Once upon a time there was an obscure little heavy metal band called The
Gathering. They've gone now - yet they're selling more than ever. You see - the line up has changed. Oh - most of them are still the same
people, but they have changed!
One of the clearest glimpses at The Gathering's wonderful musicianship and
versatile compositional skills was the all-acoustic Sleepy Buildings. It
wasn't the most exciting record, but you could tell that these were truly fine
musicians when they re-crafted much of their all-metal back catalog into
delicate, masterfully played unplugged pieces. But that record was also the
first hint that the band was moving slowly but deliberately away from its metal
Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday spent an hour talking to siren Anneke Van
Giersbergen, whose angelic vocals, launched a genre, spawned a legion of copycat
bands, and still define The Gathering's sound today. And foremost among the
conversation items was how The Gathering's music changed the genre, and how they
then left the genre behind.
As I reviewed Gathering's A Sound Relief DVD in November 2005,
something struck me as odd.
Long ago these guys used to be a standard heavy metal act, and when Anneke
joined them their new sound was female fronted heavy metal. This was
unique - hard-as-iron instrumentation, gloomy songs, distorted power chords
snapped off the bass strings in time with a double-bass kick, and over the top
of it all floated a gorgeous soprano. And so, a whole new genre was created. Call it what you will - Anneke calls it simply female-fronted metal - it was
new, it was melodic, it was heavy, and damn, it was something special!
And here's the odd part: Dozens of other bands have since emulated that 1990s
female-fronted metal sound - and as they capitalize on The Gathering's
successes, The Gathering themselves are moving away from it - a sort of
role reversal where the hen flew the coop leaving the chickens behind. The band
members have matured, and so has their music. It's more refined now, the
songwriting and the performances are more sophisticated, the song structures are
more progressive and intellectual - but at the same time it's also more
mainstream . White Willow, After Forever, Nightwish, Lacuna Coil,
Evanescence and Edenbridge - among others - are continuing to develop the genre. Have Anneke and company lost their edge?
"When we were younger there was less diversity in our minds, and in our lives
and in our music", Anneke tells me. "But as we grew up we had all these
influences on our lives, and in our music. That's the evolution ... and our
audience has grown with us." So I ask her how she would describe the music
the band plays today. "Well we eat from a lot of different tables, you know?
We're very influenced by the indie pop-culture. I think you could call us doomy rock, pop, alternative. So now you know exactly
nothing," she laughs! "It seems we're still appreciated by the metal crowd, but now
we're also very much appreciated by the pop culture."
Well yeah - but I'm trying to get her to agree that although the metal heads
of the world still feel a sense of proprietorship over the band, the music itself is no longer
metal. She finally comes around, with "Okay - not really, no - but we have
that background, you know? When the guys started the band they listened to
Celtic Frost and bands like that - very heavy influences, but
the melody was very important to those bands. And at the same time they
listened to a lot of Floyd - so there's always been a dark atmosphere, based on
beautiful melodies. We still have that now - you can make that as heavy or
as light as you want, and the metal crowd will like that dark edge. But you
couldn't really call it metal, no."
And the newest CD Home, scheduled for release in April 2006, is still
further from the band's earlier heaviness. I've reviewed Home here. The quality of The Gathering's albums is unequalled and their new CD will be one of the most polished,
professional records on the shelves in 2006. But you won't find a hint of the
progressive metallic sounds that first put them on the map. It's still
progressive in that it's well layered, there are interesting time signatures and
well managed tempo shifts. But through all of that, it has a radio-ready quality
- so I draw her back to her comment about the audience growing with the band.
"Oh they've changed very much! It used to be almost all boys, the metal and rock
crowd. They're still there but we've gained a girlie audience now," she
laughs. "Which is quite nice for me - it makes it more pleasant. And the
Floyd crowd seems to really like it too, and the progressive music crowd, and a
lot of students... When you come to a Gathering show it's so
diverse, it's amazing!". Following that line of thought, I asked her about the
time they played the Paradiso in Amsterdam. The band played the same set
twice, wearing the same clothes, in the same day - and selected the best clips
from the two shows to produce A Sound Relief. And I ask about the
demographic makeup of that crowd. "Oh, it was amazing! When we
played the shows for the DVD I think there were about five or six hundred people
there - and there were 30 different nationalities! Funny - everyone's so
different, but they all had the same thing in common - the music." I ask
how they knew about those nationalities. "Oh - there was a fan meeting in
one of the rooms at the theater, and they signed in."
From this it is apparent that after a decade and a half the band is still the
gathering point for a huge fanbase. But surely that fanbase could be
bigger? So I ask about Evanescence, the American band that most of us
consider to be a cheap clone of Mandylion-era The Gathering - with one
big difference: Evanescence made gobs of money off the style of music Anneke and the guys developed. "Oh fantastic band, but, it's hard to say
that they're a clone. We all came from the same background. Ten
years ago we were one of the first. Evanescence took one aspect of
female-fronted metal and built on it, and became a bigger than we'll ever be."
I ask "How do you view the difference between their music and yours?".
"Well if you listen to Mandylion there was a specific feeling - maybe because
we were one of the first bands doing that kind of music. But we've moved away from that because we felt like taking a different angle.
Within Temptation did the same thing - they took it to a whole new level..."
"But doesn't it bother you that Evanescence had the success you should
have had, if you'd had the right marketing and promotion?"
"No - we don't feel sorry. We didn't have a big record company then,
but they did tell us what we could do to sell a lot more. You know
- Do this, wear that, do these shows and festivals - and we
didn't like that. For us it was about the music. For example at one
time when we had a single in the top-40 in Holland, we were asked to do some
stupid things on TV - the idea was to get a lot more fame, and status in
Holland. We decided not to do those things because we believed it should
all be about the music. So we could have been bigger - it was a decision we
made. Of course you want to sell it, and live off the music, and be bigger every
year - but not at the cost of 'everything'. Billboard is just not our thing - we
just like full venues, we like people to come back, and for people to look
forward to our next record. We aren't interested in 13-year-olds who
listen to one band this year then forget all about them next year and go on to the next
And I take all of that to be Anneke-speak for 'we didn't want to sell out'. And if that is true, then all credit to The Gathering for staying true to their
vision. But has the lack of fame and fortune hurt them? Does she or the
rest of the band have a day job, or do they get involved in side projects?
"No - this is our day job, this and our little record company
that only sells our own CDs. We have some employees, and I sometimes do
singing projects on the side, but that's very low key - I just do it for fun. We
aren't rich, but we do live off their music."
"And are there plans to expand your label? I mean that would be an
ideal way for you to leverage a lot more income off the band's name."
"No!" she exclaims. "No, no plans to sign anyone - that's an office
job - and as musicians we aren't very good at that sort of stuff", she laughs. "It's just a vehicle for The Gathering to make our music. Of course, for the DVD
and for our next record Home we got help from The End - for distribution
and so on. They know what they're doing..."
"So who does your cover art? Someone within your record company?"
"Yes - we come up with the ideas, we do it ourselves, then we get graphics
company to work with us on it."
"Where does the name "The Gathering" come from?
I'm a Scotsman who can speak a little Dutch and has all of The Gathering's
CDs, so I'm a bit embarrassed to hear her say "Well you must know the
movie "The Highlander"? The 'church' where all the immortals came together
was called The Gathering. The guys in the band loved that movie, and that's it!" Well - jeez - I should have realized that! So I hustle her onto another topic.
HugoPrinsen, was always viewed as a steadying factor in band-life - but recently left The
Gathering after 15 years. He was a serious, intelligent artist who would
be hard to replace. "You mentioned that you were glad to have a more
'girlie' audience. But tell me about your new bass player, Marjolein
Kooijman." Are you pleased to have another 'girl' in the
"Oh she's a great asset! It was weird to see Hugo go. And when we
looked for a replacement we had all these phone numbers, but we knew we didn't
want any session musicians. We needed the kind of person who would make
the commitment. Our guitar player Renee's girlfriend had this friend. She
did work as a roadie for us once, as a guitar-tech. And we know that she's
funny, and loud, and laughs a lot - she's fun. and we liked her. We
knew she played guitar, but we wondered if she could also play the bass.
So before we started the auditions - she was really our first audition - she
played some of the songs better than we did! So we called her back same
evening. You know, as a female, it's just natural that I've always been the
eye-catcher in the male-dominated world of our music. But another girl
gives us a sort of bridge - it's more balanced now, and there's more unity..."
"And two girls in the band obviously helps you broaden your audience
"Yes - our whole group dynamic changed, and that will come into the music,
and into the crowd"
The Gathering's Current Lineup
"So where is Hugo now?"
"Well he has a second kid already, and he lives with his wife and family, and
he's working at a movie theater, and he's just started making some music again."
I ask Anneke who her favorite Dutch bands are - and am surprised that she
doesn't know of many besides Within Temptation and After Forever. "Golden Earing was big, of course, the only really big band to come out of Holland -
we're quite proud of them - but modern Dutch bands..?" Turns out she and some of her bandmates are listening to a lot of Sigur Ros right now, so let's see if that
atmospheric influence ever permeates their music.
"You know, in my review of the DVD I made a big point about the fact that The
Gathering used to be into extreme metal, then it was female fronted heavy metal in
an almost goth vein - yet on the DVD, there were flowers on your mic stand! I mean, flowers! What's that all about?"
"Aahh - " she laughs. "Ja, I'm such a girlie!"