. Although The Gathering managed to record demos that had tolerable quality (in the context of demos), hearing them mastered onto a compact disc doesn't enhance the experience a whole lot. Some of the songs are repeated as they appeared on both of their early demos (An Imaginary Symphony and Moonlight Archer). As a result, I find little of interest on Downfall. It struck me as a cash-in of sorts to capitalize on the general popularity The Gathering was enjoying in 2001, despite the fact that their initial recordings sounded utterly nothing like 2001's if_then_else.

I am aware that there are completists out there who simply must have an entire band's discography. I suppose there are also those whose toes curl up in pleasure over the thought of hearing a demo, perhaps reveling in some belief that one is sharing in the genesis and embryonic stage of a band. If you're one of these two types of fans, then Downfall is for you. For the rest of us, there really is no compelling reason to have this.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2012

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Black Light District EP

The Gathering - Black Light District EP ©2002 Psychonaut Records
1. Black Light District
2. Debris
3. Broken Glass (piano Version)

In the time since If_then_else, Dutch transcendental rockers have slowly been edging away from their metal roots in the form of starting their own record label and looking to sever ties with Century Media, their longtime label. In the meantime, the band has also recorded and released an EP under their new imprint, Psychonaut Records. This lengthy three song EP also features some multimedia material for those who fancy using their computers for something more than a spiffy game console.

The title track to this EP is a sixteen-plus minute affair that seemingly attempts to create, build and sustain a mood over that course of time. Unlike the deconstruction of How to Measure a Planet's final track, "Black Light District" unevenly remains musical and only semi-ambient. Unfortunately, the biggest problem is that often the music stays in one place, leaving your typical listener in the state of tuning out or looking for something a little more invigorating to play. Once the entirety of the song has passed, it is almost as though you really heard nothing much at all. The other two tracks are considerably more interesting. "Debris" features a much more lively guitar approach with grinding bass and effects. "Broken Glass" is based on piano (hence the subtitle "Piano Version") with Anneke's voice layered over top.

Black Light District continues the band's process of moving into a sound that is most likely going to appeal to Projekt Records as opposed to My Dying Bride's fanbase. This EP sadly is quite uneven and the daunting task of sitting through the title track may regale this disc to shelfcore status. Despite my enjoyment of the "non-metal" Gathering releases, Black Light District is maddenly ho-hum and too dry to completely lose myself within. With any luck, the songwriting woes will be rectified whenever the band gets around to another full length release.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/2002

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The Gathering - Souvenirs ©2003 Psychonaut Records
1. These Good People
2. Even The Spirits Are Afraid
3. Broken Glass
4. You Learn About It
5. Souvenirs
6. We Just Stopped Breathing
7. Monsters
8. Golden Grounds
9. Jelena
10. A Life All Mine

As last year's Black Light District EP showed, The Gathering are finally poised to fully step away from the trappings of their death metal roots. By 2003 A.D., The Gathering have gone through some great lengths to demonstrate their artistic wishes, including severing their contract with Century Media in order to create their own label to properly market their music. While their last full length CD, If_then_else, still retained a certain amount of heaviness, Souvenirs is a complete dive into their mildly psychedelic, modern sounding lush rock.

Souvenirs is a fulfillment of an artistic promise first whispered on How to Measure a Planet? from 1998. The very core for The Gathering's current style has been present for many years, so this can't possibly come as a surprise to anyone except perhaps the most tunnel visioned of listeners out there. Souvenirs simply focuses on using guitar more for texture as opposed to heaviness, while composing the majority of the music on expressive and contemplative sounding synthesizers. If one ever wanted a Gathering record that sounded like they were auditioning to get on Projekt, this is it. The songs employ a slight sense of modern electronics, particularly in the drums and sampled beats that occasionally pop up. Anneke's singing is completely appropriate for this backdrop; her light, airy voice sounds more uplifting and expressive than ever. The mood throughout the CD is quite consistent: think of a moment in your life which required quiet meditation. Souvenirs is that album you put on to induce that mood.

On a whole, Souvenirs is a quite enjoyable album. It's encouraging to see the band willing to finally forego any tailings of the past to devote their artistic energies to the music they wish to create. Black Light District worried me, but Souvenirs has given the band redemption. Over time, I suspect that we'll only hear better and better music from this impressive group.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/2003

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Sleepy Buildings

The Gathering - Sleepy Buildings ©2004 Century Media
1. Locked Away
2. Saturnine
3. Amity
4. The Mirror Waters
5. Red Is A Slow Colour
6. Sleepy Buildings
7. Travel
8. Shrink
9. In Motion Part II
10. Stonegarden
11. My Electricity
12. Eleanor
13. Marooned
14. Like Fountains

The Gathering released a handful of thunderously beautiful albums in the 1990s (Mandylion and Nighttime Birds in particular), then swiftly proceeded to lose any shred of interest they might have elicited in me with some of the most boring pseudo-dreamy-ambient-slow drivel this side of Porcupine Tree (How to Measure a Planet). Their later output was hit-or-miss, with a few gems and a few duds on most of their subsequent records, so I was vaguely intrigued when I found out about this mostly-acoustic live project and its track list that reached back into The Gathering's more glorious past, as well as dipping into their more recent and less exciting material.

One of the benefits of a stripped down live set is that any artist with a sense of propriety will have the decency to chuck their more meandering pointless material and focus on the good stuff, and that's exactly what The Gathering did here. The track listing is very satisfying indeed, with such excellent songs as "Saturnine" and "Eleanor" being given the ol' acoustic treatment and top vocal performances. Singer Anneke has (thankfully) decided to ditch most (though, sadly, not all) of the vocal mannerisms she had shown on recent releases and to focus on a less forced but more powerfully natural delivery, which particularly shines on a superbly low-key rendition of one of the band's best songs, "In Motion part II". Overall, and not surprisingly, it is the older material that benefits most from the quiet reworkings, perhaps because the heavier originals required more attention in the rearrangement process than the newer, already mellow songs (not to mention the fact that those older songs are greatly superior). Performance-wise, the band is tight enough, with the occasional underprocessed guitar plonk and vocal mini-croak, but hey, this is supposed to be a live album, and at least the band is good enough au naturel to not require extensive studio fixing after the fact.

Overall, then, Sleepy Buildings is a pretty damn good album with solid performances and a good mix of older and newer material - although one might have preferred more oldies.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 07/2004

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Accessories - Rarities & B-Sides

The Gathering - Accessories - Rarities & B-Sides ©2005 Century Media
1. In Motion #1 (Live)
2. Leaves (Live)
3. Adrenaline
4. Third Chance (alt. version)
5. Strange Machines (live w/ Orchestra)
6. In Power We Trust The Love Advocated (Dead Can Dance cover version)
7. When the Sun Hits (Slowdive cover version)
8. Confusion (demo/Eroc session)
9. Shrink (alt. version)
10. Frail (live)
11. Them from 'The Cyclist'
12. Leaves (live w/ Orchestra)
13. Life's What You Make It (Talk Talk cover version)
14. Amity (live at Isabelle)
15. New Moon, Different Day
16. Kevin's Telescope (instr.)
17. Shrink
18. The Earth Is My Witness
19. Diamond Box (previously unreleased instr.)
20. Nightttime Birds
21. On Most Surfaces
22. Hjelmar's (previously unreleased instr.)
23. My Electricity
24. Probably Built in the Fifties
25. Illuminating
26. Red Is a Slow Colour
27. Travel

Somewhere in the mid 00s, the Gathering's output veered away from new studio recordings and entered the dreaded world of live albums and compilations. The non studio release output fortunately didn't become Hawkwind-esque, but it does seem apparent that Century Media was trying to find new ways to keep the cash coming in once The Gathering started releasing albums on their own label. Moreover, it was likely Century Media wanted to keep rehashing the so-called glory days of Mandylion and Nighttime Birds, the brief era featuring Anneke van Giersbergen while the band's musical focus was still mostly rooted in heavy metal. But despite all the necessary skepticism regarding live releases and compilation albums, Accessories is actually one of those rare collections that offer a dizzying cache of otherwise hard to find (or unreleased) songs for the fans to dig into.

Accessories contains nearly two and a half hours of music. It is split up between demo tracks and B-sides. Unlike Downfall: the Early Years, which compiled the band's earliest doom/death metal demos, the various demos here are professionally recorded and are not excruciatingly lo-fi exercises in cheap practice room recording techniques. Accessories also digs deeply into the b-sides of the singles released over the years, offering up some cover songs of Dead Can Dance, Talk Talk and Slowdive, as well as alternate takes. There are also a handful of live tracks sprinkled throughout including some where the band pairs up with an orchestra. Van Giersbergen's voice tends to sound a tad strained on the live songs, making these selections the least appealing on the compilation.

As for the demo tracks that make up the second disc of the compilation, these selections indicate the band often had a fairly solid idea of how a song would be finalized on a studio release. Although there are obvious differences between the demos and finished versions, the songs do not significantly vary from what fans have heard on Nighttime Birds and How To Measure a Planet. Granted, for some fans even the minute details may be of great interest.

Because of the depth of otherwise difficult or impossible to find material, Accessories manages to become one of those true rarities: a compilation worth seeking out. Whether you're after some of the b-sides, or want to hear the earlier versions of familiar songs, Accessories has a lot to offer The Gathering's fanbase. The live albums of the 00s can safely be avoided, but this compilation is one that should be picked up at some point.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2012

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The Gathering - Home ©2006 The End Records
1. Shortest Day
2. In Between
3. Alone
4. Waking Hour
5. Fatigue
6. A Noise Severe
7. Forgotten
8. Solace
9. Your Troubles Are Over
10. Box
11. The Quiet One
12. Home
13. Forgotten Reprise

Although no one knew it at the time, 2006's Home is the final studio recording featuring vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen, the siren whose excellent voice catapulted The Gathering from their atmospheric death/doom beginnings into metal stardom (and ultimately away from the metal realm altogether). Sadly, this swan song for Anneke also happens to be The Gathering's least interesting records since she took over the vocal reins in 1995. Home is the sound of a band that isn't aware their inspiration had dried up.

Home is an album I really do want to like, since I'm not one of the metal purists who freaked out when The Gathering began to deviate into other styles on How to Measure a Planet?. Home simply lacks the strong songwriting that has marked the band's career from Mandylion onwards. Since I purchased this CD a year and a half ago, I don't believe I've quite sat through the whole thing more than once, as it is a pleasant, easy on the ears and entirely dull affair which inspires most listeners to find something else to play. The album's style is somewhat muted and minimalized a bit for the recording, attempting to work with quieter arrangements and perhaps put some "space" into the dynamics. That's all well and good, until you realize these are just not that great of songs. Everything is performed to the band's high talent level, but that still doesn't translate into songs I particularly want to hear again.

Anneke's 2007 departure from the band indicates to me that the creative juices between the members of The Gathering weren't flowing as strongly as they had in the past and it was time for a parting of the ways. Perhaps this was something that should have been done before Home, but it's now a documented album that serves as their least necessary studio effort since the hilariously rotten Almost a Dance (the pre-Anneke effort that featured the deplorable vocals of Niels Duffhues). Although Home is still head and shoulders above that particular ignoble album, it fails to be compelling as a Gathering record should be.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/2008

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The West Pole

The Gathering - The West Pole ©2009 Psychonaut
1. When Trust Becomes Sound
2. Treasure
3. All You Are
4. The West Pole
5. No Bird Call
6. Capital of Nowhere
7. You Promised Me a Symphony
8. Pale Traces
9. No One Spoke
10. Constant Run

By now, anyone who has followed the ramblings of The Gathering is aware that this is the first effort without longtime vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen, who left the band in 2007 to form her own project Agua de Annique. This move came on the heels of Home, which was certainly one of The Gathering's least enthralling releases since their early days. Unfortunately, Agua de Annique's debut, Air, was equally dull. Meanwhile, The Gathering simply picked up a new vocalist named Silje Wergeland and took a little time before issuing a new album.

When The Gathering first found Anneke back in 1995, the move was rather significant in the metal world as not many bands featured a female vocalist with a powerful voice. Since then, the frontwoman in metal has become rather standard, so The Gathering isn't exactly breaking down the barriers of music with Wergeland. But without a doubt, The Gathering is aware of precisely which side of their bread gets buttered, so the selection of Wergeland finds the band sticking to their guns. She does not venture terribly far from the sound The Gathering has cultivated throughout the last decade. Listening to her debut performance on The West Pole, one can instantly picture her capturing all the band's past material quite adeptly in concert. On the flipside, she doesn't establish a truly unique presence in the grand scheme of things, but that's forgiveable since the talent is solid.

The West Pole starts out with some rather jangly guitar rock, but ultimately the album spends a lot of time in Pensive Land, where singers brood about introspective topics. The first three songs are quite engaging and intriguing, but the pace slows down. Fortunately, the songwriting seems punchier and stronger than Home, but at the same time the music still dwells in the lazy, hazy area where metal, dreampop and shoegaze music meet. While there's a lot of territory to be explored there, The West Pole doesn't quite create images of Ferdinand Magellan or Sir Francis Drake bravely forging into unknown territory (despite the inconvenient fact people had lived in "the new world" for centuries, but that's another discussion for a different day).

A step up from Home, The West Pole is an adequate release that should please most fans of The Gathering (the post 1999 fans, that is). The remaining members of The Gathering do, however, demostrate beyond a shadow of doubt that they are far more than a mere backdrop for their former vocalist.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/2009

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