After nearly 10 years of its release, I am still baffled: how can such an incredibly deep, cerebral, and poignant album go unnoticed by the masses? Is it because Mike Tramp, before forming Freak of Nature, was the singer of the somewhat famous band White Lion? Did people who wanted to discover new bands turn their back on FON because of some preconceived notions regarding their singer? I don't see it. Whatever the reason, both the band FON and their second (and unfortunately last) album remain -to this day- among the most underrated entities of the 90's. It's a shame people missed out on FON, for Gathering of Freaks features Mike Tramp's best vocal performance ever along with his most haunting songwriting. He never before or after GOF wrote such lyrics again. Maybe the world wasn't ready to accept this album at the time of its release, who knows?
Gathering of Freaks is a much darker and heavier album than FON's self-titled debut. In fact it is by far the heaviest album Mike Tramp has ever written and sung on. Lyrically it deals with social issues, as opposed to personal matters. The subjects vary from song to song, but as a whole, there is a great sense of unity on the album that makes you think it is a theme album. "The Gathering" is a very short, yet haunting, intro starting with a dark acoustic piece and followed by Tramp's deep and somewhat angry voice. It ties in with the heavy metal masterpiece "Enemy", which is perhaps the most face-ripping heavy metal song from Tramp ever. The double guitars are fittingly supported by Jerry Best's bass and Tramp's vocal harmonies during the chorus are killer. "Stand Back" is about the indifference in society, how people don't care about anyone else but themselves. "Raping the Cradle" is where the tone of the album goes down to emphasise the lyrical and artistic message of the track. It is about a father raping his own daughter looking at the tragic situation from the daughter's point of view. "Big Black Hole" showcases Mike Tramp's almost growling vocals, especially in the outro. The chorus is quite melodic compared to the first set of songs, but not in the sense you would call catchy. Tramp's voice at the end of the song is out of this world. To this day I respect him for going out of his way to try something new and dangerous, instead of jumping on the bandwagon to write a few more love ballads and take the easy way out. His vocal range may not be the best in the world, but the effort he put in this song is nothing short of amazing. "The Tree" has got to be one of my all-time favourite songs of all times. The slow bass intro, the unexpected key and tempo changes, and the very bold lyrical aspect make it one hell of a song. It combines the subjects of deforestation and death penalty without making it seem forced the least bit. The back vocals serve their purpose very well too and I just love the drumming on this one. The entire structure of this song is way ahead of its time. "Candle" and "Need" are the two mid-tempo/slow songs on the album though from a lyrical standpoint they are much heavier than the rest of the tunes on this CD. The latter is about drug addiction featuring one of Mike's most emotional vocal delivery. The last set of songs like "Powerless", "Open Space", "Get it Yourself" are full of anger, though not in a negative way. Tramp basically screams at the senselessness of injustice in all forms. "The Parting" closes the album successfully making you think that this is one of the most complete yet overlooked releases ever.
This album obviously was made to refuse any record label's terms. It's art for art's sake. Maybe that's the reason why they couldn't last longer than two albums. Then this is the perfect proof that every second on it contains pure honest emotion.
- The Gathering
- Stand Back
- Raping the Cradle
- Big Black Hole
- The Tree
- Open Space
- Get it Yourself
- The Parting
* Review originally written in 2004.